District faces substitute teacher shortage

Health concerns, unfavorable working conditions and low pay are causing a substitute teacher shortage for school districts nationwide, including PAUSD.

Lisa Hickey, Director of Certificated Human Resources, said many substitutes who worked for PAUSD before the pandemic either relocated from Palo Alto or decided not to return to subbing because of the health concerns of in-person school.

“After a whole 18 months of the pandemic, some people have looked at reexamining priorities — some of them have moved out since the Bay Area is an expensive place to live — so there’s less (substitutes),” Hickey said.

English teacher and Palo Alto Educators Association negotiation team member Mimi Park said she thinks part of the reason for the shortage is the difficulty of being a substitute teacher, having been a substitute in the past.

“It’s hard to step into a classroom that you don’t know and to execute lesson plans, and sometimes there needs to be actual activities going on,” Park said.

Park also said the substitute shortage is challenging for teachers.

“It’s just adding an extra layer of stress and anxiety to what is already a stressful year, because teachers want to leave their classroom in good hands during the times when they, unfortunately, have to be out,” Park said. “Not knowing what’s going to happen really makes it harder for teachers to plan for that.”

To help fill classes that need substitutes, teachers with preparation periods and administrators often step in to sub. 

However, this temporary measure is not sustainable, Park said, as it adds to the confusion in managing substitutes.

“I am really concerned about the day where we just don’t have enough certified staff and administrators to step in, a really impacted day where a classroom has nobody,” Park said. “What happens to those students, and what are we going to do in that situation then?”

Park said she’s an advocate for offering substitute teachers higher pay to resolve the shortage.

“If there’s a general manpower shortage at this time, we’re going to need to find ways to make people want to come to alleviate the situation,” she said.

PAUSD recently raised the pay for substitutes to a minimum of $180 per day from $165 per day previously.

In addition, Trent Bahadursingh, the Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources, said the district has diversified its methods of attracting potential substitutes.

“We tried to expand our reading of getting information out to not just the traditional avenues of websites and job postings that are traditionally for education,” Bahadursingh said. “We’re trying to get information out about what it takes to become a substitute, what’s available, and the different options that are (available).”

And Bahadursingh said the substitute shortage is not a problem PAUSD is facing alone.

“We’re seeing this across the entire region and everyone has those similar challenges,” Bahadursingh said. “Everyone’s trying to be creative.”

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