Nov 19, 2021 - News

Des Moines pays teachers $30 an hour to cover classes amid "perfect storm" of absences

Illustration of a red apple with a hundred dollar bill for a leaf. 

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The Des Moines school board approved Oct. 19 paying teachers $30 an hour if they lose their planning time to cover as a substitute teacher in another classroom.

Why it matters: That planning time is typically used to prepare classroom instruction, grade papers and catch up on work. But without it, burnt-out teachers are working extra at home.

  • So far, DMPS has paid $5,719 between Oct. 20 and early November.

The big picture: Demand for teachers is drastically outpacing supply nationwide. Many are retiring or quitting the profession due to pandemic-era stress, and universities aren't minting new ones fast enough, writes Axios' Erica Pandey.

Zoom in: At Des Moines schools, the teacher and substitute shortages are like an "onion" with layers to unpack, Charles Mercer, DMPS talent and personnel manager, told Axios.

On one hand, there aren't enough substitutes to cover absences. So teachers are covering for each other, resulting in lost lesson planning time.

  • But at the same time, Des Moines teachers are also using more sick leave and absences than in the past, due to fatigue, Mercer said. Staff absences have more than doubled this year in comparison to prepandemic.
  • "It's like the perfect storm of all of this happening at the same time," Mercer said.

The bottom line: The district is offering bonuses for referrals and hard-to-fill positions.

  • But as fewer graduates choose to become teachers, don't expect shortages to go away soon.

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