Substitute Teacher Shortage Adds a Burden To Schools Across the Nation

Aaron Raya, classified substitute at Santa Ana Unified School District, takes attendance for AP English Literature teacher, Monique Statlers class, on Friday October 29, 2021, at Godinez Fundamental High School during third period.

Wendy Rodriguez

Aaron Raya, classified substitute at Santa Ana Unified School District, takes attendance for AP English Literature teacher, Monique Statler’s class, on Friday October 29, 2021, at Godinez Fundamental High School during third period.

Wendy Rodriguez, Editor-in-Chief

Friday mornings in the front office of Godinez Fundamental High School (GFHS) are chaotic. 

A typical morning for office manager Olivia Arredondo at GFHS is finding sub coverage for two to three teachers who are out on sick or personal leave. But on Monday and Friday mornings, there can be as many as 10-12 teachers out. Arredondo puts a note beside the sign-in sheet and asks teachers to volunteer while calling district classified substitutes to see if they are available.

As schools across the nation continue in-person instruction, so does the search for substitute teachers. 

Not only is the nation struggling with the lack of substitutes in schools, but they are also low on bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and teachers in the classroom.

According to Arredondo, the biggest challenge is getting teachers to cover other classes because not only are you taking away their preparation period, but many teachers are burnt out. 

“This year, we are stressing teachers out by (using them) to cover classes too much. Then they decide to be out as well,” said Arredondo. 

“Every school is struggling to get long (and short) term subs, including GFHS, but we aren’t as bad as other schools. However, it is difficult here,” said principal Jesse Church.  

Church sees a sub shortage because many people have been at home for the past 18 months, some teachers retired early, and there are teachers out on family leave. 

The Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD), is in the process of hiring more substitute teachers and promote job openings on EdJoin. EdJoin is a platform where people find careers in education. 

According to the EdJoin website, there are currently over 1,300 job openings in Orange County. 

Executive Director of Human Resources in SAUSD, Dr. Davin Lawson, said that there is a substitute shortage in the district because a lot of people within the city of Santa Ana who would have applied for classified positions have varying issues such as: they are not incentivized to work because of state and federal money as part of the COVID-19 relief fund or they already have another job that doesn’t give them the flexibility to work a second job.

On a certificated level, there are fewer college students receiving their teaching credentials and more people retiring.

“We have that challenge before us. We are losing people because they are retiring and we are not gaining as many people back in,” said Lawson.

According to Lawson, teachers who retired in June of 2021 are not allowed to come back to sub until six months have passed. Lawson said that many of them would have come back, but are prevented until January 2022.

Another reason there is a sub shortage is because many are concerned about their safety and COVID-19 protocols. Many subs that are in the district system are not working because of that.

“Thank you to all the teachers who have been so great by covering and being flexible.””

— Olivia Arredondo

Others choose to work, but at specific school sites or specific grade levels.

SAUSD also competes with other districts nearby that pay more for substitute teachers.

Lawson said that the biggest challenge that comes with sub shortage is “we don’t know how many people are going to be out on a given day.”

Currently, there are 400-500 subs in the district.

“I would love to have 700 subs that are actively working and understand what it takes to be in an educational setting,” said  Lawson.

He added that absences of teachers have increased due to COVID-19.

“Teachers are humans too. Everybody wants kids to go to school and they want their teachers to be there, but the reality is the coronavirus is affecting them just like it is affecting frontline workers, restaurant workers, and store clerks. When people get sick or families get sick, they can’t be at work. That puts a big strain on the system,” said Lawson.

English department chairperson at GFHS, Suzanne Pruden, has had to cover 30 classes so far this year. In a normal year, she has to cover less than 10.

She said that she regularly steps up to substitute because she knows how hard it is for a teacher who has five class periods to sub. 

Teachers cover classes to help other teachers and to try to provide some consistency for students, but the current situation is unsustainable,” added Pruden. 

Monique Statler is another teacher that is asked to sub at least once a week. Since her first period prep is the same as 12 other teachers, the responsibility of covering for teachers out of the classroom is shared. 

However, earlier in the year, Statler was asked to sub for English teacher Mary Dreyer’s first period class. Dreyer left in late October to teach at Santa Ana Virtual Academy (SAVA). Statler covered Dreyer’s first period for over two weeks.

Sophomore Anayeli Lopez was one of Dreyer’s students. 

“I am grateful that we had a teacher that was willing to sub for us and still is after her two weeks were over instead of having more subs come in often,” said Lopez.  

As hard as it is with all the COVID-19 protocols to keep students at school, teachers experience the same struggle. 

Everyday, teachers are required to check in on a mobile app, Flairz, which takes their information and asks a series of questions to determine if they have been exposed to the coronavirus. 

Statler developed a cough earlier in the year and that is one of the symptoms that is a red flag. Although she knew they were allergies, she thought it was the responsible thing for her to admit her cough. 

She was pulled out of school for a week.

“It made me super nervous about how to help my students get the instruction that they need so that they did not fall behind,” said Statler. 

And being away from school put Statler behind. But, she is “very grateful for [her] colleagues who stepped in when [she] needs period by period subs because it helps [her] to feel supportive in the environment.”

The schedule for coverage on November 8th, 2021 is shown. About 10 teachers were out and Arredondo put this note beside the sign in sheet in the morning for teachers to sign up. (Wendy Rodriguez)

However, she admits that it gets tiring when she is asked all the time to sub for other classes during her first period prep. 

Statler believes that there is a sub shortage because substitutes are grossly underpaid. 

The current sub pay for SAUSD is $160 per day and for long term (exceeds 10 days) $172. 

In other districts like Garden Grove, the daily sub pay is $200. In Tustin Unified, the pay is $141. 

“It (sub shortage) can be solved by making subbing in our district more desirable,” added Statler. 

In order to manage, Church has had to meet with individual teachers to help cover classes and has used counselors, administrators, including himself, to cover classes when needed. 

Church’s biggest concern is that lost instruction has to be made up. For freshman and sophomores, it is their first time they are on campus.

“I have to push them. Now, they have to catch up and keep up, ” said Church.

Church explained that he is not desperate because he needs the right subs for students and our school. 

“I don’t have a problem struggling until I find the right teachers that understand the culture of this campus and want to be a team player and be willing to THINK Godinez,” said Church. 

Senior Alexis Gutierrez said that she only has had three different subs this year, one a Godinez teacher and the other two from the district. 

Her preference, however, is the Godinez teachers since “they are more interactive with students and we, as students, are more comfortable with having teachers we know.” 

She added that it has not affected her learning.

“I was not aware of the sub shortage but now I am more thankful for our Godinez teachers that are willing to help out,” added Gutierrez. 

As the search for substitutes continues nationally, the hope is that jobs get picked up sooner than later. 

“We are all in this together,” concluded Church.