AP classes affected by teacher shortage

Lit class goes a month with no teacher, physics course cancelled


Daphne So

New AP Lit teacher Wade Wilgus lectures his class. Rotating substitutes taught the class before he started on Sept. 7.

Senior Spandan Kottakota never expected that the AP Physics class he signed up for last year would be canceled because no teacher could be hired.
“The week right before school started I got an email saying they couldn’t find a physics teacher, so I didn’t know what class I was supposed to go to,” Kottakota said.
Kottakota, like dozens of Cal High students who registered for AP Physics, was forced to transfer to another class because no replacement was found for former physics teacher Deborah Sater, who retired in June.
The teacher shortage that’s impacting California and most states throughout the country has also frustrated students in AP English Literature, which did not have a teacher until early September when Wade Wilgus was hired to teach the class.
“Every day we had a new sub, and they wouldn’t know what we did in the previous classes,” Kottakota said. “Most of the work was just busy work.”
Nationwide, teachers are in high demand but low supply, and schools have been struggling to adapt. There is an excess of 36,000 vacant teaching positions in the county, and more than163,000 positions have been filled by people who are unqualified, according to a joint study by the University of Illinois and Kansas State University.
Assistant principal Jeffrey Osborn said the school searched for someone to teach AP Physics but was unable to hire anyone before the start of the semester.
“We had a job posted before the end of last school year,” Osborn said.
The school received numerous applications for the position during the two weeks the posting was open, but by the time administrators finally reached out to the applicants, all of them had already accepted offers elsewhere, Osborn said.
After it was determined there wouldn’t be an AP Physics teacher for the school year, students who signed up for the class were notified they needed to pick another class.
“I actually had to take the course outside of school, and that cost a lot of money,” senior Shiva Katragadda, who had signed up for AP Physics, said.
Although the school eventually found a teacher for AP Lit, students such as senior Shruti Kale said not having a consistent teacher for the first month of school set back preparation for the AP test in May.
“I still don’t know if I’m going to be taking the [AP Lit] exam, which could have been avoided probably if I had a teacher,” Kale said.
Kale said the lack of an AP Lit teacher hindered her ability to gain a quick grasp of the subject. Senior Bryce Wijesekara, who is also in the class, agreed. “I definitely wasn’t engaging with the literature as much as I would have,” Wijesekara said.
But Wijesekara believes that with Wilgus, the class should be able to catch up quickly.
“All the other English teachers were sort of coming together to help out our curriculum,” senior Sriram Rajagopal said. “Another English teacher came in to help us get ‘Macbeth’ so we could start reading that.”
English curriculum co-leader and teacher Regina Lyon, who was involved in the hiring process for the AP Lit class, said the process took longer than expected since few teachers applied for the position.
“We did make quite a few attempts to hire a teacher, but it took us several attempts to successfully hire someone,” Lyon said.
Cal isn’t alone in experiencing teacher hiring problems.
Wilgus said that at the previous school he taught at in Oakland, there were major issues with hiring teachers. He said the situation was so bad that his school could not even hire a principal, which ultimately led him to leave for Cal.
“I was one of two returning teachers on a staff of 25 [that year],” Wilgus said.
In many school districts around the country, the bar for entry level teachers is being lowered significantly. Fifteen states now only require educators to pass a basic literacy test before allowing them to teach at school, foregoing the normal requirements of a college degree, according to The Washington Post.
This new reduced job criteria in many states is because of the scarcity of teachers.
In addition to the problems the teacher shortage created with these two AP classes, more Cal teachers are also taking on six periods this year because many other positions were not filled before the school year started. Full-time teachers are contracted to teach five classes.
This year, 33 Cal teachers at have six classes, compared to 23 teachers last year, according to the school’s counseling department.
Spanish 2 teacher Anna McKnight and social studies and business teacher Chris Doherty said they’re willing to pick up an extra class because they appreciate the additional compensation.
Doherty said that only experienced teachers who want to teach six periods are given the extra class. There are several challenges that come with teaching six periods.
“We’re just a quarter of the way through the year,” McKnight said. “In terms of energy level, [teaching six periods is] draining.”
AP Government and world geography teacher Brandon Andrews is one of the many teachers with six classes for the first time.
“I’m pretty sure that I’m going to request five periods again next year,” Andrews said. “I’m realizing how much time that it takes away [from] my family situation.”
Many teachers and administrators have theories why the teacher shortage has become such a problem recently, but there isn’t one agreed upon answer to this complicated question.
Andrews said there are a lot of issues with the current teaching climate that had an impact on the current shortage of teachers. He said most of the issues revolve around the conditions that most teachers are forced to work under.
“People who are here have to either really like [teaching], or be stuck [teaching],” said Andrews.
Many believe that even the people who are interested in teaching don’t end up getting the respect they deserve.
“I think there needs to be a shift in society to value educators,” Osborn said.


Editors Trisha Sarkar and Lexi Broughton contributed to this story.