Schools across America grappling with teacher shortages pull in other staff to take on the role

Due to shortage of staff in schools, counselors, principals and superintendents are stepping in as teachers.

With COVID cases rising across the US, schools are taking precautionary measures to keep students and teachers safe. From wearing masks during the school day to doing virtual learning, schools are trying to deal with the worst in a better way.

Dozens of employees at the Cincinnati Public School District’s central office were sent to work as teachers at schools this week at a time when schools were threatened with closure due to low staff numbers.

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Casselius tweeted Wednesday that she was substituting a fifth-grade class, and the San Francisco school asked staff with teaching credentials to be available for class assignments.

With the advent of the COVID-19 Omicron version, and staff absenteeism, large school districts in cities including Atlanta, Detroit, and Milwaukee made the decision to temporarily switch to virtual learning.

Deborah Schmidt, a history teacher at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy in St. Louis, was asked to cover a physics class on Thursday.

“It’s absolutely exhausting,” Schmidt told the Associated Press.

In Chicago, the teachers union voted to refuse in-person instruction, leading to the cancellation of classes on Wednesday. Classes on Thursday were also canceled, and appear to be going in the same direction for Friday.

Meghan Hatch-Gerry, an English teacher at Woodland Regional High School in New Haven, Connecticut, said she is tired, as are other school teachers.

“A friend of mine told me, ‘You know, three weeks ago we were again closing our doors because of the school shooting, and now we’re opening the window to COVID,'” Hatch-Geary told the AP. Told.

Hundreds of teachers were out every day in New Haven this week, leaving administrators to teach classes. Classmates also haven’t come, which is difficult and confusing for young students with disabilities.

Special education teacher Jennifer Graves told the AP, “When no one knows your students, when no one is used to working with students with disabilities, it’s very difficult to get through my lesson plans.”

A sign is displayed at the entrance to the headquarters of Chicago Public Schools on January 05, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Classes in all public schools in Chicago have been canceled by the school district today as the teachers union voted to return to virtual learning, citing unsafe conditions in schools as the Omicron version of the COVID-19 virus continues to spread.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

Even before infection rates rose around the holidays, many districts were struggling to keep up with staffing levels, especially among substitutes and other low-paying positions. As a result, teachers have been thin for months, said National Education Association president Becky Pringle.

“After a two-year pandemic on top of all that extra burden and worrying about getting sick, stressed out like all of us…,” Pringle said in an interview.

Some administrators have already been helping for months to fill sick and quarantined staff in classrooms and cafeterias.

“We don’t love the circumstances, but we’re happy to work because the work is making sure we’re here for our kids,” said Mike Cornell, superintendent of the Hamburg Central School District in New York. , who spent this fall on cafeteria duty poking straws in juice pouches and peeling lids off chips to fill in staffing gaps.

Among the schools to go virtual this week due to staff shortages was the school of second-grade teacher Anna Taraka-Dinunzio of about 200 students in Pittsburgh. Some taught their students despite being ill with the virus, said Taraka-DiNunzio, who was disappointed to hear some specialty staffing shortages resulted from teachers’ arbitrary work shutdowns.

“It’s not just people shutting down. It’s people who are sick or whose family members are sick,” she said.

Tension in schools could be even tougher this week if a large number of students are not absent themselves. In New Haven, teachers say classes are only half full.

Jonathan Berryman, a music teacher, said some of his students hadn’t come for weeks. They worry about what this will mean for the performance goals they have set for students and their teachers.

“Before Omicron came along, it was pretty smooth sailing. Now the ship’s rocked,” he said. “We get to make adjustments to our assessment system mid-year. And I’m sure some people are wondering if we should even be concerned about that academic progress.”

Graves, who is in his 12th year of teaching at New Haven, said he is grateful to the administrators who have been helping with the classrooms and that his students have struggled with a lack of consistency in staffing.

She has also become frustrated with rapidly changing health protocols, and is concerned about the health of herself and her extended family. Most of her young students can’t tolerate wearing masks for long periods of time, and many have recently been coughing.

“It’s been the hardest year for me,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.