Illinois schools face state-wide teacher shortage, responsibility falls on substitutes

PORT BYRON, Illinois -- This year, there are more than 5,200 openings in schools across Illinois and teachers say it's taking a toll on substitutes.

After 33 years of teaching, Debbie Kincaid thought she was ready for retirement. However, this school year, she finds herself back in the classroom under a different roll -- as a long-term sub.

"My principal, Mr. Temple, called and said he had a last minute resignation so they were looking for a long-term sub to help out in the Special Ed. Department," said Kincaid.

According to the latest survey done by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, there are 5,220 total openings across the state. More than 1,000 of those positions, or 20%, are filled by substitutes, unqualified personnel, or simply left not filled.

"There's very few of us... that work a lot," Kincaid laughed. "But if there were more of us we wouldn't have to."

Regional Superintendent, Tammy Muerhoff, said special education teachers, school psychologists, social workers, speech language pathologists, and nurses are among the many positions that see the greatest shortage. She said that is because it is hard to find individuals that are appropriately licensed and endorsed.

"In the past, there may have been 100 to 200 applicants for an elementary position," Muerhoff said. "Now, that pool of candidates is severely diminished. It could be 10-20 applications."

Out of the total open teaching jobs, 871 positions, or nearly 17%, are for Special Education.

"There just aren't enough people completing the programs for the number of individuals that are needed within the school districts," Muerhoff said.

Kincaid is among those substitutes filling a position she is not quite qualified for.

"Because I've had the experience in the classroom... and I've worked with special ed teachers all along... by giving me a little direction, I can usually take it (and fill the need)," said Kincaid.

Kincaid said in taking the long-term substitute position, she is also removed from an "already short" substitute list within the district. Riverdale Elementary's principal said he hopes a December-graduate fills the position permanently by the end of the calendar year.

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