Schools nationwide are reporting significant staff and substitute shortages, and new research from the University of Washington shows that poorer districts in that state are facing shortages at two to three times the rate of their more affluent counterparts.

And the shortages are being seen in a number of roles, including paraeducators, transportation workers, janitors, nurses, special educators and English-language-learning (ELL) teachers.

Based on total job postings, the UW research found districts are most in need of substitute and special education teachers. The positions with the next highest posting rates are elementary, ELL and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers, which come close to equaling the number of special education postings when added together.

The research also shows the districts bearing the brunt of shortages tend to fall under “rural” or “town” classification, although urban districts are seeing the highest rates of STEM teacher vacancies.

By way of background, K-12 Dive notes that pandemic disruption has amplified stress, workloads and other factors over the past two years, compounding pre-existing teacher shortages. In California, a March survey of educators found the pandemic created longer workdays for teachers, with 59% responding that they felt the public misunderstood their workloads, and 20% saying they spent more time figuring out online platforms.

Staffing shortages and teacher burnout have forced some districts to cancel school days — or even full weeks — and the problem is expected to get worse. A Rand Corporation survey found that a quarter of teachers are likely to quit their jobs during this school year.

So what are school leaders to do?

Embed self-preservation and self-care skills into teacher prep programs. These include building “relationships to reenergize you,” establishing “rituals to restore you” and having “reasons to remind you” why you chose this profession in the first place.

Districts can also take steps to retain staff such as placing a higher value on teachers, increasing prep and grading time, and considering programs to forgive student loan debt after a designated amount of time.

For non-teaching positions, such as bus driver and classified staff, districts can consider hiring bonuses, longer breaks and overtime for drivers who work both morning and afternoon.