HANOVER TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The number of teachers returning to the classroom for the fall semester is at a new low. Pennsylvania has seen a drop from about 20,000 certified teachers entering the field of education a decade ago, to just 6,000 last year.

That falloff is steep and the rate of teachers leaving the field is accelerating. It’s made the role of substitute teachers even more critical and becoming easier than ever.

With a new school year at Hanover Area Jr./Sr. High School is less than three weeks away, its district superintendent is working on a math problem: more teacher positions than teachers to fill them.

“We met with a company to go out and recruit substitutes for us as most districts do,” said Nathan Barrett Superintendent of Hanover Area School District.

According to a recent report, the average full-time teacher misses 6 percent of a school year due to illness, family emergencies, or even in-service training requirements. With most U.S. schools struggling to hire enough qualified substitute teachers, it’s easier than ever to become one. No teacher certification is necessary.

“The state of Pennsylvania has lightened the requirements to allow school districts to fill in those gaps when teachers are on their leave,” said Barrett.

A minimum 4-year degree in any discipline and completing a background check are required. Places like Kelly Education provide free training to help prepare prospective substitutes.

“Everything from classroom management, instructional techniques, awareness on bullying as an example. There are many different topics that you would expect full-time teachers to receive in their preparation programs as well,” said Nicola Soares, President of Kelly Education.

It won’t take long for Hanover Area to begin using substitute teachers in the new school year. They plan on having at least three subs filling vacant slots throughout the district on the first day of classes.

Donna Willis is one of them.

“I’m very flexible and they know that. I’m certified K through 6 so I can go anywhere,” said Donna Willis, Substitute teacher.

Willis is a certified teacher who says she helps encourage subs who aren’t certified.

“Just to meet their needs, where they are and they don’t have to do what everyone else is doing,” Willis added.

The Superintendent says Hanover Area wants to have subs dedicated to each of its five buildings and have 12 everyday building-dedicated subs available to answer the call.