“My goal for some of you is to change your career path,” Brian Turner said to a group of about 20 people over Zoom on a recent afternoon.
“You’re going to go into schools, you’re going to change a kid’s life, and you’re going to want to get into an education program.”
Turner, director of recruitment and staffing for the Salem-Keizer Public Schools, was leading an orientation for new substitute teachers.
The new candidates had all applied for a new emergency substitute teaching license designed to help alleviate staffing shortages in schools across the state. The license, created through the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission in late September, does not require applicants to hold a Bachelor’s degree, or have any classroom experience. Applicants just need to be 18, have “good moral character” as well as the “mental and physical health necessary for employment as an educator,” and the sponsorship of a district, like Salem-Keizer.
The emergency license is just one of the many strategies districts are using to bring in prospective employees. School districts are also offering incentives — from extra money to a free lunch — to new hires, and for staff who refer new hires. Districts aren’t just seeking help in the classroom, either. They’re looking for custodians, bus drivers, nutrition service workers, and educational assistants to help serve students.
During Salem-Keizer’s orientation for new substitute teachers, which lasted a little over an hour, Turner explained the steps to getting employed through the district. He also went over how to choose teaching assignments and set preferences for schools, subjects, or days of the week.
“We have more jobs than people, so we have plenty of substituting jobs,” Turner said.
“So the reality is, if you want to work as a substitute teacher and you get through this process, and you get that license, you’re going to have plenty of opportunities to work.”
Turner also encouraged applicants to leave preferences open, to experience classrooms all across the district.
“I am an advocate for inclusion and diversity, and we have diverse schools all across our district — 65 of them,” he said.
During the orientation, Turner answered questions about class size, paperwork, and whether the district offers lunch.
“I highly recommend you bring your own lunch,” he said — citing long lines and a short lunch period. But he spoke fondly of the food options at North Salem High School, where he used to teach.
“They got a heck of a nacho bar! If you can get down there quick, you can add everything you want...it’s pretty good,” he said, laughing.
Statewide, TSPC estimates it has received over 500 applications for the emergency license, though it may not issue licenses to all of the applicants. TSPC said it has only issued five emergency substitute teaching licenses, though Salem-Keizer officials report having 15 substitute teachers working in classrooms under the license, according to KGW. TSPC said it will have more comprehensive data on the number of applications received and number of districts that have sponsored applicants in February 2022.
Some applicants for the license are already committed to becoming teachers and have already been in classrooms this year, student teaching.
Alex Martin was only a few months into his Masters in Education program at Oregon State University when a couple of his friends, also in their student teaching, told him that he could make some extra money subbing for the district.
“For me, coming into Oregon State actually, I didn’t have any education background or experience,” Martin said. “I always think about, everybody starts with no experience, at some point, and that’s kind of me, at least two, three months ago.”
Student teachers, like Martin, are allowed to apply for the emergency substitute license, even without a Bachelor’s degree, as long as they have the sponsorship of a district.
Martin already has a job working at a restaurant. He’s taking classes at Oregon State in his one year program. And he’s at Sprague High School in Salem two or three days each week, student-teaching in an Algebra 1 classroom. But the chance to become a substitute teacher presents another opportunity.
“A big part of teaching is getting through the content and simultaneously managing a classroom and the kids and stuff, and so it helps a lot in the classroom I’m student-teaching, because I’ve built those relationships with those students,” Martin said.
“But in these other classrooms where I haven’t, I think those provide me some really good opportunities to kind of grow as an educator.”
He hasn’t finished a substitute assignment yet, but he’s going to start with Sprague, because it’s convenient and he’s already familiar with the school.
Martin says he’d hoped to be a full-time permanent teacher by now, but the timing of his education programs didn’t allow that to happen. However, being a student teacher and a sub this fall allows him something he couldn’t get last year, when classes were virtual: in-person experience in a classroom.
“Now I get to work hands-on, in a school, and learn how to teach and all those things about education that would’ve been a lot more difficult…” Martin said. “I think it’s working out.”