Salt Lake City substitute teacher shortage prompts calls for workers in other industries to 'play hooky'

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Next time you want to call out from work, just tell your boss you’re going back to school. The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce is asking business owners to let their employees “play hooky” from work and step in as substitute teachers. 

This latest initiative comes as schools across the U.S. are desperate for subs. In New Mexico, they’ve called in the National Guard. In Texas and California, some school districts are asking parents to step in. 

In Salt Lake City, it could be the banker, barista, dental assistant or electrician teaching your kids. 

SCHOOLS RECRUIT PARENTS TO BE SUBSTITUTE TEACHERS AMID COVID STAFFING SHORTAGES

“It just makes plain good sense for our businesses to get involved in education,” said Ginger Chinn, the vice president of public policy and government affairs for the Salt Lake Chamber. “This is our future workforce. Our schools need help.” 

The most recent survey of schools in October, found more than 75% of principals were having trouble finding substitute teachers, according to EdWeek Research Center. In many districts, it’s only gotten worse after winter break. 

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“Because of the high surge of the omicron variant and the number of people who have been sick, the demand for subs has been much higher than normal,” said Ben Horsley, spokesperson for the Granite School District. 

In the first two weeks of the new year, the district says it had nearly 2,000 sub requests. Its pool has about 700 subs total. 

In the first two weeks of January, the Granite School District had over 2,000 sub requests. 

In the first two weeks of January, the Granite School District had over 2,000 sub requests. 

“Our pool is fine; that’s pretty typical,” Horsley said. “But usually this time of year, we’ll have 40-60 teachers out a day. Now we’re in the hundreds.” 

Without enough subs in the pool, Horsley says emergency substitutes with the district office have had to step in, including the superintendent. 

In other cases, classes have had to double up, or students are brought to an auditorium where one adult can supervise multiple classes. 

“At the end of the day, our goal is to provide quality instruction for students and when we don’t have the substitute teachers there to do that, that’s just not feasible,” Horsley said. 

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Since partnering with the chamber and reaching out to businesses in early January, the school district says it’s received 114 substitute teacher applications. 

“This is a way to make a difference in your community,” Horsley said. “I think we all want to know we’re making a difference in the world. This is just one small thing that you can do.” 

The Salt Lake Chamber is asking business owners to allow employees to step in as substitute teachers. 

The Salt Lake Chamber is asking business owners to allow employees to step in as substitute teachers. 

Horsley acknowledges that the pay is not “incredibly awesome,” but says the district tries to be competitive. 

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“This is really about what teachers do every day,” Horsley said. “They’re not here for the pay, they’re here because they want to make a difference in the life of a child.” 

The governor of Utah has also issued an executive order allowing state employees to take time off to fill in at the schools. Oklahoma, New Mexico and North Carolina have done this as well. 

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