In January, when Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) students returned to classes after winter break, one school came very close to sending students home for the day. The reason? They had more teachers out due to illness than could be covered by substitute or guest teachers.
Lisa Beuning, RFSD guest teacher coordinator, said the school didn’t close because “there was a lot of support staff from the district office that went in and did guest teaching that day.”
In the first week of January, as the tsunami of Omicron cases came crashing down, RFSD teachers, staff and students were heavily impacted.
District Human Resources Director Angie Davlyn said on a typical school day, there are about 30 absences among the roughly 450 certified teachers in the district’s schools. RFSD’s sub-fill rates are typically around 70%, with the district finding ways to cover the difference.
However, early January found RFSD reeling with almost 100 daily absences and a daily average of 63 absences going unfilled.
Davlyn said that numbers began to improve by the second week of January, with the district at 69 daily absences and a 51% percent fill rate. At the end of the month, the fill rate was back up to 66%. “Now we are seeing numbers that are more like normal,” Davlyn remarked.
Beuning shared, “It was hard to fill absences before COVID, and COVID just put an exclamation mark on it.”
Last fall, Davlyn asked Ben Bohmfalk, RFSD instructional facilitator and technology integration specialist, to develop an easily-navigable page on the district’s website to make the application process more efficient and easier to understand.
Sub shortages lead to burnout
Substitute teacher shortages are impacting school districts across the country and, in turn, teacher morale. In a January 2022 survey of its members, the National Education Association found that three-quarters of teachers said they’ve had to fill in for their colleagues or take on extra duties due to staffing shortages. Now, 90% of educators say “they are experiencing burnout,” with 67% saying it’s “very serious.”
Those “burnout” scenarios begin when there are more absences than can be filled with guest teachers. Then, already working teachers must step up, using a planning period to step into someone else’s classroom, for example.
As explained by Davlyn, the Colorado Department of Education revised guest teacher requirements in response to the pandemic, making them less stringent. A one-year substitute authorization requires a high school diploma, or equivalent, and a fingerprint-based criminal history background check.
Beuning said there is no “typical” guest teacher profile, per se. Some are retirees whose “professional experience can bring another perspective to students.” Many are parents. “Moms mainly, with little children, who say, ‘It’s the one thing I can do that will work with my kiddo’s school schedule,’” stated Beuning.
Others are college students majoring in education, who want to “experience schools, getting to know different teachers and being able to ask them questions,” Beuning continued. “It’s a way to see if it’s a good fit for you.”
Guest teachers choose their preference of schools and grade levels. They can also specialize in subject areas. Beuning explained how the district’s substitute management software allows guest teachers to specify their work availability. You can choose how to be notified of assignments via a smartphone app, email or telephone call.
Not tech-savvy? No worries, Beuning said. Bohmfalk and staff offer technology training and “teachers will leave paper lesson plans to follow.”
Pay for a typical eight-hour workday is $119, and $59.50 for a half-day assignment.
Davlyn pointed to one “guest teacher success story,” that of Jonathan Baiardo.
Baiardo, an electrical engineer, and his wife, Megan, principal at Roaring Fork High School, have two daughters in elementary school. He has also coached kids soccer. Guest teaching at his daughters’ school, he said, “I see these kids that I’ve known from sports or my daughters’ playdates, and seeing them in their little element, where they’re just having fun and smiling, is great.”
Baiardo concluded, “it’s been really rewarding. It’s nice to feel like I’m contributing to my community and helping the greater good.”
Beuning thanked all the district’s guest teachers, who had worked throughout the pandemic and guest taught “when it was so unknown what was going on.”
Anyone interested in learning more about guest teaching is encouraged to attend a recruitment and onboarding session on March 1 at RFSD offices, 400 Sopris Avenue, from noon to 2 p.m. A pizza lunch will be provided.
Further information is also available on the RFSD website at: https://tinyurl.com/rfsdgt