2019 | Schools

Montgomery Schools Look To Lower Requirements for Substitute Teachers

‘Severe’ substitute shortage sparks resolution to explore policy changes

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Amid a “severe” shortage of substitute teachers, the Montgomery County school board is considering loosening requirements for fill-in instructors.

The school board has proposed a review of guidelines and requirements for hiring substitute teachers, exploring the possibility of hiring workers with less education or without certification.

“One thing that really impacts our teachers is when a colleague can’t get a substitute, they may have to cover an extra class and lose time planning or working with their kids,” At-large board member Jeanette Dixon said.

The school system’s policy for hiring substitutes, policy GEF, requires an applicant to have at least a bachelor’s degree or certification, and people applying to substitute in vocational programs can be considered without a college degree, but must have at least two years of experience in a related area.

School board members said they hope applicants with associate’s degrees or students at Montgomery College who need student teaching experience to graduate will be allowed to substitute. The only statewide requirement for becoming a substitute teacher in Maryland is a high school diploma.

“The Montgomery Board of Education is committed to being agile and innovative in finding solutions to evolving needs,” according to a resolution introduced by the school board this week.

Superintendent Jack Smith called the proposal a “great idea” and will present recommendations in July.

About 11,700 teachers are employed in county public schools. Teachers who work 12 months with up to three years of experience in county schools receive 15 days of paid time off; those with between four and 15 years of experience receive 20 days leave; and teachers with 16 or more years of experience receive 26 days of leave. Teachers who work 10 months have 12 days of leave.

A school system spokesperson did not respond to a message seeking information about how many substitutes are hired each year.

Often, teachers are hesitant to use their accrued time off to not burden their coworkers, Dixon said.

Substitute teachers are in short supply across the country, according to the American Association of School Administrators, and the organization recommends lowering the requirements for hiring substitutes.

“The decline in quantity and quality of substitute teachers is largely a result of today’s competitive job market where there are many alternative employment opportunities for potential substitutes,” the association says in an online report.

The association also recommends paying teachers for unused sick and personal leave, increasing substitute teacher pay and increasing the frequency of recruitment events.

Montgomery substitutes earn an average of $18 per hour, according to school system data.

At public hearings earlier this year about the school system’s operating budget, community members pointed to inconsistent access to substitutes, which they said leads to inconsistent learning.

The school board will vote to adopt the resolution at its next regular meeting.

This story has been updated to include annual leave allowed for county teachers who work 10 months of the year

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com