September 23, 2023

I’m Giulia Heyward, and since this school year began, I’ve covered the nationwide labor shortage affecting so many of the country’s schools.

Low pay, few benefits and erratic hours have long created staffing issues for many districts. The pandemic only compounded those problems.

Substitute teachers are especially in demand. At least two states, Missouri and Oregon, removed their degree requirements for would-be hires, to try to attract more substitutes. Other districts raised pay and increased benefits. When that failed, many temporarily canceled classes or turned to remote schooling.

The abrupt changes sent families scrambling to find child care and extended learning losses from the pandemic. Here are a few unconventional strategies used by districts that show the extent of the problem:

State employees — including a governor and the National Guard — are being asked to teach.

In New Mexico, the governor is now a licensed substitute teacher.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is encouraging other state employees, and the New Mexico National Guard, to follow suit. The staffing shortages in the state are so dire that state workers are also being asked to go on administrative leave to work as substitute teachers.

Other state leaders are doing the same. In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s executive order will let state employees work as substitutes for the remainder of the school year. One Oklahoma City bank even urged dozens of its own employees to help out.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper is letting state employees go on paid leave to work as substitute teachers.

The new measures seem to be working — more than 120 state employees in Oklahoma have volunteered as substitutes, and 100 state workers in New Mexico, including the National Guard, signed up to do the same.

Some education departments are getting rid of application requirements altogether.

  • Both Missouri and Oregon have lowered their college degree requirements for substitutes. A growing number of states are joining them.

  • Last month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan temporarily allowed other school employees to bypass the teaching certificate requirement to become a substitute. All they need is a high school diploma. The state is also letting retired teachers return to the classroom without losing any of their retirement benefits.

  • In Kansas, the education board got rid of the college degree requirement for substitutes for the remainder of the school year. In Salem, Ohio, anyone who passes a background check can temporarily become a licensed substitute teacher.

  • Pennsylvania’s governor stripped requirements so that some college students are now eligible to substitute teach in the state.

Schools are campaigning to get parents into the classroom.

One Central Indiana school district is on the brink of going back to virtual learning. Most of its full-time teachers are covering for one another, and other school workers are already supplementing a small pool of substitutes.

The superintendent of Hamilton Southeastern Schools made an urgent request this month: asking parents to help pick up the slack. “I ask that — if you have any time in your daily schedule — that you will consider subbing,” Yvonne Stokes said.

Families across the country are receiving calls to become substitutes. Early this month, school officials in Austin, Texas, asked parents to consider becoming substitutes. And another school district in Louisiana is also doing the same. In Palo Alto, Calif., the superintendent sent a “call to action” to parents.

“No amount of money can solve this issue,” the superintendent, Don Austin, said. “We need your help.”

If you have more questions for Giulia or other reporters who cover education, please write to us using this form. We’re planning to try to regularly answer questions in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


  • Many districts are using federal stimulus dollars — dedicated to help students recover from remote school — on virtual tutoring.

  • Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona sued the Biden administration to block its efforts to claw back federal pandemic relief money. Ducey had been using the aid to undermine school mask requirements.


And the rest …

A group of about 20 mothers in Boston were exhausted. So they met at the 50-yard line of a high school football field one night and screamed and screamed and screamed — letting out some of the stress of parenting during the pandemic.

“It was so nice to feel out of control for the first time,” one of the mothers told Sarah Harmon, who organized the gathering.

At the football field, Harmon signaled the start of a new round of screaming by raising two light-up unicorn wands that belong to her daughters. For 20 minutes, they screamed in different ways, laughing, competing, letting the catharsis wash over them.

Mothers often have no place to escape and no time to take a break, said Dr. Ellen Vora, a psychiatrist in Manhattan. Unlike their children, they can’t have a meltdown. “If you have two to three years of pent-up pressure,” Dr. Vora said, “going and being in a community of other moms and having a big release in the form of a scream is really healthy.”

If you’re in Massachusetts, Harmon is now leading other screams across the state. Or, you could call The Times’s primal scream hotline, which is available to mothers who want to yell, laugh, cry or vent for a solid minute.

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