The United States education system is experiencing an unprecedented crisis. While enrollment rates are down, and attendance rates are falling, there is also a teacher shortage. Every day, teachers are facing more challenges than usual, and when they experience illnesses or family issues that require them to be absent from the classroom, even substitute teachers are scarce. In order to solve this problem, some districts are bringing in student teachers to fill the gap.
One survey found that two-thirds of schools admitted to experiencing a teacher shortage in 2021. This was most common in urban areas, where the student population is higher. 67% of respondents also noted experiencing a substitute teacher shortage. Secondary math and secondary science classes have proven to be the hardest to fill, as they are historically the least sought out. Student teachers could alleviate these issues.
This became such a common problem after the 2021-2022 holiday break when districts were scrambling for solutions. In Minnesota, some schools asked parents to join the substitute roster. It offered a temporary solution that brought in community members who were already invested in the classroom. This method was also tested in California, Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, and Texas. This short-term measure offered some relief, as did North Carolina’s approach. Instead of asking parents to teach, state employees were allowed to get paid leave to volunteer as substitutes, but again this was unsustainable as those workers had other roles to fulfill. Then, in Pennsylvania, a new idea took hold. The state resolved its substitute shortage by allowing retired teachers and student teachers to work in the classroom.
Utilizing student teachers as substitutes is a solution that is gaining support. These teachers in training benefit from the experience while schools are able to meet the needs of students. To encourage this move, The United States Department of Education announced its goal to partner with states, schools, and universities to launch apprenticeship programs that establish teaching as a “Registered Apprenticeship.” The Department of Labor approved standards to encourage on-the-job training for teachers in an effort to support these Registered Apprenticeships. Although these initiatives are still new, each state is working to further progress and combat the current shortage by including student teachers on their substitute roster.
Each state gets to set its own rules and requirements. In Minnesota, student teachers must acquire a short-call substitute teaching license and may work in the classroom for up to 15 days in a row. Illinois State University and other smaller colleges in the area have created an agreement that allows upper-level student teachers to work as substitutes as-needed. Students are paid for their time in the classroom while they gain more experience, and schools are able to continue providing lessons.
Programs that use student teachers as substitutes are expanding, but they are still not the norm for the entire country. Even so, it is expected to encourage students who seek out education careers and create a pathway to successful career options for young adults. Whether the teacher shortage, or the search for more substitutes persists in the coming school year or not, many schools are working to fill positions and seek out long-term solutions that will last for years to come.