Substitute teachers scarce, especially in rural Tennessee

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Posted at 6:52 PM, Oct 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-01 21:34:48-04

MANCHESTER, Tenn. (WTVF) — In the more rural areas of the state, finding good help at schools can be a struggle sometimes.

"On average we might have two or three or five classrooms that don't have a substitute that day at all," said Mike Stein, a teacher at Coffee County High School.

He joined Dr. Melanie Banks, a PE and health teacher at Coffee Elementary school, to talk about the issue of missing substitute teachers.

Both are members of the Coffee County Education Association.

"I feel like the problem started when COVID hit. We never had a problem with getting people in our building to substitute," said Banks.

According to both teachers, subs are feeling wary about teaching now. They don't want to get sick or bring sickness to family members.

Tennessee has been facing a teacher shortage since the beginning of the pandemic. Now, teacher absences that were commonplace, and easy to deal with, are a struggle every single day at schools.

According to people with groups like Professional Educators of TN, it's an issue they're hearing about pretty much statewide.

"The problem they have right now is just the lack of clarity on guidelines on closing or being able to pivot to any kind of virtual learning," said Audrey Shores, COO of Professional Educators of TN. "You're having principals cover classes, you're having central office staff covering classes. You're having to combine classes together. Everyone's just stretched too thin."

In Coffee County, that often means classes are split in two and students go to other classrooms.

Secretaries and others are brought in to fill the gaps.

However, it's a struggle some wonder if the school systems are losing.

"We just do what we have to do," said Banks.

Stein said state lawmakers could approve a baseline pay scale for substitute teachers to try to help.

He thinks it could help in rural areas which typically pay subs less than nearby cities.