New bill may aid San Jose’s substitute teacher shortage

The temporary elimination of a cumbersome state test for substitute teachers could help ease the classroom scramble of teachers.

With the signing of Senate Bill 1397, basic skill requirements have been waived for new substitute teachers with bachelor’s degrees looking to obtain a 30-day emergency teaching permit. Substitute teachers can now prove their competency through college credits, rather than taking the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST). The test requires an individual to pass reading, writing and high school-level math. The bill, effective Jan. 1, 2023 through July 1, 2024, opens the door to hire more substitute teachers, school officials said.

This is not a long-term solution for substitute teacher shortages, since younger candidates are more likely to aim for full teaching credentials versus substitute teaching jobs that do not pay well, said Jack Hamner, president of the East Side Teachers Association.

“It makes the possible pool of substitutes bigger because now the people that don’t need certain certifications can go ahead and sub,” Hamner told San José Spotlight. “But the other part of that is how many people are willing to do that?”

Even with the loosening of requirements, school districts are struggling to lure new educators, especially as teachers can barely afford housing in the area.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts scrambled to find substitute teachers as widespread infections led to extended teacher absences and isolation periods. San Jose Unified School District’s substitute pool was halved during the pandemic, as it and other school districts resorted to using administrators and mental health counselors as substitute teachers. Finding substitute teachers has remained challenging even after schools reopened.

“All the people who have signed up to sub in San Jose Unified (School District) are being used every single day, and then, there are still probably eight to 10 sub vacancies every day that are not covered,” Patrick Bernhardt, president of the San Jose Teachers Association, told San José Spotlight.

Most of SJUSD’s current substitutes use 30-day emergency teaching permits, said Jacqueline Murphy, director of human resources. The time period was extended to 60 days during the pandemic, a change that’s still in effect. Higher compensation is being offered, but the state could streamline the process through application fee waivers and other changes, Murphy said.

“It’s a lot of steps for a role that we really need a lot of people to be stepping into at this time,” Murphy told San José Spotlight.

While substitute teachers could fulfill the requirement though qualifying SAT scores or other means, the CBEST is the most commonly known option and often a time burden on hirees, Bernhardt said. Waiving the CBEST requirements can attract prospective substitute teachers.

“A large portion of the sub pool are people who sub for a little bit,” Bernhardt told San José Spotlight. “You have to make an appointment to go take the test, you have to find a testing center that’s offering it… It was serving as an obstacle to getting more subs into classrooms.”

The loss of substitute teachers also puts a burden on faculty who have to use their prep periods to fill in, Hamner said. That time could be otherwise used to support struggling students or communicate with parents.

“It’s making it harder on teachers to do their jobs,” Hamner told San José Spotlight.

At East Side Union High School District, vacancies for substitute teachers are far lower compared to last year, said Tom Huynh, the district’s associate superintendent of human resources.

“We’ve been fortunate with our sub pool,” Huynh told San José Spotlight. “We have retirees coming back to help out. We have administrators and teachers who are willing to step in when it’s needed.”

Still, the number of substitute teachers has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and the state’s Commission on Teaching Credentialing is dealing with an applications backlog, Huynh said.

The loosening of requirements is helpful and a step in the right direction, Murphy said.

“Being a substitute teacher is a great way to support your local school site and community,” Murphy told San José Spotlight. “By (adjusting the qualifications), we can get more substitutes into the classrooms more quickly.”

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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