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If you want to be a substitute teacher in Missouri, the state just made it even easier

Empty desks sit in a classroom on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, at Hoech Middle School in Breckenridge Hills. The school, along with those within the Ritenour School District, will have a day off Monday for mental health purposes.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Empty desks sit in a classroom last year at Hoech Middle School in Breckenridge Hills.

Missouri is once again loosening requirements for substitute teachers to address the ongoing sub shortage.

Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation this summer that both lowered the certification requirements and waived a limit on the number of hours retired teachers can substitute while still receiving their pensions.

School districts across the region are actively looking for substitutes, said Nicola Soares, president of Kelly Education, a company that contracts substitutes in St. Louis and nationally.

“I would characterize [demand] as crushing,” Soares said. “It has soared, skyrocketed, as a result of full time teachers leaving the classroom.”

Soares said the need for substitute teachers is closely linked to the ongoing teacher shortage. With fewer teachers to cover classes, schools rely on substitutes to do even more.

“The systemic issues are really around full-time teachers,” she added. “I call this a national crisis. We have to take a look at this issue because if we don't solve this and look at things like elevating teacher salaries, you know, giving more support resources where it's needed, that has a long-term impact on student achievement.”

Earlier this month, school districts and charters told St. Louis Public Radio they’re entering another school year with a teacher and staff shortage. Right now, that means schools have more open positions than they normally would this late in the summer.

Some experienced substitute teachers said the job became even more demanding during the pandemic. They described running between classes and filling their plan time with more teaching.

Subs said behavior in the classroom also has become a bigger problem, after students spent so much time without the social interactions they get at school. Judy Newell works for Kelly Education in the Parkway School District, where she has been a substitute teacher for seven years.

“I am definitely seeing behavior issues,” Newell said. “I'm going into sixth grade this year again, and I'm crossing my fingers that the kids are going to have had fifth grade normal in the classroom, and so hopefully they'll be better prepared to sit and not act out.”

Missouri used to require 60 college credit hours to become a certified substitute teacher. Now, the state will only require 36 hours of college credit. Last year, the state added an option to take a 20-hour online course instead of completing those college credit hours.

This summer’s changes also waived a limit on the number of hours retired teachers can work as substitutes. The limit won’t go back into effect until July 2025.

This change will have a big impact on teachers like Ron Zetcher, a retired 82-year-old who subs in the Ladue School District. Zetcher would like the state to permanently do away with the 550-hour limit so he can work without worrying about losing his pension.

“The subs who really want to sub, they'll work almost every day,” Zetcher said. “But you're telling them, ‘Oh, gee whiz, you know, we're having a hard time getting subs. But, you know, when you get (to) that 550, you can't come here.’”

Zetcher also said low pay contributes to the problem.

“I think that the daily pay in a lot of districts is not worth it for a teacher to get in their car, with the price of gas,” Zetcher said.

Still, many substitutes said they love their jobs, including the flexibility and the fulfillment they feel when they can positively impact students. Zetcher said he will continue to sub “until they shovel the dirt on me.”

Dajha Adams, a substitute in the Ritenour School District, said the position has helped her realize she wants to work in education long term. Subbing gave her an opportunity to see what different positions in schools are really like.

“I love being a teacher, and it's not for the money,” Adams said. “I want to be there for the kids. They genuinely make me happy.”

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio.