Pocahontas County Schools has been facing employment issues for both professional and service personnel, with several positions filled by long-term substitute teachers. Now, the school system is having a hard time finding substitute teachers.
To address these employment issues, the Pocahontas County Board of Education applied for and received a restricted waiver for substitute teachers. Superintendent Terrence Beam explained how the waiver opens the field to potential substitute teachers who don’t have bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
“It will allow us to seek those who have an associate’s degree and give them the opportunity to apply to be a substitute teacher,” Beam said. “Now, the substitute teaching positions can be no more than ten consecutive days in any one position, but they’re not limited to what subjects they can teach.”
There is an application process, including background checks and interviews, before applicants are placed on the substitute teacher list.
“The fact that they sign up to be a substitute teacher does not guarantee they’ll be hired as a substitute teacher,” Beam said. “There may be a lot of people out there who have associate’s degrees, but they may or may not be a good fit for the school system. We’ll vet them, and we’ll interview them. They have to go through training to become a substitute teacher.”
Beam said he hopes to move the process along quickly and, by the beginning of 2022, have a list of new substitute teachers. But he wants to assure that those selected will be suitable to work in the classroom with students.
“We want to check them out and see if they work,” he said. “It will be something they’ve never done before – standing in front of a class of students – it may be four year olds, it may be eighteen year olds. You don’t know what it’s going to be.
“We are going to ask them for preferences,” he continued. “If there’s a particular school they’d like to sub at or a particular grade level or subject area that interests them the most and they feel the most qualified in. One of the things in the application process will be to share with us some of the areas they have expertise or experience in.”
The waiver only allows a substitute with an associate’s degree to be in the classroom for 10 consecutive days, so if the position requires more time, one substitute will be placed for 10 days, then replaced by a second for another 10 days, and so on.
The waiver is only for the 2021-2022 school year, but Beam said the county can reapply for the waiver next year.
In the meantime, Beam said the state legislature is looking at other ways to help public schools address the staffing issue that is a statewide problem.
“I was told by a superintendent the other day that they had two-hundred and fifty vacancies in one county,” he said. “We are competing against a lot of counties to try to get people.
“The question comes up as to why we can’t recruit, why we can’t get teachers to come in,” he continued. “Counties around us offer more money, they offer more benefits, which we’re not able to do, so we try to reach out to our local people who have kids that are graduated from college.”
Recruiting Pocahontas County High School alumni has worked for the school system – most recently in the hiring of Melissa Murphy Walker, Michelle Murphy and Rachel McComb – but not enough local students are going into the education field to remedy the issue.
The school system continues to actively recruit and has signed agreements with several colleges – the most recent with Fairmont State University for a teacher in residence program – but those programs don’t always guarantee a student teacher will become a full time teacher in the county.
“We have a wonderful county, but kids coming out of college want to make money,” Beam said. “They’re starting families, or they’ve got student loans, so they’re going to go where they can make the most dollars. You can’t blame them for that, especially if they’re not from here.
“We want to find local people if we can, because they’re more apt to stay,” he added.
Beam has also taken notice that colleges are seeing fewer students graduate with education degrees.
Beam said his biggest concern is finding full-time teachers to fill positions that will be vacant once current employees retire.
“What concerns me is that when spring comes – either this spring or a future spring – and we have a large number of employees who retire, and we cannot recruit people to fill those jobs,” he said. “Then, instead of having twelve kids in each of two classes, we’re going to have to have twenty-four in one class because we don’t have enough teachers. Or some of our schools have only eight or ten kids in one grade. We may have to combine two grades together because we don’t have a teacher.
“That’s what worries me.”
While Pocahontas County doesn’t have as many open teaching positions as some larger school systems in the state, it does have postings that have yet to be filled.
“We’re trying to fill some positions,” Beam said. “We’ve been posting. There are certain jobs that we’ve had posted all year long. We can’t get a bite on them.”
Those positions currently have long-term substitute teachers in place, but as Beam said before, he is having trouble getting substitutes to work. The pandemic has been one of the main reasons for that issue. Some substitutes have said they do not feel comfortable working in the schools if there is not a mask mandate, while others said they will not work if there is a mask mandate.
Beam said he understands that individuals have concerns with the continued pandemic woes, but at the same time, he has positions to fill.
“Point is, we’ve got to have subs in those jobs, and the number of subs we have to choose from is limited,” he said.
The waiver may not be a permanent solution to the issue, but Beam said he is willing to try anything to help teachers have a reliable list of substitutes to call on when they need to take time off from work.
“Is it the ideal solution? No,” he said. “But it is to help our teachers who really need to be able to find a sub when they have to be gone. [Without subs] you’re going to have to double up classes or you may have a day – I get them all the time – where they have no teacher in that classroom, so we have to cover with somebody.
“That’s just not what’s best for our students.”
To view the application and/or apply to be a substitute teacher, visit https://forms.office.com/r/mCQ3vQTwKT