Substitutes Slipping Away

The amount of substitute teachers has been on the decline as the nation is facing a national substitute shortage.


Mia Vaughn

If substitute teachers can’t be found, the office has to scramble to find someone so that no class is left unattended.

School districts across the U.S have been battling a shortage of substitute teachers. Schools all over the United States, including CHS, have been struggling to find substitutes when teachers are unable to work. Although Conifer has not been hit as hard as some other schools within the district, substitutes are still hard to come by, especially with COVID looming over the public. 

Ariana Pensy is a senior at Conifer who recently moved to Colorado from Arizona.

“It seems like here they are handling it better because you actually have subs,” Pensy said. “There were times at my school [last year] where we would be in class and there would just be no teacher.” 

Teachers have also been having issues. When something comes up where they cannot be at school, they need to find someone to cover their class.

“Typically, if we know we are missing a day in advance, we can call our favorite substitutes to see if they have the availability to cover our absence.” Mrs. Mc Fadden-Barr, a science teacher at Conifer High School, said. “ If it’s an emergency, we can put a request in our automated sub system and subs from around Jefferson county can pick up the sub job.  Frequently, it’s these last-minute sub-jobs that aren’t ever picked up by a sub, leaving us without coverage for a teacher.”

The shortage is not completely new. Substitute teachers have been a bit difficult to come by for years. Most say that this is because of issues in pay. Teaching can be a strenuous job, especially if the kids in a class don’t behave. 

“If subs aren’t compensated at a rate that makes the job worth their time and energy, many subs are going to decide not to continue as substitutes,” Mc Fadden-Barr said.

During COVID, issues only got worse. Many people did not want to have lengthy interactions with others, and this included subs. The risk of teaching in a classroom is high as many people are often in a room with limited ventilation. Getting sick often wasn’t worth the risk of being in class.

Cindy Klinker has been a substitute teacher for 11 years. Her kids have come and gone through the Jeffco school system, and she has been connected with lots of the teachers, making it easy to find jobs. 

“It’s been way busier than ever,” she said. “I have been receiving calls ever since the beginning of school. This year I have been asked for January dates for April. I have really had so many phone calls, texts, I have been stopped in the hall.”

Even teachers have favorites, and they are willing to track down their favorite substitute when they know they need a class covered. 

“I can just get stuck at a school,” Klinker said, “and I work every day.”

Substitute teachers have been in demand so much that they have even been asked to work for another teacher during their planning period.

“That used to only happen a lot in the summer, but this happens all the time now. There is definitely a shortage,” she said.

In worst-case scenarios, other teachers have been subbing for ones who couldn’t make it into school. The office will call a teacher and ask if they have the ability during one of their planning periods or when they are in the learning center. As students always need a teacher in class, the office has to scramble to find someone to make up for the absent teacher. 

“You got to do what you got to do to help out,” Ben Anderson, a CHS social studies teacher said. “Classes have to be covered, you know?”

If a teacher is on their planning period when they get called in to sub for another teacher, they do get paid for the extra hours. But if it’s when they are in the learning center, they are doing work for free.

These issues have been stemming from inadequate pay and have only been amplified by COVID. Their job requires skill as they are often put into an environment where they aren’t always respected, have little knowledge on how to teach the class, and have a difficult time overall.

“You can’t just pay them a little bit, you have to make it reasonable for them to come in,” Anderson said. “Pay them accordingly to what they do. It’s tough to be a sub and thrown into a situation like that.”

Teachers cant afford to miss days as it’s uncertain that their class will have someone watching over them. 

“You can’t take a day off to drink lemonade on a porch somewhere,” Anderson said.