Surge In Coronavirus Cases Leads To Demand For Substitutes

Teacher absences create disjointed learning experience

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Photo by Sam Anderson

During fourth period French class, Bob Adams talks to students at the beginning of class. Adams has been subbing since the beginning of January and will continue to do so until a permanent French teacher is hired. “I think that being a sub is hard work, especially as a long term sub, but with dedication I’ve grown to love it,” Adams said.

Recurring teacher absences due to the recent surges in coronavirus cases have left students without their teachers for weeks on end.

The new coronavirus strain, Omicron, caused a surge in cases, exacerbating the problems schools have been dealing with for years now. Some teachers have to be out for multiple weeks to recover from contracting the coronavirus, but there aren’t enough long-term substitutes to cover their classes during this time. 

“COVID has affected me personally by completely knocking me out for 10 days straight,” said April Burns, geometry teacher, softball and volleyball coach. “I had zero energy to do anything.”

While Burns was sick with the coronavirus, she experienced extreme fatigue, congestion and body aches. Burns’ absence caused her to fall behind on her grading including three assignments she planned on giving her students and an assessment she needed to grade.

The district is doing what they can, but they have constraints. There’s only so many people who want to do this.”

— Bob Adams

“When I came back to work, my classes took a quiz on the second day that I was back in the classroom,” Burns said. “I ended up having to prioritize that quiz by grading it before I graded the assessment from when I was gone considering the test for that unit was four days away.” 

When teachers are out, they have the option to request certain substitutes. When she knows in advance that she will be absent, Burns will request a math substitute. However, when she’s out sick, she will simply log her absence in the system, and a substitute may or may not take the job. 

“As a teacher, it’s difficult being gone, especially when it’s unexpected because with the sub shortage, that means another teacher might have to cover my class, and I hate putting that on others,” she said. 

World geography teacher, basketball and football coach Marc Lechlitner is married to a teacher who works for Richardson Independent School District, and he says she is facing similar obstacles at work.

“There are shortages of teachers and substitutes throughout the country,” he said.

HPISD is one of the districts facing a substitute shortage. Through the Omicron surge at the start of the semester, there were not enough substitutes to cover all the teacher absences.

“Being short on substitutes, many teachers on campus volunteer to help cover classes during their own lunch or conference times,” Lechlitner said.

The fact that students have a different adult in the room everyday for at least two weeks creates a disjointed learning experience.

“The students will always miss out on learning for the time the teacher is gone, making them struggle a bit more [while] not really learning the material,” substitute Bob Adams said. “If it’s a last minute deal like if they were ill, we don’t have a lot of time to prepare.”

The substitutes in the district are also often retired teachers who are at a higher risk for serious coronavirus complications because of their age. Substitute Jeanine Carter has subbed for 40 years and has noticed a shift in the attitudes of the subs.

“A lot of people are fearful that they might get [the coronavirus] from faculty or the students,” Carter said.

Despite the obstacles teachers and substitutes alike are having to overcome, Adams still feels supported by the district.

“The district is doing what they can, but they have constraints,” Adams said. “There’s only so many people who want to do this.”