Western Struggles to Supply Substitutes

As the nation grapples with a teacher shortage, Western seems to be struggling with a substitute shortage.


Credit: Audrey Miracle

Laura Ford is one of Westerns permanent substitute teachers.

Audrey Miracle, Assistant Editor

With a nationwide teacher shortage, it would seem that WAHS was caught in the web of teacher deficiency, but that’s not the case. 

I noticed…with the number of applicants, certain content areas we still have a lot of applicants,” says Jenn Sublette, Principal of WAHS “but there are hard-to-fill areas…I remember at one point this summer, five schools in the county were all looking for math teachers.” Sublette says that although the school was able to fill all teaching positions this past summer, the region as a whole has seen a decline in applicants. “Fewer people are going into teaching as a profession and so we’ve anticipated that this would be a challenge 10 years out…we’ve buffered from some of the national shortage thanks to living conditions in Charlottesville…but that can only help for so long if it’s a national-level shortage.”

Although Western is fully staffed with teachers, there have been many difficulties with absences each day. “There are days where we really have to scramble to find coverage for classes, and a lot of times, it’s the last-minute absences.” says Office Assistant Diane Symmes, “Teachers struggle to cover or an administrator might have to cover..” 

It seems that illnesses are the leading cause of absences currently, which comes after 2 years of dealing with COVID-19. Whether the teacher or a family member is sick, about a minimum of 5 teachers are out each day according to sub coordinator Sara Senn. 

To help both teachers and students, ACPS has instituted school-based substitutes to ensure that each class is covered. These substitutes are employed by the county and are assigned exclusively to one school where they fill a multitude of positions each day. Sublette has recognized how beneficial having school-based subs is for WAHS.

 “Having permanent subs gives you a foundation between COVID, flu, other medical and personal reasons where you’re just gonna have teachers out. Having those two permanent subs, they know the building, they know the staff, they start to know the kids and that has been really helpful.” School-based substitutes have also been instituted to help combat the lack of traditional substitutes this school year. 

Western’s substitute coordinator, Sara Senn, is in charge of organizing and making sure that each absent teacher has a substitute covering their class. “Every morning I start at 7:30 with all the paperwork for the subs…hopefully we’ve gotten subs to fill all the positions, and if not, I have to spend about an hour every morning trying to map out and find people.” Although this position has been around for a while, the job is seeming more crucial to the school this year. Many staff members have noticed the lack of substitutes, and the effect it’s having on the school. “It seems like I’m having to spread more people out,” says Senn “we’ve had fewer people grabbing the sub positions, and you see a lot of the same people, the same subs.” 

While it may seem that the pandemic is retreating, its effects on education do not appear to be going away. However, Sublette says people do not yet know the repercussions of COVID-19. “We will definitely not understand how complex the impact of Covid was until years later when we kind of look back on things.”