Lack of substitutes a problem


Ben Olson

Substitute teacher Spencer Hight hands out papers to Smith’s Spanish 3 students. Hight was the class’s sub for 30 days between the first and second semesters. Students ares still waiting for their long-term sub to arrive.

Imagine having a foreign language teacher who doesn’t actually know the foreign language. 

Seems strange, right? 

Well, that’s been the situation in Cal High’s Spanish 3 classes since October, when teacher Amy Smith went out on leave. Since then, students have experienced a string of temporary substitutes and have learned little Spanish over the past four months.

Despite the high need for long term subs at Cal High and other schools throughout the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, education hiring in the Bay Area has become more difficult in general.

State law limits subs without a teaching credential to 30 days as a long-term sub. Those with credential can teach longer.

“It’s no secret that teachers don’t get the respect that they deserve,” Christopher George, the district’s director of instructional services and communications, said in a press conference with The Californian. “It’s hard to hire in education right now, and compound it with the fact that we live in the Bay Area, where it’s hard to find a place that’s affordable.” 

In addition to these factors, George said finding subs for certain subjects such as a foreign languages and sciences has been very difficult for the district. 

“The more specialized you get, the harder it gets to find teachers [and subs],” George said.

This dilemma has proved true in Smith’s class, as students have gone through more than six temporary subs. 

“For three months, we didn’t do anything in class,” said sophomore Audrey Luu, a student in Smith’s class.

Smith’s Spanish students have already been through three subs in the first five weeks of the second semester.

“We have a new sub, but we’ll all be learning Spanish online through Edgenuity,” Luu said of the virtual classroom.

With a shortage of qualified Spanish subs, students in Smith’s class said they have been falling behind the other Spanish 3 classes and say they are at a disadvantage.

“I was planning on taking AP Spanish,” Luu said. “But now I’m not confident with my understanding of Spanish 3, so how can I even expect to take AP Spanish?”

Another class on campus went through a similar experience during the second semester last year when biology teacher Danny Prodoehl went on paternity leave from April 15 to May 10, leaving his students with a string of different subs.

“There was definitely at least six different subs over the course of that four weeks,” Prodoehl said. “It became really hard on me as a teacher to have any continuity of what those lessons were going to look like.” 

Although Prodoehl said he would have appreciated a long-term sub, it came down to what the district could provide. 

“It’s a lot easier to find an English teacher than it is to find a specialized science teacher,” George said. 

This is clearly true as English teacher Colleen McQuay has been on maternity leave since Feb. 3 and her class will have one long-term sub for the remainder of the  school year. 

“It was very important to me that there only be one sub,” McQuay said.  

Other teachers have had positive experiences with long-term subs. AP Biology teacher Andrew White was on leave for about a month during the first semester and had a long-term sub for most of the time. 

“The first week was kind of chaotic, but the next three weeks were covered by a former colleague of mine, Julie Bitnoff,” White said. “I was really lucky that she was somebody who could handle the class.”

As a former biology teacher at Cal, Bitnoff taught the class during White’s absence, running and grading labs, and even providing students with feedback.

“For three weeks, the class was covered pretty much as well as I would have,” White said. 

Junior Fiona Xu, a current AP Biology student, agreed that the class was in good hands. 

“The way [Bitnoff] explained things was really great,” Xu said. “She used lots of models and demonstrations that made it much easier for us to interpret and understand certain concepts and ideas.”

As for Luu, she and her classmates have accepted the fact that they must learn Spanish online without a formal teacher. 

“The school should reimburse me with my 4.0 GPA,” Luu said with a laugh.