Miami University students helping relieve local school staffing shortages

With substitute teachers in short supply in Southwest Ohio and within the Talawanda School District, Miami University undergraduate teaching students are finding work in local classrooms.

A handful of Miami students working on their bachelor’s degrees serve as substitutes in nearby schools on days they don’t have class, said Molly Sawyer, who coordinates clinical experiences at Miami’s Office of Student Teaching.

“That’s been working really well,” Talawanda Director of Communications and Public Engagement Holli Hansel said. “We are so lucky to have that in this community.”

Talawanda was forced to cancel classes Nov. 21-22 due to a shortage of substitute teachers. Nearly 20% of students and large numbers of staff members were absent due to high levels of illness in some buildings. If 20% of a school’s students are sick, the district’s policy is not to hold classes.

There has been a shortage of substitute teachers both locally and nationwide since 2019. According to WOSU, Ohio had nearly 16,000 licensed substitute teachers in 2019. That number dropped to roughly 5,000 in 2021, and hasn’t grown much since.

A significant number of substitutes are former retired teachers. Most don’t want to be in classrooms due to the pandemic, Hansel said.

Most of Talawanda’s substitute teachers come from the Butler County Educational Services Center and work in additional districts county-wide. With most based in Hamilton, West Chester, or Liberty Township, Hansel said driving to the Northwest region of the county isn’t all that appealing.

To attract more staff, Talawanda raised its substitute teacher pay from $95 to $125 per day.

“We’re the farthest north in Butler County,” Hansel said. “There’s a good chance [substitutes] are not driving from the Oxford general area. Having a little boost in pay might entice you to do that.”

School districts can now accept substitute teacher licenses for individuals who have not completed a bachelor’s degree, according to Sawyer. Talawanda sponsors substitute licenses for a number of Miami undergraduates who are interested in subbing for the district.

Talawanda continues to struggle with bus driver shortages. Petermann Transportation is contracted to provide bus transportation for the district. On a handful of days this school year, shortages have caused administrators to drive students themselves and expand regular bus routes.

One day, seven buses each had to take a portion of one bus’ route after several drivers called in sick the previous night. Families were alerted to the busing changes around midnight before the school day.

“I anticipate we will have more things like that as we continue to experience the sub shortages,” Hansel said.

Talawanda families were told earlier this year to have a “Plan B” for transportation in the event buses weren’t available to pick up and drop off students.

District officials can’t predict when staffing issues will go away. Hansel credits shortages to general trends seen nationwide post-pandemic across all industries, especially education.

“I don’t see a lot of people attracted to education right now,” Hansel said. “The whole world looked at how harsh it was to be an educator during the pandemic, and it probably made it look very unattractive. It was hard on a lot of people here.”

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