Superintendents, staff fill in as South San Francisco teachers

The superintendent, staff, directors and educators on special assignment in the South San Francisco Unified School District staff are pitching in as substitute teachers as a way to overcome staffing shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It’s not ideal," said Supt. Shawnterra Moore said on Tuesday in a statement. "But it’s a great way to reconnect with our roots as classroom teachers. Having the opportunity to see our students in class again is also very exciting."

South San Francisco Unified is not alone. There's a teacher and substitute shortage nationwide. 

Public schools have struggled for years with teacher shortages, particularly in math, science, special education and languages. But the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The stress of teaching in the COVID-19 era has triggered a spike in retirements and resignations. Schools also need to hire staffers like tutors and special aides to make up for learning losses and more teachers to run online school for those not ready to return.

Teacher shortages and difficulties filling openings have been reported in Tennessee, New Jersey and South Dakota, where one district started the school year with 120 teacher vacancies. Across Texas, the main districts in Houston, Waco and elsewhere reported hundreds of teaching vacancies at the start of the year.

In San Jose, counselors have stepped up to fill in as teachers raising concern for those who worry that students will lose out on much-needed mental health services and face anxiety after returning to classes following months of distance learning. 

San Jose Unified School District Deputy Supt.  Stephen McMahon told San Jose Spotlight that the district would normally have between 200 to 300 substitute teachers each. But linger effects of the pandemic have thinned the available work pool. Now the district only has about a100 subs each day.

At one San Francisco high school, a history teacher said he was subbing Spanish classes almost every day despite the fact that he does not speak the language. 

California’s largest district, Los Angeles Unified with 600,000 students, has more than 500 teacher vacancies, a fivefold increase from previous years, spokeswoman Shannon Haber said.

While schools throughout the nation have mostly reopened, staffing levels in some areas such as substitute teachers have not rebounded.

"Like everything, the pandemic has cause many to reevaluate their priorities," said Jay Spaulding, assistant superintendent of human resources at South San Francisco Unified. "Our substitute teaching positions are all-part-time, and people may be looking for more full-time work at this time."

 Spaulding said the the district has been advertising on and social media, but applicants have been hard to find.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.