WATERVILLE — Thomas College is modifying its education program to allow students to work as substitute teachers and educational technicians in public schools in a move that’s expected to help school districts that are contending with insufficient staffing in classrooms.

The college announced this week that it’s adopted a new 200-hour service requirement as a part of its education degree program. Thomas officials say the move is the first of its kind in the state, developed in response to one of the biggest problems facing education in the region: understaffed schools.

“It’s a really big problem,” said Mark Hatch, assistant superintendent for School Administrative District 54, based in Skowhegan. “Especially educational technicians, we have just a real shortage of folks applying for those positions.”

Hatch’s district has 10 open positions for ed techs alone. And those are all required positions, which means the district often has to hire substitutes to cover those support positions, too. “That just adds an additional hit to our sub pool,” he said.

School districts statewide are facing a similar problem, with a shallow application pool to boot. Lewiston schools at the end of the last academic year had 70 positions open. Waterville Public Schools before the start of the school year had nearly 40 job openings for key teaching and support positions. And School Administrative District 11, serving Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner, is scrambling to fill vacancies after more than 50 people resigned in the past year.

School officials say teachers and staff are overwhelmed. Eric Brown, a high school science teacher at Lawrence High School, said earlier this year that educators often use their prep time to cover for one another.


Hatch and others say one of the greatest needs is for ed techs who provide vital work by assisting in special education classes, supporting students one-on-one, and plugging in as substitutes where needed. But lagging pay means ed techs often resign in pursuit of other work, officials say.

“I loved the school I worked at and loved the principal,” former MSAD 11 ed tech Emily Albert told the Kennebec Journal last month. “If it wasn’t for the money and lack of support from the district, I would have stayed.”

Albert was paid under $13 an hour, she said. Since 2020, the number of ed techs in MSAD 11 dropped by 19.3%, according to data from the Maine Department of Education.

That’s where Thomas College students are stepping in.

The 101 students enrolled in the college’s Lunder School of Education can now earn their field service hours by substitute teaching or serving as an ed tech in Maine schools. Students will be paid at the district’s sub rate in addition to working toward their 200-hour requirement.

Delaney Butts, 18, is one such student. Butts is in her first year at Thomas and said she’s “very excited” to start subbing. She has her first substitute job Friday teaching second-graders at Westbrook’s Saccarappa School, where she went to preschool.


Butts said the Lunder School program is great for students, who by subbing wherever they’re needed can “find the right grade level (they) want to teach,” and gain invaluable experience managing a classroom.

The Westbrook schools have 24 vacancies posted on their website that need to be filled. Six of those job postings are seeking substitute teachers and five are looking for ed techs.

Butts put in her application last Thursday to substitute and she was interviewed the next day.

“I’m really encouraged by the changes that Thomas is making,” Hatch said. “And in the fact that they’re trying to set up student schedules so that they can spend whole days in a classroom setting in a public school … So I think this is a piece to solving some of our substituting issues long term.”

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