Accountability, Admin, Behavior/Discipline, Budget, Teacher Shortage, Vision: 2020

Sub Shortage Is Everyone’s Problem

Dear JCPS,

I have been hearing from teachers and staff all over the district that while the public and administration seem to be aware of the bus driver shortage, they do not seem to be aware the problems our schools are having getting substitute teachers, or the hardships that it creates for teachers, staff and students. So, yesterday I posted the following question to our private group (made up of over 1,500 teachers and parents/guardians):

“Our district’s sub shortage is widespread and having detrimental effects on teachers and students. Tell me your story.”

While I realize you are probably aware of the shortage, you may not be fully aware of every type of situation or impact that occurs as a result, and resulting potential solutions. While this is in no way a comprehensive list, I do hope that you find the information helpful and useful. I know that our teachers and staff appreciate feeling heard on this topic, and our students will benefit from a quick resolution.

The comments are anonymous here, but they are not anonymous to me, and I can arrange for follow up with any of the comment contributors, should you require additional information.

I will continue to update this post as more feedback comes in.


Thank you for all you do,

Below are the comments that we received so far (added emphasis is mine) …

As a retired JCPS teacher I enjoy subbing. This is my 4th year as a sub. My 1st 2 years in this job there was a 5 day requirement and last year they upped it to a 10 day a month minimum. During my first 3 years I did 4 long term jobs for teachers on maternity leave. I subbed way over my 5 days a month and even the 10 days last year. During the first 2 months of this year I have not been able to meet my 10 days requirement (by just a couple of days in September & 1 in October) because of an illness and family obligations. And quite frankly I fear for my part time job. And it is a part time job for a lot of people like retired teachers and students. I think the biggest problem (not the only but biggest) is the 10 day requirement for subs. I believe it seems the shortage began after this requirement was put in place last year. A solution seems easy. Put the requirement back down to 5 if they must have a minimum. Hire everyone who meets the requirements that wants to sub . It won’t be extra money for JCPS because we don’t get benefits and only get paid if we work. It will only cost JCPS what is needed to cover the jobs.

From a Principal:

In regards to sub shortage- I have never seen it this bad. We can no longer send our teachers to professional development because we can’t get substitute teachers into the building. Daily we hold our breath hoping jobs get picked up.

During my 7 years of teaching, I’ve only ever taken 3 sick days. However, just yesterday I felt “forced” into going to work despite being sick since I was unable to get a sub and also knew of at least 2 other colleagues in my building that were already going to be out, but were unable to find subs to cover their rooms either.

I’ve had several great student teachers apply to be subs once they’ve completed their student teaching & graduated, but have had to wait at least a month after graduating to start subbing because they have had to wait for their applications to be processed (despite submitting them months in advance prior to graduating). Some have also been dropped from the sub list because they have chosen to obtain a Masters Degree and can’t work the minimum number of days per month arbitrarily required by the district (ironically, one was only available to work on Fridays, which are the hardest days to find subs to cover vacancies…).

This is a direct quote from a supervisor in the Substitute Center written in an email over a year ago:
“…I assure you that they are all not working 10 days a month, because if the Substitute Teachers and Teachers were all working like they were supposed to be; we would not be sending these emails now.”

I find it completely offensive that personnel in the district have insinuated that teachers and subs are to blame for this epidemic. They state that teachers are taking more days off than in years past. (Even though this was the reason given over a YEAR AGO, but it still hasn’t been resolved. And even IF the statistics of teacher absences really have spiked like they state, the district SHOULD be worried about what is causing so many teachers to be sick, and use it as an opportunity to reflect upon what THEY might be doing to cause so many of their teachers to “coincidentally” be ill district-wide, rather than immediately placing blame onto the teachers.)

If students are struggling, teachers are to blame. So transitively, if teachers are struggling, isn’t the district to blame??

As a moderate severe disabilities teacher in JCPS at an east end school I have had two instances where I have called in sick this year and my class has not had a substitute assigned.

That means that the paraprofessionals in my classroom were responsible for the teaching of the students in the room (this is highly illegal.) while most students can go home and tell their parents they did not have a teacher to instruct them during the day, my students are non-verbal and cannot communicate this to their caregivers. Thus it goes unknown by parents that their children did not have a certified professional in the classroom teaching which is legally required.

The district is doing nothing to address the shortage of substitutes and once again slighting the students who need the most assistance by pulling ECE resource teachers to cover general education classrooms yet another breach of legality.

SOMETHING needs to be done.

I don’t get it!? Staff that is supposed to work with our Tier 3/ECE kids are being pulled to cover! It’s a hot mess!

  • What [she] said. It’s insane out here.

I went through the entire process and got hired but I haven’t actually worked. #1 They really emphasized in the training/orientation that you HAVE to work 5 days a month. I can’t commit to that. #2 There is literally no training at all. The only real thing of value discussed was proper handling of students. I feel like I would be going in completely blind as to what to do or expect once I got there and that is very intimidating. You’re literally just thrown in there.

  • This.
  • I generally concur about training. I’ve tried to make up for the lack of training by reading the handbook over and over, and looking up helpful hints on the web. Still, I think I may be somewhat lost at first.

My son woke up sick this morning at 6:30. I immediately requested a sub, notified my principal and secretary, then created and submitted sub plans. When school started at 9:00, there was no sub for my class. My students were split among different teachers for different times of the day. My absence negatively impacted many people at my school. I feel bad but what am I supposed to do? That’s what our sick days are for and we can only get so much advance notice when a child is sick. I hope they address this as quickly and effectively as they did with the bus driver shortage.

  • It is the same at my school, I am the gym teacher and I have already had to work a few days I put in for a sub because I felt bad the teachers would not get their planning if I did not come in and work. I thought about emailing [Dr. Hargens]. It was bad all last year, I can’t believe it has not gotten any better.
  • Sad but true.
  • Agree with everything you said, except the quickness with which they solved the bus driver problem. It was NOT solved quickly…has taken several years to come up with this plan.
  • Referring to how once it got to crisis state, like the substitute teacher situation is now, it appears they made a plan, scheduled for it to be heard at a board meeting, passed it and began payments. This is in stark contrast to the speed with which they moved on reimbursement of staff’s promised step increases.
  • And the speed with which they are paying retroactive pay!!

I spent a year subbing for JCPS. Hardest job I ever had. Classroom management is a real issue and I often felt like I had no support.

  • This, too.

I loved subbing in JCPS. Visited 32 Elementary schools. HR is the headache. Once you get past the board that was the hassle. They are pigeon holeing the numbers.

It also doesn’t help that the subs that ARE there end up having no break at all, because they end up taking over an uncovered class during their “planning.” You can’t blame them for not wanting to sub.

We are told as subs that we shouldn’t get planning but we need breaks too and we have things that need to be taken care of. A lot of subs, not me, feel unappreciated and taken advantage of and refuse to go to certain schools because of how they are treated. Schools get to rate us but no one cares about our options and how we are treated.

  • So true…..

I first heard about it last year. Several classes at a Broadway area Elementary school would pile into the classroom of a teacher who did show up. It would be a zoo and very frustrating for the hardworking folks who refused to abandon their school.

We had at least 2 homeroom teachers who did not get subs, and both had been requested earlier in the week. An ECE resource position that was requested last night was filled, so that sub was moved to one of the homerooms. Subs do NOT want homeroom positions, and we don’t have a lot of behavior problems. Crazy, and the neediest students are usually the ones who suffer.

My son (who is in 1st grade at my school) ran a fever last night. My plan B – husband had a meeting he couldn’t miss – plan C – grandparents left for Fl this morning. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a sub so I loaded up my son with meds and we went to school today. Will I get mother of the year … prob not but me not being at school would have disrupted so many other staff members & students. Also, my ESL students were not seen today because the ESL teacher was pulled to cover a k class! That k teacher put in for a sub several days ago.

The sub shortage is bus drivers, Classroom teachers, and I just learned about Nutrition Services. Julia Bauscher, the Nutrition Services director, went to a school today at 8 am to work the kitchen. It is a growing and consistent problem. I didn’t realize it even involved food service workers. Andrea Wright says it’s common. She even worked at a school as a cashier when they were short.

I know my sister wanted to sub a few years ago for jcps while she was obtaining her masters degree, but didn’t because of the time commitment the board required. She just wasn’t going to get the flexibility she needed for her class schedule. Now she has a masters in education but works in a completely unrelated field because she’s making slightly more money in a call center than she would as a teacher.

  • I didn’t realize she wasn’t teaching. What a loss of awesomeness.
  • Nope. I know she’d rather be teaching, but it just doesn’t make financial sense for her family.

Every time I get a sub they pull them to a homeroom class. My kids are not getting the ECE service minutes required by law.

This situation is dire. Another teacher told me she cannot attend PD, which would help improve her teaching skills and bring up student scores because she can’t get a sub. They want scores to improve but they don’t provide the ability to do so.

Another teacher I know has been subbing for 5 years. He recently tried to apply for a $55K loan for a condo and couldn’t qualify because the sub pay was not considered full time work. Luckily he had someone who could co-sign, but not everyone is that fortunate. Affordable housing is difficult to find so that could be another factor affecting our teacher shortage, if they can’t qualify for loans in the community where they teach.

Here’s what JCTA sent to all members regarding the shortage:

“1. Substitute shortage. I want to make sure everyone knows what the contract says: “The Employer shall maintain a program to provide substitutes for teachers when they are absent. When a teacher is not provided a substitute due to lack of availability, following approval of the Substitute Teacher Center, volunteers will be sought to provide coverage only during planning time and will complete their planning time at the end of the same school day at the work site. Employees shall be paid their hourly rate for the extra assigned duties.”

Here is the link to the extra-service pay form:

Please have teachers fill this out and submit for payment. If your school has divided kids up into different teachers’ rooms, you should fill out the extra service form to be paid for class size overages for the day. If the contract is not being followed, and you (or members in your building) who have been affected are willing to be part of a class action grievance, please contact me.”

I have not been able to find out if these funds come from the individual school or the district. This seems to be the key question. I know many schools are not following these procedures and it would be easy to see why if the funds are coming from the schools themselves. If that is the case, the district is facing no consequence for not having all classes covered.

JCPS has many highly qualified teachers that are asked to present PDs, attend PDs, as well as presenting and attending conferences. It order to do so, the teacher has to fill out a professional leave form. In many cases the financial liability of getting a sub will fall on the school. It is not uncommon for a teacher to be granted 3 days leave but only be given a sub for one day.

As with many things, just follow the money. The financial responsibilities of more and more things are moving from the district level to the schools. And instead off supporting the schools, they are cutting their budgets. When I started, if I was asked to go to a PD, I was paid a stipend by the district. Now, that money has to come from the school with principal approval. Needless to say, there are not a lot of stipends being granted.

Good luck with this issue and thanks for all you do. If it wasn’t for you and Toni Konz, teachers would not have any voice in Jefferson County.

I teach at an elementary school. We have classrooms without subs almost daily. Each time, our teachers who serve as interventionists are forced to sub, which means our tier 3 kids aren’t getting their interventions as intended. Some days, if more than one teacher doesn’t have a sub, we split the kids up. I’ve had up to 32 kids at a time and have not been offered overage pay. We have also had several teachers who’ve had to cancel PD because no one has picked up their class. It is a MESS. Teachers are afraid to take off because we know it inconveniences our colleagues. Meanwhile, the district is saving money because they aren’t having to pay as many subs. The kids are the ones who pay the price at the end of the day. 😡

  • I’ve missed 2 planning periods due to lack of subs

Another thing that I think is playing a factor is that all of this happens without the public being made aware. When the bus driver shortage causes routes to be canceled, then the public becomes aware. But our awesome teachers “handle it” and the public is none the wiser. We need a way for the public to realize what is going on. Kids need to go home and tell their parents, perhaps.

It’s not only a hardship for the teachers, the students are missing out on a day of instruction. If I have 32 six-year olds in my room, I do not have places for them to sit, materials for them to use, etc. I can’t continue the instruction planned for my own class, and the added students may not be in the same place as we are. I have to “back up and punt,” with my schedule and my teaching–it’s a lost day for the most part. If interventionists are pulled to cover, school wide, our lowest performing students miss out on the extra help they need. Some days we have a rotation of up to 5 people who cover a single class–no consistency to that, either. At least 4 of the 5 days of the week our school is short subs, since the second or third week of school. I have seen this problem go from an occasional occurrence to a daily issue. Teachers should not have to work when they are ill or be concerned about taking a personal day because they know their students and colleagues will suffer. My administrators are THE BEST, have even taught classes themselves, and do everything they possibly can to support teachers and students. The district must address this.

Very frustrating for teachers, as a music teacher sometimes I have to manage 30+. It completely changes the dynamic of the lesson. Students shouldn’t have to suffer. What is going to fix it? A higher pay rate for subs? Or should the district pay for permanent subs on each school?

Fixing this will solve a lot of problems at J.C.P.S.


This is a HUGE problem at our school. Our ECE resource teachers are pulled at least once a week to cover when we are short on subs. So not only are these teachers unable to do their actual jobs, but their students, who are legally entitled to special education services, are not receiving their IEP minutes and services.

Part of the issue is economy. Since its improvement, those that took the lower paying sub jobs have moved to better jobs. Also, JCPS’s reputation is horrible so no one sees them as a viable option.

Until student behavior is addressed, you will continue having problems hiring bus drivers and substitute teachers. Throwing money at people does not make up for the lack of safety, respect and general well-being they experience. It’s only going to get worse as those who might have gone into teaching decide to take their talents elsewhere and current teachers continue retiring as soon as they can or just decide to leave the profession.

  • That’s right. We can’t spend our way out of this issue.

What I have been told by 2 subs: they will turn down jobs at schools where the admin won’t support them with respect to disruptive students. That schools with what some would call a challenging student body get more subs because the admin will pull the kids who disrupt.

It is also very difficult to get subs for teacher assistants in special education classrooms. There are also vacancies in classrooms that still haven’t been filled. Something is seriously wrong.

Another problem with the sub shortage is the district PDs that are being held during the school day. While I appreciate the district trying to help us, it is actually hurting us. Students without a teacher are not learning. Put the teachers back in the classroom and have a summer institute like we used to, or hold the PDs after school on a monthly basis, like we had when there were cohorts. I’d be curious to know how much schools throughout the district are spending on subs for these PDs. At my school, it’s K-12. We have teachers from all three levels gone for these PDs on a weekly basis. We have sub shortages regularly at our school, and subs love coming to our school! It’s because there aren’t any left to fill up for the teachers who call the night before or morning of, because they are all taken to cover for those PDs. Bottom line, teachers need to be in the classroom. PDs should be after school or during the summer for PD credit. Subs should be reserved for teachers who need a sick day or personal day.

As a newly retired teacher (33 years), this is spot on. I worked sick sometimes because I knew that subs were so short. This article is spot on. I don’t know the answers but they need to solve this.

My mom used to sub, she worked for 5 or 6 years. 2 or 3 years subbing almost the entire year in vacancies. She is a retired teacher who taught 29 years for the district. She knows her stuff. The last year she subbed she took a break subbing only here and there and taking a few vacations with my dad (you’re supposed to do that when you’re retired). The district sent her a letter at the end of the year saying her services were no longer needed because she hadn’t worked enough days that year! Absolutely ridiculous!

  • WTF!!! We need all the help we can get! SMH!
  • They should be thankful for even one day a month. That’s one day that kids get at least SOME instruction. All of this impacts test scores too….
  • Exactly! I don’t think there should be a minimum. Some people might be able to work the entire month of September but not at all in October. JCPS should be flexible enough to accommodate people. If they want to let people go for not working enough, that person’s entire history with the board should be taken into consideration. Not just some arbitrary number of days worked in one month that gets red flagged by some computer program. Furthermore, I don’t think there should be any type of minimum put on a retired teacher that has agreed to come back and sub. We need their experience.

The sub issue was one of the reasons I left the classroom this year. Last year, I was struggling with a chronic health issue. If I put in a sub request the evening before, during the night, or in the morning, it wouldn’t be filled. The only way to get a sub was to request one days or weeks in advance, and that didn’t guarantee that administration wouldn’t pull them for another class. I frequently got 5 am texts from my principal letting me know the absence wasn’t filled and requesting that I come in anyway. After getting many work texts with directives outside of work hours, I eventually blocked his number and told him I couldn’t text any more. He would still ask me if I had gotten this or that text, so I know he didn’t respect my boundaries and stop texting me.

While teachers often come to work sick, doing so regularly had a negative impact on my health, and caused me significant pain. But I felt that I had to do it, because no administrators would cover my classes if the absence wasn’t covered by 7:20. Instead, my team members would arrive at work and be blindsided with the instruction to divide up my students (as many as 60 kids in some classes, and some quite disruptive) amongst themselves – or they would be the recipients of the 5am texts! So not only would my students probably not be learning, but every single class on my team and all my colleagues would be impacted. I chose to struggle with my own pain rather than ruin the day for hundreds of kids and their other teachers. I hated that a couple times I had to show a video for my most disruptive classes, because I was too ill to handle their behavior.  (I couldn’t call for assistance, because SRT calls regularly went totally unanswered, but that’s a separate concern!) It didn’t matter that I was a seasoned employee with plenty of sick time available. I wish JCPS could pay subs so much that they want be there, and provide the support for what is an incredibly tough job.

I love kids and teaching, and I’m incredibly proud of the good work I did for over a decade in a challenging school…but not being in that situation anymore has been a huge relief. There are so many amazing teachers in JCPS, and I wish every single one would get the support they need to remain in the classroom helping children.

Until the superintendent makes changes in the discipline code this will continue. Students need to know they face consequences for misbehaving! I demanded respect from my own children & they never acted up at school because they faced discipline when they got home.

I was a sub last year, as a former certified teacher with 11 years experience and a masters, my sub pay was good… Especially with a long term job… However I pulled my daughter out of JCPS for middle school and am homeschooling after my middle school sub experiences. So now I can’t sub.  If the issues above were addressed and something done about it, she could go back to school and I could sub again. Catch 22.

I worked as a sub under a full-time position while I got my teaching degree…called a Professional Educator or Para-Educator program, depending on the version of the program. I was required to work every day and at whatever school I was assigned to. I was wondering if a similar program is still in effect to both provide subs and to help get new certified teachers (career changers who already have undergrad degree) in high need areas.

But…around two years ago the state mandated that teacher candidates get 200 observation hours (a lot more than it used to be) before they can do student teaching. I don’t know any way someone could sub (or work anywhere) full time and get that many hours of observation in just 12-18 months of grad school.

Thank you for your feedback. To add your comments, please send an email to

Leave a Reply