How Richmond Public Schools is dealing with their substitute teacher shortage

RICHMOND, Va. – School systems nationwide are struggling to find substitute teachers, especially in inner cities, where substitutes like Maiesha Hawkins said they dealt with disruptions, insults, and even threats from students.

Hawkins spent years inside Richmond Public Schools as a substitute teacher.

“It was difficult,” she said.

Whether it was elementary, middle, or high school, Hawkins was there. But, she said there were challenges. The biggest issue she and other substitutes faced was dealing with troubled students.

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“Behavior issues, mental issues, social issues,” said Hawkins.

“You look like a frog, you look like a monkey, I’m going to get my mom to whoop you’re a**,” said Hawkins, “it can go from something very mild to something very vulgar.”

Eventually Hawkins called it quits, and she’s not alone.

CBS 6 took a look at how many times Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield schools needed substitutes for the 2015-2016 school year.

We found that the City had the hardest time finding substitutes.

“A substitute is more incline to go somewhere where they feel safe… where the children are well-mannered,” said Hawkins.

Maiesha Hawkins

Maiesha Hawkins

According to documents, RPS needed substitutes 34,303 times last school year. The school system couldn’t fill those spots 9,211 times.

So what happens when a school system can’t fill a vacancy?

Richmond Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden said if no one fills the spot, the schools can start by reaching out to subs that they may know from previous jobs.

“If that doesn’t work then they have to rearrange teacher’s schedules to provide coverage,” said Bedden. “That’s everything from a teacher may have to teach another section and we have to compensate them for that, and there are times where they have had to reassign students.”

Bedden told CBS 6 reporter Chelsea Rarrick he doesn’t want an unfilled substitute vacancy to be the norm, as if it happens a lot it can be disruptive.

Bedden said RPS is focusing on improving the culture and climate of the schools. They are also working to fix the reputation of some of the schools where it may be harder to find a substitute.

 

rps-schools

“Part of it is, if you don’t feel good about the environment you’re working in, you probably won’t take that assignment,” said Bedden.

When looking at the schools, we noticed Martin Luther King Middle School needed nearly 2,000 substitutes last school year, but couldn’t fill those vacancies 43% of the time.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Hawkins, when we showed her some of the numbers.

Retired Superintendent Dr. Stewart Roberson said the shortage of substitutes in our area also has to do with the economy.

“When the employment rate goes down as it is right now, it is lower than it has been for years,” said Roberson. “More people have work so they aren’t interested in this lower wage work.”

Still, as a Richmond parent herself; Hawkins said this shortage can hurt the students.

“Ultimately the children are impacted, because they don’t have consistency from teaching development,” she said.

Hawkins also said that it starts at home, and is calling on parents to work with the school system and teach respect in the classroom.

All school systems are encouraging anyone interested in substituting to contact them, as it can be a great experience.

Henrico spokesman, Andy Jenks said new this year, the school system is increasing the rate of pay for substitutes in the 10 hardest-to-staff schools.

Subs in those 10 school swill now earn $100 per day, instead of $84 per day.