The causes and effects of a substitute teacher shortage worsened by the pandemic and a lack of funding

Anika Aggarwal

Staff Writer

     The entire nation, including Fremont Unified School District, has been hit hard by a substitute teacher shortage. Without substitute teachers, schools are left to fend for themselves, requiring teachers to substitute for other classes. 

     “Almost every day, I’ve had to cover other teachers with current teachers in school to cover teachers who are absent,” Mrs. Chase shares.

     Mrs. Chase, the attendance clerk at American, is in charge of covering teacher absences and assigning substitutes to classrooms. She finds the situation exhausting for teachers as they lose valuable time for an unplanned assignment.

     “I’m sure they’re tired of it. I’m tired of asking, they’re tired of covering. It’s just part of what we have to do. It’s part of our jobs. It’s part of making sure that students have somebody in the class to teach it, or at least to guide them through something or whatever it is. It’s stressful for everybody. It’s stressful for me, because I have to ask them, you’ll give them all the extra work, and it’s hard to tell teachers every day that they have to help out.”

     Many teachers use prep periods for planning lessons, grading work, and day-to-day tasks needed to run a functional class. Mr. Rojas, a social studies teacher at American, expresses his frustrations with losing his prep period to sub for another class. 

     “I won’t be able to photocopy because I need to get the photocopier, I have to photocopy lots of sheets or several sheets…Sometimes during my prep period, I sometimes like to have it as a way to breathe in, and breathe out from the stress of the day. It’s an excellent way to de-stress and be stabilized and not have to worry.”

     And he’s not the only one who feels that way. Ms. Jeung, a social studies teacher, shares how the pandemic has worsened not only the substitute teacher shortage, but an increase in teacher absences as well, worsening the issue at hand.

     “We have more teachers that have to be out due to quarantine or kids they have to quarantine with. There are more absences simply because of COVID. This year, we would need more subs, but we have fewer as a result. I don’t blame the school, because it’s not the school’s fault. The district, if they can’t get enough subs with what they’re paying right now, then they need to pay more or figure out some way to do that.”

    The substitute shortage is also due partly to a larger teacher shortage, as less people enter the educational field.

     “There is a teacher shortage because more and more teachers are retiring, and less people are entering teaching. I entered the teaching world because I started off as a substitute” Mr. Rojas shares.

     Mrs. Jeung notices the lack of people going into education as a nation-wide trend as a result of low wages and a lack of benefits.

     “We need to spend a lot more money on subs and teachers, in order to simply keep what we already have. The reality is, we know that the number of people going into education has dropped significantly. We are simply not getting people going into teaching anymore, so this is only going to continue to get worse. Until we do something, until the district can show that they truly value those that are in the classroom, it’s just going to continue to get worse, but I would like them to recognize that reality and spend significantly more on teachers in the classroom.”

     The district has not put any plans forward or communicated with teachers about this issue, resulting in doubts as to whether or not the district is actively working towards a solution.

     “One of the frustrations of being a teacher is we have very little control or say over policies and over a huge multitude of things. People are frustrated, but there’s nothing that we can do” Mrs. Jeung adds.

     Teachers work tirelessly to teach students, and much of the work goes unnoticed and taken for granted. There is some concern as to whether the district understands the full gravity of the substitute shortage.

     “Those who are on top really need to stop, talk, and listen to those of us who are here every day teaching, here who are with students every day. Yes, you could go and you can visit your schools every day. But it’s not the same thing as having a teacher in the classroom” Mr. Rojas shares.

     Despite the mounting pressures on the school system and the daily walks to notify teachers to help out, Mrs. Chase is optimistic about this being a temporary issue, with new vaccination approvals leading the way in people returning to work.

     “If more parents in the younger kids from 5 to 11 start getting vaccinations then maybe more substitutes will come back on board, and they’ll be able to do some of what’s keeping some of them from not working. That’s a lot of a large age group, 5 to 11 that without a vaccination, that could potentially spread without having symptoms. By Christmas time or January next year, when we do second semester maybe this will be less. Pray it happens because I really need to not tell teachers to do all this every day.”

Mrs. Chase stands in front of Office K, where substitutes are normally checked in before heading to the classroom. With the substitute shortage, Mrs. Chase keeps track of when a teacher needs to sub for another class. “Since we started in August, ever since day two of school, almost every single day, I’ve had to cover teachers with other teachers,” she shares.

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