Substitute teachers and school nurses in high demand

Hingham Middle School (photo by Joshua Ross Photography)

October 21, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer

While there was a particular need for more substitute teachers at the peak of the pandemic, that challenge remains, according to Interim Supt. Gary Maestas.

"It's always been difficult in education to find consistent substitutes," he told the Hingham Anchor. "These days there are many 'help wanted' signs around, and a lot of competition to [attract] employees, but working within a school system is of a different nature, because some people aren't comfortable in an environment where there is such a large number of people."

Other economic issues play into the overall employee shortage experienced in many communities. "Some people are still on unemployment, with other benefits in place, and are weighing that against returning to work [at this time]," Maestas said.

The shortage of substitute teachers poses a challenge for school principals, who are tasked with finding substitutes when a teacher or teachers call in sick -- sometimes at the last minute as situations arise -- or are out on sick leave.

"If there were to be lot of teachers absent at the same time, Hingham Public Schools would be struggling," Maestas explained. "At the peak of the pandemic, some school districts were faced with having to close their schools because they couldn't get substitute teachers. Fortunately, that was not the case in Hingham. So far, we've avoided that dilemma, but we don't want to be in that position."

The number of COVID-19 case numbers among Hingham schools has been low so far this year.  Maestas' concern from the beginning of when he stepped into the interim superintendent position has been how to minimize absenteeism among students and staff "and keeping our kids and faculty healthy. If our numbers were to spike, finding substitutes would be like pulling teeth," he said.

Maestas sympathizes with principals faced with finding substitutes, in the current climate especially.  "When a school has a positive case and does contact tracing, the process in determining who can stay in school and who cannot and how to cover that gap poses a challenge," he explained.

Finding qualified school nurses such as the ones who are already employed with the HPS isn't an easy task either, according to Maestas. "There has always been a need for school nurses due to the unique nature of that job, and the pandemic has highlighted this," he said. "Working with lots of kids in a school -- especially with the COVID-19 overlay -- is a different setting from being a nurse in the traditional working realm.

Our nurses are extremely dedicated, but if one [or more of them] should be exposed to COVID-19 or has to be out of school for a different reason, it would be difficult to find a substitute(s)."

The school administration maintains a list of substitute teachers and nurses.  Individuals who would like to substitute teach in the Hingham school district are encouraged to go to the School Department office in the Town Hall building on Central Street and submit an application. "To have a [substantial] list of substitute teachers for our principals to choose from would be amazing -- a luxury we would love to have available for them [to access] as a helpful resource," Maestas said.

The same holds true for individuals who would like to be added as possible school nurse substitutes.

Having been in the role of calling substitute teachers himself in the past -- starting in the early morning hours to fill a last-minute need -- Maestas appreciates what being in that position is like, on top of all the other responsibilities principals are tasked with and the extra layer of COVID 19-related issues.  "It's not easy," he said.

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