Lack of teachers, subs putting strain on district


Some districts in Allegheny County are moving back to 100% virtual learning, not because of COVID-19 cases (although there’s that too), but because of a teacher shortage. Some teachers are not teaching in-person for health or child care concerns, and this has led to a teacher shortage that needs to be filled. In a normal school year, it can be hard to find substitute teachers. This year, it’s almost impossible.

A good portion of substitutes are retired teachers, but since the pandemic hits hardest on older populations, they understandably do not want to risk their health by coming into schools. This substantially reduces the number of substitute teachers available, and on top of that, districts are also looking to find long-term subs who are willing to work during a pandemic, and who are okay with jumping into teaching halfway through a quarter.

“It’s a daily concern to secure certified and qualified teachers,” Assistant Principal Mrs. JoAnne Townsend said.

Some Tech Ed. electives have been cancelled due to a lack of teachers. It’s hard enough to find any substitute teachers during a pandemic; it’s nearly impossible to find a substitute with the specialized technological skill set needed to teach a class such as Visual Communications.

If we can’t supervise safe in-person instruction, we won’t have it.”

— Mrs. Joanne Townsend

Students whose classes were cancelled were not penalized, and they had the opportunity to transition to a new elective, although joining a class part way through the school year is difficult.

Even when teachers are hired, they are faced with the challenge of inheriting a class part way through the school year and learning how to teach students virtually and in-person.

Core classes, like English, have to be taught by someone, since English is a graduation requirement and central to education. Those classes can’t just be cancelled, so the district has to find a substitute.

A main example of this is in junior English classes. Any junior who is taking Honors American Lit or American Lit is being taught by a substitute teacher.

The shortage of teachers in the building and lack of substitutes presents the possibility that Shaler Area could have to suspend in-person learning because teachers aren’t available due to COVID-19 infection or contact tracing self-quarantine. If there are not enough teachers to safely staff the building, in-person learning cannot happen.

“If things continue going how they’re going right now, I would definitely see us at some point moving into a virtual-type situation, but I hope not,” Shaler Area Superintendent Mr. Sean Aiken said.

The goal is to stay in-person for as long as it’s safe and possible, but there is a tipping point.

“If we can’t supervise safe in-person instruction, we won’t have it,” Mrs. Townsend said.