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EDITORIAL: When it comes to substitute teachers, the law of supply and demand still rules

York Dispatch
Substitute teacher Tabatha Peters, back, of West York Borough, receives a hug from student Lexi Mast, 4, during Community Progress Council's Head Start in York City, Friday, Dec. 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo
  • York County school districts are facing a shortage substitute teachers.
  • To attract quality substitutes, school districts are offering various incentives.
  • Some districts are offering bonuses, food and drink incentives and pay raises.

It’s a scene that had to send chills down the spine of every parent of a school-age child.

A female substitute teacher in Texas in seen in a viral video beating a 15-year-old female high school student.

Apparently, the students in the class were being a little loud and the situation escalated when the teacher cursed at them. The girl reportedly told the teacher not to talk to her that way.

The teacher responded by striking the student several times on her head before she stomped on the girl’s head. The girl was treated for severe injuries and the teacher was arrested and charged with aggravated assault.

So, you might ask, what does this have to do with us here in York County?

Well, it shows you the importance of hiring competent, professional substitute teachers.

Bonuses, food and drinks: York districts mull ways to woo substitute teachers during shortage

Right now, substitute teachers are mighty hard to find in these parts. In fact, there’s a serious shortage.

The reason for the shortage is pretty simple. It stems from a drop in the number of full-time teachers, which first started around 2014 or 2015. Fewer full-time teachers means there’s going to be a need for more substitute teachers, and right now there simply are not enough to go around.

Substitute Teacher Marianne Michels takes attendance as she begins Physical Education class at Susquehannock High School in Glen Rock, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Offering incentives: So, local school districts are trying different ways to attract qualified substitute teachers, including bonuses, food and drink incentives and, of course, higher pay.

Those incentives, especially the bonuses and the pay increases, probably don’t sit well with some folks. When it comes to teachers, there’s a segment of the population that strongly feels our classroom leaders are already vastly overpaid. The anti-teacher crowd believes that pay raises lead to tax increases (which can be true), and tax increases are simply not to be tolerated.

Well, at some point, the law of supply and demand will come in to play. The districts with the best pay and working conditions will land the best substitute teachers. Districts that lack adequate pay and offer less favorable working conditions will get less-qualified, competent substitute teachers – if they can get substitute teachers at all.

If you don’t pay to get qualified substitute teachers, you could end up with an extreme situation similar to the horrific outcome that occurred in Texas.

After all, you get what you pay for. It’s a basic tenant of our capitalistic society.

To fill the absences, more districts are starting to utilize guest teachers, which were first used about 20 years ago to help city schools fill positions.

Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 offers training for the Pennsylvania Department of Education-sanctioned positions, which awards an "emergency certification" that enables teachers to work for no more than 20 days.

Such guest teachers are sometimes necessary, but they are certainly not a best-case solution to the problem. They are, by definition, less qualified than substitute teachers.

Difficult, thankless job: Anyone who has ever been in a classroom knows that being a substitute teacher can be a thankless, difficult job. Some students, especially once they hit middle school, often take it as a personal challenge to make the lives of substitute teachers as miserable as they possibly can.

Walking into a strange classroom and gaining control of a couple dozen unruly youngsters can be daunting. It takes a special brand of individual to do it well, especially given the strict parameters of acceptable disciplinary methods in the 21st century.

It’s just something to think about the next time you’re complaining about teacher pay and tax increases.

No one likes higher taxes and our school districts should be extremely prudent when spending public money.

They should squeeze every last nickel.

Still, occasionally, increased spending and higher taxes can be unavoidable.

Especially when the incontrovertible laws of supply and demand come into play.