Substitute teacher shortage has Chicago Public Schools principals getting creative to cover classes

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The sub shortage is hitting local schools hard, with some districts unable to find enough teachers to staff their classrooms.

Walt Stallings took a job as an adjunct writing professor at DePaul University after giving up on a long-term gig as a Chicago substitute teacher.

"I got a lot out of it, it was really a formative experience, but the lack of benefits, the low pay - it wasn't something that was sustainable for me," Stallings said.

Stallings said after taxes, he was taking home only $600 dollars a week for about 60 hours' worth of work.

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A substitute teacher shortage has become a nationwide problem, especially at some of Chicago Public Schools. According to October CPS data, Englewood STEM High School has only been able to fill 26% of its requested sub positions.

"There are kids in gyms and auditoriums learning, they are not getting proper instruction they need," said Mike Smith, an Englewood STEM teacher and Chicago Teachers Union officer. "And when you think of special needs students what is happening to them?"

A few schools on the South and West sides with Black and Latino students are struggling with rates even below 20%, while some schools, like Blaine on the North Side have filled over 90% of its requests.

Little Village's Corkery Elementary has a 14% fill rate. Principal Carol Devens-Falk is trying to overcome the shortage by using her own staff.

"We've been able to reallocate some funds to pay our teachers during their preparation periods to cover some of the other teachers' classes," Devens-Falk said.

While principals use creativity, the district hopes to attract more subs by offering them a higher daily rate. In addition, CPS is setting aside $10 million to pay for cadre subs, which are substitutes who teach at the same school and receive benefits.

While Walt Stallings believes cadre subs are a good solution, Devens-Falk said they are not in the time of COVID.

"It wouldn't be a good solution if we have multiple people out," she said.

As educators come up with solutions, they hope the sub crisis shortage will result in long term better pay and benefits for substitute teachers.
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