A critical shortage of substitute teachers during the pandemic may make it difficult for some California school districts to reopen campuses or to keep open schools already offering in-person instruction.
A sharp decline in applications for substitute teaching credentials since January, as well an exodus of already credentialed substitutes, have left some districts unable to keep classrooms open, especially as more teachers are quarantined after potential exposure to Covid-19.
Substitute pools at school districts are being drained, in part, because temporary teachers are tired of waiting to be called for the scarce jobs available during distance learning or are uncomfortable with the technology required. Some substitutes in districts that have reopened campuses fear returning to the classroom during the pandemic or can’t find child care for children who are home half the week in hybrid instruction.
California has had a substitute shortage for years, but the pandemic is making it worse, especially for smaller, rural districts. But the issue is a concern for many districts, even larger ones, as they prepare to reopen in 2021.
“I’m very worried about it, particularly as schools move toward in-person instruction,” said Mari Baptista, chairwoman of the Personnel Administrative Services Steering Committee for the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. “We need to move to a more proactive stance on this. We aren’t getting a bunch of substitute applications.”
The state has had a steady decline in the number of applicants for substitute credentials over the last two years, with a substantial drop since January, according to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Data obtained from the commission shows that there were 22,236 applicants for substitute credentials between Feb. 1 and Aug. 31, down from 31,871 for the same period in 2019. In the second half of 2018 there were more than 42,300 applications for substitute credentials.
The pandemic has made a bad situation worse. Tim Taylor, executive director of the Small School Districts’ Association, calls the substitute teacher shortage a “code-red issue” for rural schools.
Mother Lode Union School District closed its two Placerville schools on Nov. 20, the month after they reopened, when four of the district’s 53 teachers and three students were diagnosed with Covid-19, said Marcy Guthrie, superintendent of the K-8 district, which serves 1,028 students.
A shortage of substitute teachers was among the reasons the district was closed, Guthrie said. Mother Lode Union shares a pool of 318 substitutes with the other 15 school districts in El Dorado County.
Since the district closed the schools, the number of coronavirus infections in the district has climbed to 10: six teachers, one staff member and three students.
Fifty miles to the north of Placerville, three of western Nevada County’s nine school districts returned to distance learning over the last two months because of possible exposures to Covid-19 and a shortage of substitutes.
Eureka City Schools in Humboldt County closed its nine campuses after Thanksgiving at the recommendation of county health officials, who wanted to mitigate the high number of Covid-19 cases in the county. But the district of 3,600 students wouldn’t have had enough teachers or to keep it open anyway, said Superintendent Fred Van Vleck.
“If we would have stayed open it wouldn’t have worked. We had so many teachers that had to self-quarantine because they chose to travel” during Thanksgiving, said Van Vleck, referring to public health guidance that asked residents to quarantine for 14 days after traveling out of the county.
The district has set a reopening date of Jan. 19 for elementary school students, although Van Vleck said that it isn’t likely because of the high level of Covid-19 transmission in the county.
Districts in distance learning are using far fewer substitutes than when students were on campuses, but some district officials fear shortages could hinder reopening plans.
“The biggest fear everyone has right now is that we won’t have sufficient staff to maintain the health and safety measures we need to move toward in-person instruction,” said Baptista, who also is the assistant superintendent of human resources for the Santa Barbara County Education Office.
There has been a steep decline in the number of substitute teachers available in Santa Barbara County, Baptista said. In the Goleta Union School District, which has 3,619 students, the number of substitutes dropped from 195 to 101 in just a year, Baptista said. Fifty miles north, the Lompoc Unified substitute pool shrank from 101 in 2019 to 85 in 2020. The district has 10,000 students.
To qualify to be a substitute teacher, a person must typically have a bachelor’s degree, pass a basic skills test and pass a background check. Prospective teachers in a teacher preparation program can substitute after completing 90 units of college coursework.
District leaders interviewed by EdSource say the state could make it easier for people to become substitute teachers by waiving some fees required for a substitute credential.
Easing the requirements for a substitute credential could also help, said Brock Falkenberg, Lake County superintendent of schools, whose office maintains the pool of substitutes for all the schools in the county. He has asked officials at the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to consider waivers to allow college students who have completed 60 units to substitute teach, but that has been unsuccessful.
Districts could also help by paying some fees for their substitutes, Taylor said.
After earning a credential, substitutes generally apply to multiple school districts to be added to their substitute pools. They are called in as needed, and paid a daily rate.
Districts in remote areas of the state have the biggest challenge during the pandemic because they have the smallest pool of qualified candidates to draw from. In Lake County 16% of residents have a bachelor’s degree, Falkenberg said. The statewide average is 32%.
Falkenberg is certain there will not be enough substitutes when all the county’s schools reopen. Currently, two school districts and County Office of Education schools have campuses open for in-person instruction. Four districts are in distance learning.
Office of education staff has been trying to expand the substitute pool in the county since schools closed in March but the deficit has grown. Falkenberg said they have been unable to recruit substitutes during the closures because older retired teachers who substitute regularly don’t feel safe returning to classrooms and because some regular substitutes have taken other jobs.
At the Santa Barbara County Office of Education, where most of the schools are back to in-person instruction, there are 36 substitutes remaining from the pool of 91 the county office had in May 2019. Most of the substitute teachers have opted out of the substitute pool because they are older than 65, have health conditions that put them at high risk if they contract Covid-19 or have other concerns related to the pandemic, Baptista said.
In the meantime, the demand for substitutes continues to grow as some districts find they need them to help teachers who are sometimes being asked to teach both students in the classrooms and those getting instruction online from their homes.
District officials are finding creative ways to lure substitutes to their districts, including offering cash stipends to employees who recruit a substitute, Baptista said. Santa Barbara Unified, a district of 14,538, is offering $100 to any employee who can refer a substitute to the district. The district’s substitute pool dropped from 331 in 2019 to 254 in 2020, according to Baptista.
To ensure there would always be enough substitutes for each school, Santa Barbara Unified hired two long-term substitutes for each for the first semester of the school year, said John Becchio, assistant superintendent of human resources.
At Mother Lode Union, Guthrie decided that the best way to keep substitute teachers during distance learning and hybrid instruction is to start a training program to ensure they feel comfortable with the technology and Covid-19 protocols required in the schools.
Chico Unified, which has seen its pool of substitute teachers shrink from 300 to 60, is offering to pay the cost of an emergency credential for any non-teaching employee who has a bachelor’s degree, said Assistant Superintendent Jim Hanlon. Some staff who have taken them up on the offer have been classroom aides, who then also need to be replaced.
Substitute pay, which averaged about $120 a day statewide in May 2019, can be a hurdle to recruiting temporary teachers, Baptista said. To entice substitute teachers to work in their districts, many have increased pay recently. Eureka City Schools, for example, increased its daily substitute rate this year by $50 a day, up to $175, as long as substitute teachers attend a district training session.
The California Center on Teaching Careers, based at the Tulare County Office of Education, is working with Fresno, Orange, Riverside, Merced and Sonoma County offices of education to create a micro-credential for substitutes, according to Donna Glassman-Sommer, executive director. Micro-credentials are earned after a person takes classes and proves competence in specific skills. The substitute micro-credential won’t take the place of a substitute credential, but it will demonstrate that a substitute has learned teaching strategies and how to use multiple learning platforms.
Glassman-Sommer also recommends that school districts turn substitute teacher recruitment into a grassroots effort that encourages staff to get the word out.
“The positive thing is that people are working hard toward solutions,” Glassman-Sommer said. “People are at their wits end and exhausted, and then suddenly another burst of energy comes up and more collaboration in terms of sharing resources and ideas. I hope we continue to do that.”
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C Romam 2 years ago2 years ago
I’ve been a sub for 4 years. The reason subs quit is low pay, no benefits, long unpaid breaks at schools like Thanksgiving and Xmas holiday breaks which financially destroy us every year, and no summer work. I won’t even go into the day to day stresses of the job.
Dawn 2 years ago2 years ago
I have a multiple subject credential and a mild/mod with ASD embedded credential. I live in San Diego, where is the teacher shortage? It has been 5 years that I have been applying for jobs and I am still subbing. This year I am a site sub with $180 a day pay. At this point, I have to rally as to why subs do not have a union because I need health and dental benefits. … Read More
I have a multiple subject credential and a mild/mod with ASD embedded credential. I live in San Diego, where is the teacher shortage? It has been 5 years that I have been applying for jobs and I am still subbing. This year I am a site sub with $180 a day pay. At this point, I have to rally as to why subs do not have a union because I need health and dental benefits. What can I do to get a union for substitute teachers who should be treated respectfully?
Cam 2 years ago2 years ago
I'm glad the comments are actually addressing the elephant in the room, for which the article barely dedicates a paragraph. The pay is the problem. Plain and simple. Also the total disrespect. I don't know about others, but I substitute taught in my district for many years. We were completely left out of the communication about our district closing. In the couple of weeks leading up to the school closures in March 2020, my work suddenly … Read More
I’m glad the comments are actually addressing the elephant in the room, for which the article barely dedicates a paragraph. The pay is the problem. Plain and simple. Also the total disrespect.
I don’t know about others, but I substitute taught in my district for many years. We were completely left out of the communication about our district closing. In the couple of weeks leading up to the school closures in March 2020, my work suddenly dried up. I got a job on the final day of instruction and gladly took it, and that was when I was told, by a payroll employee on my way out the door (I’d stopped by that office to correct a payment error after work), that the district would be closing its schools for the time being. I went home that evening and saw all of my future scheduled assignments vanished from my calendar. No email. No letter. No phone call. Nothing. I had to go on unemployment; I wasn’t even sure if I was allowed to, since usually during the summer I don’t qualify, but this time I tried it anyway. Ended up making more money during this pandemic than I ever did as a sub.
Well, now the crisis is over and they’re surprised that the people they effectively dumped aren’t coming back. This was a long time coming, and it’s deserved. You want to end the shortage on subs? Here’s how you do it:
1) At least double the pay.
I make about $150 a day. That number isn’t exact for privacy reasons but still. Even if I work every day of the week, which is rare, after taxes I can’t afford an apartment in the city I work in. I’d have to dump 95% of my paycheck on just the rent. And that’s if I literally work every single day, not accounting for forced time off (holidays, summer break, winter break, February break, all the single days off, all the “teacher work days” where class isn’t in session, etc.) where I just make nothing.
Our daily pay should be massive to account for this uncertainty, otherwise we’ll just find jobs that offer consistent pay rates and end up paying out more over time as a result. It’s that simple. Literally working at Burger King pays more on an annual scale. The article talks about how schools tried “bold” new incentives like paying a salaried employee $100 for bringing a sub in to work poverty wages, or offering to waive an application fee. Insulting. You want someone with a Bachelor’s degree and qualifications? Pay us. Stop skirting around this issue. It’s literally the only issue. Quadruple the daily pay rate and treat us like adults with bills.
2) Since our pay is uncertain, we should be paid twice a month instead of once every month; failing that, fulltime status with an assured salary works as well.
Imagine never knowing how much money you’re going to make every month and having only one paycheck to rely on every month on top of everything else. Salaried teachers know what they’re bringing in, so they can at least budget around that number. Subs have no idea and we still get paid once a month anyway. For anyone with bills to pay, this is a nightmare scenario and most people will leave the “profession” (I hesitate to call it one, because we’re not treated like professionals by anyone in this field) when they realize how shaky it is compared to just getting a retail job or something. Failing this, subs who have worked for a district for a set period of time should be granted some kind of fulltime status with an assured salary to ease financial tensions, otherwise we WILL walk as you’re seeing -right now-.
3) Long term pay rates should grant a teacher’s salary sub pay should begin at the beginning of an assignment, not 21 days into it.
I have taken on far too many long term assignments that pay the regular day to day rate until the 21st day, and then, sure enough, on day 19 or 20 the real teacher just happens to come back early and I’m screwed out of money that should have been mine. I budgeted around that money. I made plans based on that money being there. Taking on a long-term assignment carries a ton of risk for the sub and none for the district, all for a bonus amount that is honestly a joke when you look at how much regular teachers make to do the exact same duties. I’ve had teachers leave no lesson plan before, even when they said they would, so that I’ve literally been there making plans as we went, doing the grading, talking to the parents, filling out the stupid paperwork, –literally – doing the exact same job and then he comes back two days early and screws me out of long term pay. I haven’t taken a long term assignment since, and that is why. It happens constantly. Long term assignments should grant a teacher’s salary, and failing that, we should at least be assured the full amount. Long term pay in general does need to go up too.
4) Stop making us pay like $100 every year to the CTC to renew our credentials.
Are you kidding me with this? $100 dollars every year to check some boxes that say I’m not a criminal. That’s almost a day’s pay in some places. This should have been free from the start.
I think that’s it. Notice how many of these issues are payment related and not related to testing or application fees? I literally made more on welfare this year than I ever made as a sub. Think about that for a minute. McDonalds would pay me more on an annual scale, and they don’t even require a college degree. You know what the problem is. You know the problem is pay. Nobody sitting around deciding about incentives would drop their pay to a sub’s pay rate. But they all pretend not to understand. It makes my blood boil. The sub shortages will only get worse, too, since many of us – by necessity – have found work in other fields and see no reason to return to a job that kicked us to the curb a year ago in the most disrespectful way. It’ll get worse, and it deserves to. I hope it does. Maybe when they can’t physically re-open, that’s when they’ll finally realize that they have to pay subs enough to actually survive in California or subs won’t work as subs.
And pay your paraprofessionals better, too. This is absolutely insane. I was looking into it and their average yearly salary is only a little better than ours. I bet there’s a shortage there too, and all the administrators are gonna look around and pretend like they don’t know why. You try working for $20,000 a year in California, see how well it goes for you. This article made me upset. Paying teachers $100 to recruit a sub… how about you pay the actual sub.
Pani 2 years ago2 years ago
I’ve been reading a lot about this topic but sometimes I feel like I’m just getting more confused!
Thomas 2 years ago2 years ago
I substitute teach and I found temp work during the summer while subs were underemployed. I could either go back to subbing for $105 to $120 per day assuming a full day or work as a temp at $104 a day. I was embarrassed for myself that I work a professional job at almost minimum wage. Luckily, wages went up, for now. Don't worry, we'll be minimum wage workers with no opportunities soon enough. For the … Read More
I substitute teach and I found temp work during the summer while subs were underemployed. I could either go back to subbing for $105 to $120 per day assuming a full day or work as a temp at $104 a day. I was embarrassed for myself that I work a professional job at almost minimum wage. Luckily, wages went up, for now. Don’t worry, we’ll be minimum wage workers with no opportunities soon enough.
For the record, I can take the disrespectful students if compensation was appropriate enough, not minimum wage.
I’d love for a pathway for a credential that doesn’t cost $30,000 or leads to poverty.
Anna Rose Ravenwoode 2 years ago2 years ago
I was a regular classroom educator for many years and now work as a substitute teacher. As such, I have the opportunity to communicate with other substitutes. I hear two major complaints and reasons for substitutes stating they will leave the job: Low pay and an increasing number of disrespectful students. While we all acknowledgment the presence of hardworking and cooperative students, we increasingly must address the aggressive verbal bullying of others. … Read More
I was a regular classroom educator for many years and now work as a substitute teacher. As such, I have the opportunity to communicate with other substitutes. I hear two major complaints and reasons for substitutes stating they will leave the job: Low pay and an increasing number of disrespectful students. While we all acknowledgment the presence of hardworking and cooperative students, we increasingly must address the aggressive verbal bullying of others. I think it is time for our culture to role model respect for others. The kids are watching…..
And if school district budgets continue to ignore the low pay and less than ideal working conditions of substitutes, the shortage will continue.
L. Branson, Ph.D. 2 years ago2 years ago
Obviously, paying subs more money will entice more college-educated people to substitute teach once in a while. Another solution is to eliminate the degree requirement altogether for low elementary grades. If you can ace a skills test and a background check, that's probably good enough for K-3. From the point of view of a child, they do not care and cannot tell if their sub has a bachelor's in basketweaving, a doctorate in physics, or succeeded … Read More
Obviously, paying subs more money will entice more college-educated people to substitute teach once in a while.
Another solution is to eliminate the degree requirement altogether for low elementary grades. If you can ace a skills test and a background check, that’s probably good enough for K-3. From the point of view of a child, they do not care and cannot tell if their sub has a bachelor’s in basketweaving, a doctorate in physics, or succeeded in life with only a GED. Experience with children and an easy-going temperament are much more important factors. When I look at my community, I think there are many older people who would make fine substitutes for the low grades, even though their formal education may have ended with high school.
colleen 2 years ago2 years ago
Training subs in the tech programs is necessary. The district I work in provided paid training and it was extremely helpful and necessary.
Laura Mingst 2 years ago2 years ago
I am a substitute teacher. I have been for more than 10 years. It is extremely difficult to live on substitute teacher pay - especially in the San Francisco Bay area. Where I work the daily substitute pay is $180.Try to imagine living in the Bay Area on that salary. Over my substitute time I slowly sank into debt even when I was renting out rooms in my house to (try … Read More
I am a substitute teacher. I have been for more than 10 years. It is extremely difficult to live on substitute teacher pay – especially in the San Francisco Bay area. Where I work the daily substitute pay is $180.Try to imagine living in the Bay Area on that salary.
Over my substitute time I slowly sank into debt even when I was renting out rooms in my house to (try to) make ends meet. I finally had to start taking my social security early and begin taking a small pension in order to break even. You are not going to start being a substitute teacher at a young age since you cannot live on it. In Boston, MA their daily rate starts a teeny bit lower, bit someone doing a long-term job (most of mine are) gets paid just under $300/day.
Bottom line: you want staff? Pay for them.
Lynn 2 years ago2 years ago
In our district, CUHSD, they have two levels of pay. If you are a super sub in a subject area you get $80 more when you sub in your area. If you sub in another area, you don’t get that. This has caused subs, not chosen as super, to leave prior to COVID. Sub pay varies wildly district to district which is another issue for subs to choose where to go. … Read More
In our district, CUHSD, they have two levels of pay. If you are a super sub in a subject area you get $80 more when you sub in your area. If you sub in another area, you don’t get that. This has caused subs, not chosen as super, to leave prior to COVID. Sub pay varies wildly district to district which is another issue for subs to choose where to go. Districts need to increase sub pay and paid training for distance learning. I am a retired teacher, now sub, and I taught part time last year so I learned how to use tech necessary to do distance learning. I won’t however go back in person if we don’t have vaccines, PPEs, air filtration, plexiglas shields, etc.
Jay Martin 2 years ago2 years ago
There is a significant omission here. The initial stimulus package gave $600 per week extra in unemployment benefits, so total weekly compensation to be unemployed was much higher than sub pay. With a substitute teacher averaging $125 per day, $2500 per month, their weekly unemployment would be around $289 according to the EDD. Add the new $300 per week to that and you get to $589, or a daily rate of $117.80. With most districts … Read More
There is a significant omission here. The initial stimulus package gave $600 per week extra in unemployment benefits, so total weekly compensation to be unemployed was much higher than sub pay. With a substitute teacher averaging $125 per day, $2500 per month, their weekly unemployment would be around $289 according to the EDD. Add the new $300 per week to that and you get to $589, or a daily rate of $117.80. With most districts paying $125 a day for substitutes, the extra ~$7 per day for 8 hours of work may not be worth it for many people. The article makes very valid points, but I don’t think this can be overlooked in any discussion of substitute shortages.
Michelle Miller-Galaz 2 years ago2 years ago
Another issue is the state is 3-4 months behind in processing applications (looked on the website today and they are processing October applications). Individuals who want to take the CBEST find it very difficult to find an open testing site (since March). If you can’t take the CBEST and the state can’t process the credentials, of course there are no new substitutes.
Open testing sites, get the applications processed, then there will be more substitutes.
el 2 years ago2 years ago
The real problem here is that the pay is ridiculously low and that it isn't reliable enough to be a full time job. State funding generally doesn't have enough leeway to have extra teachers on staff without an assignment, and yet it's obvious that every school has enough work for a few permanent staff that can act as substitutes. $120 a day for probably 8 hours of actual time (considering the time to get the … Read More
The real problem here is that the pay is ridiculously low and that it isn’t reliable enough to be a full time job. State funding generally doesn’t have enough leeway to have extra teachers on staff without an assignment, and yet it’s obvious that every school has enough work for a few permanent staff that can act as substitutes. $120 a day for probably 8 hours of actual time (considering the time to get the call, rearrange your previously planned day, travel to school, figure out your assignment) is only $15 an hour which is minimum wage now. If you need or want to work full time, you’ll do better at In-N-Out burger or Costco. Why would you even expect to be able to recruit talented people with a bachelor’s degree and an additional credential with good classroom management skills for that rate?