Substitutes for sick days

BVH bears the brunt of a substitute teacher shortage

Students+crowd+outside+room+611+while+waiting+for+their+substitute+teacher.+Substitute+teachers+are+often+late+because+they+teach+many+different+classes.

Adrian Pereira

Students crowd outside room 611 while waiting for their substitute teacher. Substitute teachers are often late because they teach many different classes.

Nicole Macgaffey, Features Editor

On Nov. 19, there were 12 unfilled substitute assignments at Bonita Vista High (BVH). This day was more of an isolated event because it was after Veterans day and many teachers wanted to take a four-day weekend according to School Administrative Assistant Libia Dibenedetto. However, the lack of substitutes is still a prevalent problem that the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) is currently facing. 

“There have been a lot of challenges. [The lack of substitutes] makes my job really tiring. I can spend most of my morning just trying to find cover, as we didn’t have any substitutes [on Nov. 19],” Dibenedetto said.  

Dibenedetto makes sure that all classes have teachers each morning. She receives an absentee report via email and views the list of unfilled assignments, which according to her has been occurring regularly due to the lack of substitutes. 

To fill the classes that need coverage, she pulls substitutes and other teachers during their preparation period and assigns them to a class. She explained that this is a time-consuming process because she also needs to give teachers their salaries for the class or classes they cover and log the information into the payroll system. 

“[Finding substitutes is] very extensive. You have to be tactful,” Dibenedetto said. “You have to be creative about how you [fill the gaps]. It’s also going to affect your payroll entry [and] how much time you’re going to put into paying each person.”  

Furthermore, Dibenedetto mentioned that teachers report their absence through a program called AESOP, which is contracted through the SUHSD. AESOP is a substitute finder system in which the district substitutes can log in, view the available job offerings and assign themselves to an opening. She noted that it is helpful for teachers to plan their absence in advance so she and substitutes are able to plan ahead. 

“When teachers report their absence the morning of, or even the day before, a lot of these subs already have jobs, so they’re likely to be unfilled,” Dibenedetto said. “I always try to gently remind our teachers ‘Hey, if you’re going to be out, if you have a conference, planned vacations or need a mental health day, try to plan it. It helps [avoid] these unfilled assignments.”  

In an effort to combat the lack of substitutes, Dibenebetto stated that the district increased the pay for substitutes. The pay increase is from Aug. 10, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2021, according to the SUHSD website. Furthermore, she added that the district has increased the pay for class coverage for teachers from 50 dollars an hour to 75 dollars an hour. In addition, the district gave BVH two “cluster substitutes” that are substitute teachers assigned to the school every day. Through the cluster substitutes, who watch over the multiple classes, Dibenedetto is able to combine classes she cannot find substitutes for and send them to the cafeteria which saves her time. 

Dibenedetto and BVH Substitute teacher Jordan Raby believe that the lack of available substitute teachers is due to the pandemic. She explained that many substitutes do not get medical benefits; some also lost their jobs and filed for unemployment. Dibenedetto mentioned that there is only one person in the district clearing substitutes, making the process about a month-long to get hired. 

“I think a lot of substitutes are probably a little weary to come back and work in a high school where the numbers are high and they probably don’t feel as safe,” Dibenedetto said. “They are probably not as comfortable or they already found a job elsewhere.” 

Raby felt that money is the biggest contributing factor to the lack of substitutes. She noted that to become a substitute teacher, a person must have a college degree and pass a basic skills test such as the California Basic Educational Skills Test for multiple subjects or the California Subject Examination for Teachers for a single subject. These exams also have to be paid out of pocket by the applicants, which they will not get reimbursed for by the district. 

“When you make a wage where you’re at the poverty line, it’s not a very attractive job,” Raby said. “The poverty line in California for a family of four to survive with their very basic needs met is around 35,000 a year. Most substitute teachers have families so being a sub and having a professional degree is not really worth it for a lot of people.” 

When you make a wage where you’re at the poverty line, it’s not a very attractive job”

— Jordan Raby

Raby explained that many substitute teachers are living paycheck to paycheck and the new pay increase pushes the pay in the direction of a thrivable way for substitutes. However, she mentioned that one of the bigger struggles for substitutes is working day-by-day while teachers know exactly the amount of money they will receive each month. Furthermore, she brought up that many substitutes are in multiple school districts and are able to work every day. 

“I don’t have sick days. I have no benefits. I have nothing like that so if I don’t work, I don’t get paid,” Raby said. “It’s really hard when you only get paid once a month rather than bi-weekly like most jobs because if you have a bad month, if you get sick and if anything happens to you, you’re close to being kicked out of your house or not being able to make rent that month.” 

Also due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers are taking more sick days, according to Dibenedetto. In addition, Raby stated that it is more difficult for teachers to take sick time without having to go through the COVID-19 protocol and guidelines. 

“If a teacher was [says] ‘I’m not quite feeling well’, I think something’s going on, go get tested.” Dibenedetto said.“Versus before [I would say] ‘hey suck it up, let’s push through the rest of the day’,—we had more of that mentality.”

This year, junior Bella Gutierrez had substitute teachers in both the classroom and in the cafeteria. For her, it depends on the involvement of the substitute to determine if she gets a similar learning experience if the original teacher was there. Some of her teachers have lesson plans prepared; other times, she uses the class as a free period when in the cafeteria. 

“I personally don’t really mind it as much. Sometimes it can be relaxing because we’ll have days to catch up or we’ll just be given a pretty easygoing assignment.” Gutierrez said.

Raby emphasized the negative effects that lack of substitutes has on students due to the inconsistency of instructors. Dibenedetto shared this sentiment and thought it was unfortunate for students to not get a substitute for the day. Students sent to the cafeteria lose out on a day of instruction due to being combined with other classes.  

Raby also recommended solutions to increase the number of substitute teachers. She stated that the district could keep the increased pay of 240 dollars, switch to bi-weekly pay and create a union for substitutes. Regardless, Gutierez thought that this is an issue that people need to be considerate towards and the district will eventually get through. 

“Even though I wish I could learn [what I missed] on the day [the teacher was absent], the pandemic is not anybody’s fault and things happen,” Gutierrez said. “It’s important for us to be understanding when that [teachers being gone] happens and just roll with the punches and continue on.”