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

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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.

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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 hired at least 100 people as emergency substitute teachers in the past two years. The district has also received applications from recent college graduates who want to substitute as they look for work, or decide what career they want to pursue.

Closer to Seattle, districts have a larger pool of certified teachers to draw from, but they also struggle to fill some vacancies. The Kent and Auburn school districts, for example, report they are doing fine, but Seattle Public Schools is starting the year with 100 teacher vacancies to fill, according to a recent memo from the district superintendent. The district has discussed recruiting parents and other community members, and may do that once school starts, recruiter Sheila Redick wrote in an email.

But even if your district doesn’t need substitutes, you can help in many other ways.

Here are some tips to help navigate them, drawn from advice from state officials and Judy Hendricks, an emergency substitute and parent at Ridgeview Elementary School in Kennewick.

And for someone like you, Drew, all these options seem possible.

1. To become a temporary teacher, apply for a limited teaching certificate.

“The process is pretty streamlined,” said David Kinnunen, director of professional certification for the state superintendent’s office. First, check to see if your district is hiring. If it is, apply directly with that district. It will tell you which certificate you should pursue.

You’ll also have to register with OSPI’s e-certification website, one step toward getting a limited teaching certificate. Make sure you have all your records ready — like your high-school transcript, said Hendricks, who recalled having to search for old documents during her certification process three years ago. Be prepared for a bit of a wait, too. It took Hendricks about three months to obtain a certificate.

And before you start, figure out whether you are suited for the job.

“If you don’t like working with children, thinking on your feet, and rising to the challenge, don’t do this,” said Hendricks. One way to test your interest and ability is to work as a paraeducator, or teacher’s aide. Those jobs typically pay less, but offer a chance to observe how a school works. Hendricks was a paraeducator for more than a decade before she applied for certification.

2. If you don’t have the qualifications for the classroom, there are opportunities to contribute in other ways.

“If you’re in marketing, you can reach out to the HR department and ask, ‘What can I do for your recruiting efforts using my marketing background?’ ” said Sam Teasley, a data analyst for OSPI’s office of professional certification.

It’s also worth checking if your district is hiring for nonteaching positions as a school receptionist or other office job.

3. If you’re seriously considering returning to or starting a career in teaching, you might check out the programs that allow you to earn a certificate in alternative ways.

Good news for paraeducators: a new law that will take effect in 2018 will make it easier for you to earn a teaching certificate and four-year degree. Speaking a second (or third) language could also work in your favor.

For everyone else, alternative programs are faster and cheaper than traditional ones. The state’s Professional Educator Standards Board has a helpful infographic on these options.