Struggles Posed by Substitutes Shortages

Matsuka Gaja, Wilcox and the World Editor

As it seemed that schools have successfully returned and adjusted back to its “normal” in-personal setting, one issue has been concerning many schools throughout the nation – lack of substitutes. 

According to a nationally representative survey conducted by EdWeek Research center this September, around seventy seven percent of principals and district leaders expressed their concern of finding sufficient numbers of substitutes. Amanda von Moos, the co-founder of Substantial Classrooms, a national nonprofit organization to improve substitute teaching, mentioned that the average national fill rate, or the percentages of teacher absences that have been covered by substitute teachers, has fallen drastically this past school year. From eighty percent in previous years to around fifty to sixty percent, the national fill rate decreased by about twenty to thirty percent, clearly highlighting the concerns of school administrators. 

Specifically though, California has been struggling with substitute shortages for years, and the pandemic has only worsened this issue, posing many threats and concerns of successfully maintaining sufficient education at school. For instance, school employees are forced to take on additional responsibilities, said two-thirds of principals and district leaders across the nation, according to EdWeek Research Center. “Many schools have been playing musical chairs to fill in positions throughout the entire school staff including superintendents,” says Terri Rufert, a superintendent at Sundale Union Elementary School District in California in an interview with EdSource. Similarly, many Bay Area school districts including South San Francisco Unified School District have also been asking their counselors and other district staff members to fill in as their substitutes. Many school staff members with other primary roles are forced to fulfill positions of the lacking substitutes. 

Following this issue, many counselors are expressing their complaints of having to use their time to substitute. As more students experience mental burdens on their first year back on campus after the pandemic, the number of students seeking support from counselors are increasing as well. A counselor at Wilcox High School, Glenna Hall also commented that, “We are seeing an increase in students needing social and emotional support” this school year. Stepping in for a class period to substitute takes away the significant amounts of time for counselors to support their students in need. 

But what exactly are causing these extreme substitute shortages? It is the frequent two-week quarantine absences of teachers and the low supply of substitute teachers. In the midst of the pandemic, even the slightest cold symptoms will require teachers to take the COVID-19 test, which may take a couple of days for the result to come out. Additionally, with the COVID-19 unemployment benefits available for the unemployed, many former-substitutes are choosing to stay at home rather than filling a position for a low-paying job with no benefits, according to Education Week. To further its complications, private businesses across the nation are facing the same issues of worker shortages, therefore, competition for workers is fierce than ever. 

To combat these issues however, many schools are implementing new benefits for substitute teachers. Mary Vixie Sandy, the executive director at the Commision on Teacher Credentialing comments to ABC7 News that, “We’ve seen some districts have gone from $100 a day, to $200 or $280 or up to $350 a day to recruit a substitute teaching corps”. Schools have been using their COVID-19 relief money to increase the pay for substitute teachers which reveals how many schools are in desperate need of such positions to cover places for teachers. Similarly, Wilcox High School has also been sending emails to student’s parents to recruit parents as substitutes, offering up to $200 a day, $250 a day for a long term substitute of seventeen to seventy nine days, $431 a day for a long term semester sub of eighty plus days. Hall commented that though she has never been asked to substitute for a class, the Santa Clara Unified School District is clearly struggling due to substitute shortages and has started a campaign to recruit substitute teachers by distributing social media flyers through different platforms. 

As the flu season approaches, the demand for substitute teachers is projected to increase as well. With the emergence of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, whether or not the schools in the nation will be able to overcome the substitute shortages is unclear, but it is clear that many of them are rapidly taking actions to do so.