In this Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, backpacks line a hallway in Hampden's Weatherbee School on the first day of school. Credit: Lia Russell / BDN

PORTLAND — There is a critical shortage of substitute teachers in Maine.

The state was already facing a shortage, but now it’s gotten worse with more teachers forced into quarantine, and that has less-qualified staff members now filling in the gaps.

For many school leaders, they thought this year would be easier and closer to normal than last year, but staffing shortages are a big problem.

For many districts, it’s “all hands on deck” just to keep the doors open.

“It’s kind of a juggling act,” RSU 14 Windham-Raymond Superintendent Chris Howell said. “We’re running now on some days only about half-filled for our substitutes.”

At Windham-Raymond schools, everyone from secretaries, ed techs and even the superintendent himself are all pitching in to teach classes when a teacher is out.

“Looking at whatever possible combination, making sure classes are covered,” Howell said.

The principal at Windham High School said that they’ve hired a few floating substitute teachers, but it’s not enough.

“From first thing in the morning through the day, a scramble to see how we can cover the positions,” Windham High School Principal Ryan Caron said.

“The rug has been pulled from underneath us,” RSU 16 Superintendent Kenneth J. Healey said.

Healey says they have 12 open sub positions.

If teachers are forced to fill in for another class, they get extra pay.

“It’s kind of like a magical game of moving chess as the administrators and support people start moving people in,” Healey said. “’Can you cover this? Can you cover that?’”

He hoped the year would be easier since 90 percent of the staff is fully vaccinated.

“But we still have people getting cases after being vaccinated,” Healey said. “It has not been the cure that initially we thought.”

“Working the pandemic is hard enough, but when you’re working the pandemic and then having to cover someone else’s position at the same time, while still your duties are there, that’s difficult,” Howell said.