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Substitute teachers can be effective without a degree

Ohio lawmakers are considering a proposal that would extend the waiver of the requirement a substitute teacher have a four-year degree. The change initially was necessary when pandemic challenges created a desperate need for substitute teachers that has not subsided.

Even the Ohio Education Association acknowledges extending the waiver may be necessary, though they, along with the Ohio Federation of Teachers, are not fans of the idea. They call the measure a bandage, and point to the need for more help for full-time teachers.

“There is an awful lot that we ask of teachers,” OEA President Scott DiMauro told WOSU in Columbus. “Public schools do such critical work, not just academic learning, but social-emotional needs of kids and serving as hubs in communities. We need a lot more help in the form of nurses and counselors.”

That’s true, and lawmakers must bear it in mind as they steer clear of perpetually extending a solution without addressing the root problem. But in the meantime, there is much to learn from the previous two years of lowered requirements for substitute teachers.

“They do a really good job,” Centerburg Local Schools Superintendent Mike Hebenthal told the radio station. “Really into it and really love the kids. Honestly, if you’d watch them and watch somebody that was degreed, I don’t think you’d be able to tell the difference.”

In other words, there’s more to being a teacher than having been granted a piece of paper that says you’ve earned a four-year degree. Certainly the right education and training is important for those who have chosen education as a career, but it is not the only thing that helps them play an important role in our children’s education.

As the pool of retired educators or other willing substitutes with a four-year degree does not show signs of growing any time soon, it seems then a compromise is in order. Both the concerns of education professionals and gaps in coverage for school districts must be balanced in a way that meets the educational needs of our kids, rather than fitting a potentially outdated status quo.

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