by Mallory Butcher, staff writer

Mrs. Melissa Cairns, Bio-Med Science Academy’s Integrated 10 Math teacher, took a day of leave on November 12, 2021. The classroom lay dormant because no substitute could cover her in time, leaving the remaining 10th grade team to cover a class at the expense of their planning period.

NOVEMBER 2021 – Bio-Med Science Academy announced a temporary closure of the Shalersville campus November 9, 2021. The building houses kindergarten through fourth grade students. According to the kindergarten through sixth grade Technology Instructor, Ms. Annette Lang, the closure is due to the lack of available substitute teachers.

COVID-19 has caused the education system to consider possible reformations in the face of sometimes difficult challenges. One challenge demonstrated during the pandemic was the shortage of teachers and substitutes. According to the Learning Policy Institute, the need for teachers has quadrupled nationwide since 2010. This has ramifications at Bio-Med and other surrounding schools.

“This is a tough time for everyone. In my experience, several substitute teachers were retired or balancing new families. Both of these groups, I feel, are uncomfortable exposing themselves to the COVID virus so I cannot fault anyone for not taking risks that could complicate the health of themselves or a loved one,” commented Ms. Lang on the situation in Shalersville.

The Shalersville campus has not been the only part of Bio-Med to face direct challenges from the shortage.

Mrs. Lindsey McLaughlin, the chief operating officer and principal of grades 10 through 12 at Bio-Med, said, “I think [the teacher shortage] has been coming for a long time. I think it started a long time ago, but I think it was exacerbated by the pandemic, and it’s kind of sped up the processes of the structural issues that have already been in place. Generally, teachers are underpaid, overworked, and undervalued, and I think that’s kind of come to bear.”

Mrs. Charmayne Polen, the chief operating officer and principal of grades seven through nine, mentioned that, on average, she subs for absent teachers “probably at least once or twice a week. I covered a core yesterday, and I covered a core today.”

According to emailed logs of attendance of Bio-Med staff from the first through fourth and the eighth through 11th of November 2021, an average of a little over two teachers were absent each day. Teachers say, however, that the administration’s frequent intervention has not been due to teachers taking excessive absences.

“It takes way more work to get caught up, so I try to avoid missing days with students,” said the Integrated 10 Math teacher Mrs. Melissa Cairns. “It’s easier, if it’s just a cold, to come in. I have to be really sick to not come in, and I get sick very rarely.”

Though many agreed a problem exists regarding a shortage of substitute teachers, the cause of the shortage has led staff and students to different conclusions.

Bio-Med sophomore Colton Gotham suggested that the teacher and substitute shortage was caused by “the side effects of COVID.”

McLaughlin argued otherwise. “Education has always had an up and down in terms of societal understanding and societal appreciation,” McLaughlin explained. “I would say the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001 really started a trend towards the degradation of the [education] profession.”

The No Child Left Behind Act was a law passed by Congress and former President George W. Bush in 2001. The law was designed to give schools a universal curriculum for teaching students. To do so, the federal government required state tests that they determined the contents of.

Despite the differences between teacher and student opinions, the two agreed that low wages given to teachers and a lack of funding for schools have been major parts of the problem.

“It’s kind of been forever of the whole ‘Teachers don’t get paid enough,’” Gotham laughed. “You would think that you would maybe be like, ‘Oh yeah, the one person that’s literally teaching my kid how to function in a certain category, that’s kind of an important job.’”

In 2019, new Bio-Med employees teaching core classes received less than $40,000 a year, according to GovSalaries. Substitute teachers are paid approximately $100 per day at Bio-Med.  According to Zip Recruiter, Ohio’s average substitute pay in 2021 fell $7.04 below Bio-Med’s pay. In comparison, Akron Public Schools announced on its Facebook page that as of October 20, 2021, substitute teachers working for the district would earn $249.54 per day due to the recent shortage of substitutes.

“[Bio-Med] is definitely the most work I have ever done for a teaching job outside of a classroom,” Cairns determined. When asked if she thought she made enough for her labor, Cairns shrugged and answered, “No. Compared to other schools, no.”

She concluded, “I really don’t think [the teacher and substitute shortage will reverse] until teachers are more valued, whether that’s the compensation — which is not just salary — from the public, from their administrators, and from the legislators making all these laws that we have to follow. Most of them have never been inside a classroom or taught in a classroom. When they are treated as the professional they deserve to be treated as, I think we will see it correct itself.”

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