The shortage of substitute teachers in Fayette County has left one of those educators so concerned about the effects on students that she approached school board members at their Oct. 28 meeting.
“I have been frustrated,” substitute teacher Kiah Arnold said.
Arnold said that at some schools, there is a persistent problem: She has agreed beforehand to teach a particular class because she is familiar with the subject. But after she arrives, she is additionally assigned to a class whose subject matter she feels unprepared for.
“I don’t have any prior knowledge of what the class is, who the teacher is,” Arnold said. “It’s kind of unnerving because I’ve prepared myself for a specific assignment.”
In response, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said as the economy has improved and unemployment rates have fallen, school districts across the state and nation have had difficulty filling substitute teaching posts.
She said Fayette County Public Schools has a healthy pool of more than 1,000 qualified substitute teachers and is better positioned than most communities to address the national issue.
But Deffendall said “the question on any given day is whether the individuals in the substitute pool accept the vacancies that become available.”
“We have excellent fill rates for long-term sub positions and requests made in advance. Given our strong local employment rates, there are fewer people who are willing to get up at 4 a.m. and accept a last minute work assignment,” she said.
Deffendall said the district has taken several proactive steps to incentivize substitute work, including an improved onboarding process, enhanced professional learning, substitute appreciation events and significant pay increases.
In addition to raising the substitute teacher pay to $125 a day for certified teachers and $160 a day for retired teachers, the district also offers incentive pay for special education openings or long-term assignments.
Fayette County officials have worked with local universities and colleges to not only encourage future teachers to jumpstart their experience by subbing, but to also share the part-time employment opportunity with other college students, Deffendall said.
In some schools, Fayette County has added permanent subs so there is always someone available for last-minute openings.
Schools work to provide a welcoming workplace that is attractive to subs by designating an administrator or lead teacher to greet substitute teachers and provide help as needed, Deffendall said.
Meanwhile, Arnold said she wants to know the academic subject before agreeing to substitute teach so she can say, “I don’t feel comfortable taking that job.”
She said rather than just monitoring a class, she wants to actually teach. So she wants to be prepared.
“What is the district doing to hire more subs?,” she asked. “It does put a strain on the school as a whole, because I’m watching the sub coordinators struggle. The students, it’s a disservice to them.”
Regular teachers are having to give up their planning periods to fill the gaps when there are not enough people to cover classes, she said.
Arnold said sometimes she asks herself, “Do I even want to continue doing this?”
In response, board chairman Stephanie Spires at the October monthly meeting asked for Arnold’s ideas.
As a substitute teacher, a parent of a child in Fayette County schools and a member of community organizations, Arnold said she advocates for students on several fronts.
District Chief Operating Officer Myron Thompson said officials would take Arnold’s feedback into consideration and work with human resources staff.
“We’ve been looking at this for some time,” Thompson said. He said district officials would stay vigilant.
“It is a challenge, with a teacher shortage all across America,” he said.
Kentucky is in the midst of a teacher shortage in general, Kentucky education officials have said in recent months.