By Paige Clarke and Priya Shahi
Nassau and Suffolk County school districts have partnered with local universities in February due to a substitute teacher shortage that is predicted to worsen, with Eastern Suffolk alone in need of nearly 350 positions.
The counties have partnered with Hofstra, Adelphi, and Saint Joseph’s College, holding job fairs in hopes to recruit more recent graduates to fill the urgent need of substitute teachers and build teaching staff. Saint Joseph’s College is set to host a job fair in late February.
“We have approximately 10 partnerships with school districts for the main purpose of ensuring high quality field experiences for our students,” Jay Lewis, the associate dean for external relations and recruitment for Hofstra University’s School of Education in Nassau County, said.
“We are sensitive to their hiring goals and have been providing information about substitute teaching needs to our students who might be able to substitute on a part-time basis. It is our prediction that the already significant teacher shortage will continue to deepen over at least the next several years.”
Substitute hires in the Eastern Suffolk district pool have dropped from approximately 750 to 400 over an eight-year period. “Many districts have increased their pay, but it really hasn’t made a difference if there aren’t many people waiting to be hired out there,” Dr. Julie Lutz, chief operating officer of the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), said. She reports that the current low unemployment rate may be a cause for concern.
“There are 300 to 350 fewer substitute teachers in our pool than there were eight years ago, when there were fewer people working during the Recession,” she explained.
On Long Island, the unemployment rate dropped to 3.1 percent this past December, with more people seeking full-time career opportunities over substitute teaching.
“People will work for full-time pay rather than substitute teaching, which is at a per diem pay rate,” Lutz said. “Substitutes in the past were focused on full time teaching positions – it’s a great way to learn new skills. But there’s a much smaller pool of people waiting to get hired, and many have gotten full time jobs doing something else. There is an overall decrease – people don’t have a hard time hiring qualifying substitutes, just substitutes in general.”
Student enrollment in education programs has plummeted 47 percent over the last six years, according to research by New York State United Teachers. With fewer people pursuing teaching degrees and a decreasing unemployment rate, the shortage of job candidates has been aggravated.
Adelphi University is in partnerships with districts in towns like Mineola, Oceanside, and Garden City to bridge the gap between college students pursuing teaching degrees and districts with a shortage of substitute teachers. Mirella Avalos-Louie, Director of Office for Adelphi College of Education, believes the partnership with universities and school districts is a win-win situation.
“Employers from different districts have the opportunity to come to our campus and meet our students, which could result in a on the spot hire or at the very least open a conversation among students to let them know that there are opportunities and that folks want them to be apart of their organization,” she said.
As the superintendent of Mineola schools, Michael Nagler is overseeing an agreement between local school districts and colleges.
“Recruiting education majors for residency programs is a way for graduating seniors to generate income and complete clinical experience,” he said.
One student who has previously attended a district school on Long Island, Natalia Oben, has seen the effect of substitute teacher shortages on classroom productivity.
“At my old school, when we needed teachers, there’d be no one else to come and assist. On those days you get thrown at with busy work,” she said. “And even if you’re in school, you’re missing important topics without a teacher being present in the classroom,” she states.