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California public school staff shortages

By Dhruv Anish

Feb. 16, 2022

JudeTantawy Art

Empty offices and classrooms surround campus, the staff directory filled with new faces and names of people that stay for a long time, or not at all. This is the crisis that California public schools have been facing for the better part of the past 13 years, following the Great Recession of 2009.

Teacher turnover rates in California are higher than the national average, with 9% leaving the profession, or even the state, in 2019, as per US News.

The primary reason for this high rate of turnover is that a majority of teachers— approximately one-third in 2018—are 50 or older, which is close to the average retirement age. In California and especially the San Francisco Bay Area, teacher pay rates are higher than the national average, ranging from $75,000 to $100,000, but the exorbitant cost of living outweighs the above-average payscale, with median house prices ranging from $310,000 to $1.3 million, per the University of Southern California. With the third highest cost of living in the nation, California finds itself with a 70% decrease in the number of teacher applicants and the largest student to faculty ratio in the country, National University reports.

The statewide staff shortage has been worsened by COVID-19, with populous districts like San Francisco Unified and Kern County Unified missing 17% and 15% of staff respectively, upon welcoming back students in person at the start of 2022. The ever increasing demand for teachers and substitutes has led to lowered preparation standards to ensure faculty are properly trained. According to University of Massachusetts Global, more than 100,000 newly-hired teachers in the U.S. are not “fully qualified to teach,” meaning they do not necessarily have sufficient experience in the academic fields they are instructed to teach. Districts, like the San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD), have even resorted to employing counselors, intervention specialists and instructional coaches to serve as substitutes.

“The front office staff has done a fantastic job actively recruiting and nurturing substitutes that come to the school, sending them care packages and detailed plans to ensure that students have the highest quality of education available even without their actual teacher being present. Full-time teachers have also given up their prep periods to substitute for their absent colleagues. Compared to other high schools, the school is managing the lack of substitutes well,” Assistant Principal of Instruction Harveen Bal said.

Taking measures to address the staff shortage issue and concerns about diminished learning environments, SJUSD, which has gone from 125 active substitutes pre-pandemic to 70 currently, enacted the Teaching Permit for Statutory Leave plan. This plan rewards pay raises to substitutes who have a relevant bachelor’s degree in the subject they are teaching and have completed a 45-hour training course. Districts have also begun offering pay incentives to substitute teachers based on the duration of their teaching period. Pre-pandemic, SJUSD’s substitute teachers earned $135 per day, but rates have since increased to $150 per day with long-term substitutes earning $225 per day, San Jose Spotlight reveals.

With increased responsibilities falling on faculty members, avoiding burnout has become a relevant problem among educators. US News found that teachers were two times more likely to say they had frequent stress and nearly three times more likely to report symptoms of depression, compared to other professions. Switching between different modes of instruction, increased workload and restrictive COVID-19 protocols are all reasons staff members cited as a cause for work-related stress.

“Since I substitute once a week due to my SJUSD contract, it is hard adjusting to new classrooms so often, which can be emotionally and mentally taxing. I would appreciate kind actions that students can take, such as saying ‘thank you’ for teaching class,” Erin Cahill, District Coach for Literacy Assessment and a former English teacher at the school, said.


About the Contributors

Dhruv Anish

Staff Writer

Dhruv Anish is a senior at Leland High School and a staff writer for The Charger Account. He likes to watch movies and listen to music in his spare time. His favorite actor is Robert Deniro and his favorite movie is The Godfather: Part 2.

Jude Tantawy


Jude Tantawy is a sophomore at Leland High School. She is an artist for The Charger Account. During her free time she loves to draw, paint, do photography, cook, bake, and listen to music.

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