Cedar Rapids schools trying to make life better for subs

Steps taken to let 'guest teachers' know they are valued

(File photo) A Cedar Rapids Community School District bus at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
(File photo) A Cedar Rapids Community School District bus at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

A lack of substitute teachers in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area left Corridor districts with 1,700 unfilled teacher absences during the first half of the 2016-2017 school year.

That shortage often meant classrooms were left without a designated teacher, or that other staff members were pulled from their own jobs to fill in. Of the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s reported 7,568 absences, 934 of them were left vacant.

Districts across the state, and across the country, also have struggled to find enough substitute teachers.

“We know anecdotally that the substitute shortage is statewide and will increase as the numbers of people going into the profession decreases,” said Jean Hessburg, an Iowa State Education Association spokeswoman, in February 2017.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Last school year, the Cedar Rapids district created a committee tasked with improving the experience of substitute teachers — or, as they’re called now, “guest teachers” — in an effort to address shortages across the district’s 31 schools.

“It mirrors the same type of trends around the state and the nation around substitute shortages,” said Carlos Grant, the district’s executive director of personalized learning and middle level education. “We’re brainstorming ways to make substitute teachers feel welcome and valued, to get at root causes and how we can turn the tide on that shortage.”

Classrooms in the district — like many other in Iowa and across the country — often still lack a substitute when a teacher is absent. About 20 percent of classrooms in need of a substitute haven’t had one so far this school year, Grant said. Most often, other staff in the district who are certified to teach step in to teach those classes.

But the district hopes cultural changes in its schools will help that rate improve.

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This school year, the district has streamlined the process substitute teachers’ use to clock in and out and bolstered their professional development opportunities, Grant said. Administrators and principals also are working to make substitutes feel more welcome in schools — designating someone in each school to greet them, for example, and show them to the classroom.

Pay for substitutes, Grant noted, wasn’t mentioned often by substitutes the committee talked with. They earn $122 for a full day of teaching, Grant said, and $59 for a half-day.

“So far, we’re getting good feedback,” he said. “Any time you’re doing a culture change, it takes some time. … There won’t be any quick fixes on this. We need to change the idea and the culture about what it means to guest teach.”

The Cedar Rapids district also is starting to recruit substitute teachers. There will be a job fair Jan. 29 at the administrative offices, 2500 Edgewood Road NW, that will target recent and soon-to-be college graduates and others who might be interested in teaching part-time.

Anyone older than 21 with a bachelor’s degree and a clean criminal record can substitute teach after completing an authorization course, which is offered by districts and area educational agencies. The authorization was approved by the Iowa Board of Examiners to address teacher shortages.

“We believe and think people out there want to do this job,” Grant said. “We have to do a better job marketing what that role entails, not just from a guest teacher standpoint, but from a teacher standpoint. … Here’s an opportunity for you to make your way into a career.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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