A soon-to-be grad asks, can I help ease the Washington state teacher shortage?

Across the state, school districts struggle to fill positions with certified teachers. One reader asks: How can I help?

About a week ago, as part of our Education IQ series, we asked for your burning questions as school goes back into session. We plan to answer as many as we can, starting with one, from Drew Dixon of Seattle. Got a question before school starts? There’s still time — just fill out this form.

Drew’s question focused on the teacher shortage that many districts are facing, and whether he, as a community member, can pitch in as a temporary teacher to help.

“I hope for my career to involve teaching on various levels,” Drew wrote in an email. “My soon-to-be-graduated-teacher-loving-self wondered if there is any way my interest in teaching could match up with the needs of the community.”

To answer that question, we talked with the state education department, several district officials and even a parent. And we found that the short answer is yes — parents and others who have experience working with youth, and hold a bachelor’s degree (not always required, but recommended) can be substitute or temporary teachers.

Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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When districts can show the state that qualified teachers aren’t available for a job, they’re allowed to hire emergency substitute teachers, who can be parents or experienced volunteers, said Maria Flores, director of teacher and principal quality for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). In the last two years, the number of emergency certified teachers in Washington classrooms has doubled.

In Kennewick, in southeast Washington, the district actively solicits applications from parents and other community members, even putting fliers into students’ backpacks asking parents to apply to be substitutes.


“Earn $112 a day,” the flyer says. The district tried a similar approach in October 2016 to advertise for a job fair.

“Our campaign has helped a lot,” said Doug Christensen, Kennewick’s assistant superintendent of human resources. “It still isn’t perfect as we still have more openings, but it’s better.”

He estimates the district has…

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