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School staff shortages disrupts student learning

The lack of substitute teachers in schools raises the question as to why English teachers are substituting for math classes. With the staff shortage in schools happening nation-wide, not enough substitutes are being hired.

Since the hit of the COVID-19 pandemic, many teachers are out due to Covid symptoms and other illnesses. In January of 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order lowering requirements to become a substitute teacher. According to CBS8, Newsom allows people to obtain an emergency 30-day substitute teaching permit, which allows the holder to be a substitute teacher for no more than 30 days. 

Even with these new measures in effect, it still has not fully stopped the substitute shortage in schools. 

The Hacienda La Puente Unified School District currently has a shortage of substitute teachers. With this lack, oftentimes teachers are forced to substitute for another random class. It is a common sight for students to occasionally see history teachers substituting for Advanced Placement (AP) English classes.

Sadly, having a substitute teacher constantly present has become the norm for many classes on Wilson’s campus. 

For students enrolled in AP courses like AP Chemistry, a missing teacher becomes an obstacle to their learning. Junior Ethan Lee describes some issues he faced while having a substitute for his chemistry class for weeks at a time.

“There were many instances where my classmates needed assistance when our teacher was out,” Lee said. “We tried to contact our teacher via email and Canvas, but none of these efforts were effective.”

This hints at a growing concern many students around campus are having: there is a lack of resources available to students who have an absent teacher. With teachers not obligated to reply to messages while out “sick,” students are left to answer the questions themselves. There are plenty of online resources, though spending a long amount of time researching online instead of getting proper lessons can be tiring.

“I think having a substitute often in class defeats the whole purpose of the class,” he said. “If we have no real way to learn besides using the Internet, what is the point of going to that class in the first place? Without any guidance online or in person, I feel like my learning has been hindered in that sense.”

The lack of substitute teachers in the school district is negatively impacting the students. Without proper instruction in class, the students have to rely on Google to answer questions. Although independent learning is encouraged among students, it defeats the purpose of going to class in the first place. 

David Bates, the physics teacher at Glen A. Wilson, has been substituting for other classes one to two times per month. 

“Even though I am able to help, students never ask me questions during class,” Bates said.

Bates additionally believes that there should be more substitute teachers provided, so teachers like him do not have to substitute for other classes constantly.

Moreover, in my classes, it is rare for one of my teachers to be reported absent and to have a substitute teacher for long periods of time. 

There have been a few occasions where I have experienced my teachers being absent on days when I needed help.

Recently, my math teacher was absent the days prior to the midterm exam. The class was unable to review the units with our teacher, and many of my classmates were confused. Our substitute teacher clarified as well that she was unable to answer any questions regarding math, so everyone started asking each other questions. Asking teammates for help can be useful, but if one person does not know the exact solution to a problem, misinformation is spread.

Teachers often use the method of collaborating with tablemates to answer questions, but when this is the only solution, it becomes an issue. This problem is hard to combat, but it can be alleviated when other teachers of the same subject can substitute for a class. 

As well, as a solution for being absent, one of my teachers did zoom calls with her class when she was absent due to COVID-19 prevention measures. During class, we went on zoom and did a lesson online. Doing zoom meetings can be a decent resolution when there is a substitute in class. In addition, one of my teachers provided the class with monthly lesson plans. By doing so, when the teacher would be absent, the class could continue on with no problems due to the pre-written lesson plan. This could also be a good solution when teachers are all of a sudden absent from class for an extended period of time.

Furthermore, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many staff have been unable to return to work due to mask and vaccine requirements and restrictions. Nevertheless, Covid regulations are not the only thing keeping staff from their jobs. Many custodians and substitute teachers were underappreciated and underpaid even before the pandemic started, according to Edweek

Besides the lack of substitute teachers in classes, there has been a lack of custodians on campus as well. Majority of the bathrooms are closed at Glen A. Wilson HS due to the shortage of custodial staff. Especially with the large multitude of students needing to use the bathroom during passing periods and during lunch, two or three open bathrooms are not enough to accommodate everyone. Most of the time, there are long lines outside the few open bathrooms, which causes some students to be late for class. Although students can use the bathroom during class, sometimes they are unwilling to miss class time when they could use it during passing period. 

According to the Washington Post, many schools around the country have made school board members to help the understaffed custodial staff. Especially with the new Covid-19 prevention measures, there is extra effort needed to properly clean the bathrooms and the school campus.

It is understandable that the staff shortage is a district issue, but the students acknowledge that this is a rising problem that should be fixed. The lack of substitute teachers can be detrimental to the students’ learning. Without a good lesson plan or a substitute teacher that can help the students, the shortage causes students to be unable to keep up with the coursework. The shortage of custodians on campus also has a negative impact with hardly any bathrooms open during passing periods. 

School districts around the country are hoping that this staff shortage issue will soon be fixed. For now, teachers will fill in for other absent coworkers, and many bathrooms around campus will continue to stay closed. As Covid-19 safety restrictions start to lift, we hope to see an increased number of substitute teachers and custodial staff in schools.

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