Nationwide substitute shortage leads to overcrowded classrooms in Chicago Public Schools

CHICAGO (CBS) – The shortage of substitute teachers is a nationwide issue. But some Chicago Public School teachers say it’s such a problem that classes have to be doubled and staff is being pulled off other duties to fill the gap.

“We’ve been struggling with staff from the start of the school year.”

Madeleine Greene teaches 7th grade at Tarkington elementary school in Marquette Park. She says those staffing struggles have only gotten worse these past several weeks. One big problem? Not enough substitute teachers.

“We’ve had multiple days of double-digit staff shortages. And some days only one or two subs to fill these roles — classes being combined,” she says.

Greene says she’s even taught 40 kids at a time because of it.  She doesn’t blame her school’s administration. She questions CPS’ administration and its hiring process. So does Harlene Ellin. 

“I heard about the sub shortage and it all clicked.”

Ellin applied to be a CPS sub at the beginning of the year. She says it took weeks and her own follow-up emails and calls before anyone with CPS even got back to her.

Ellin: I had my interview April 26th.

Kozlov: Have you heard anything?

Ellin: Nothing. I never even got a thank you.  I’ve heard absolutely nothing.

CPS’ Deputy Talent Officer Ben Felton calls that lack of response an anomaly.

He says the substitute hiring process, for licensed applicants, is usually two weeks from application to response — not four months. He says CPS actually has 200 more subs in its pool than it did in 2019 but concedes the COVID uptick and subs’ hesitancy to enter a pandemic-era classroom has contributed to the shortage. Ellin calls the whole thing sad.

See also  Salina public schools graduate to continue love of community as new elementary principal

“I could have been in the classroom relieving some of the stress — schools in general,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight for the staffing levels.”

A district spokesperson disputes Harlene Ellin’s claim, saying they reached out to her numerous times and offered her a position through the application website shortly after her interview. Ellin says she never got it. 

That spokesperson also says CPS has a robust recruitment campaign and had hired more than 455 subs since the beginning of the year. CPS is also offering incentives, like paying subs more for taking assignments at hard-to-fill schools.