Finding teachers for all of the substitutes

chalkboard.jpgAt two recent school board meetings, the father of a Howard Elementary School fourth-grader demanded to know why the district hadn’t managed to find a teacher for his daughter’s class.

The teacher left in August, soon after school began, and the void has been filled with subs — and chaos — ever since, he said.

How are these kids supposed to learn without a teacher? he asked.

This week, the fourth-graders at Howard might have bid farewell to their last sub. A permanent teacher officially started yesterday, school district officials reported. To put this chronic problem in context, here are some numbers from a Human Resources report:

From Aug. 1 through the end of November, 68 classroom teachers headed for the hills. About half cited personal reasons, which could mean any number of things; 20 percent said they were dissatisfied with their jobs; 12 percent went into private industry; 7 percent decided to retire and 3 percent were fired, or “released.” A handful didn’t give a reason.

To make matters worse (or rather, more complicated), more students showed up on the first day of school than expected. More teachers needed to be hired because of the larger-than-projected enrollment.

HR hired 70 people between August and November, but 31 vacancies remained as of Nov. 28.

Chief Services Officer Laura Moran said she hoped to take a new approach this fall, possibly by hiring a number of certified teachers as substitutes and then giving them permanent positions as they become available.

Why do you think people to wait until August (or later) to quit? What incentives, if any, might sway people to retire or resign earlier in the year?

image from Simone Hudson’s Web site at flickr.com

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    Instability in the district seems one likely cause for teachers leaving.

    When the state took over the district, I remember a lot of teachers leaving. I particularly remember that we lost one Spec Ed teacher to another district (she had taught my son’s kindergarten class), and another Spec Ed teacher took early retirement (she’d taught his 3rd grade class). Both were great teachers, two of the best and most experienced in the district. My son’s preschool and 2nd grade teachers stayed, but his 1st grade teacher had just graduated and worked only one year in Oakland, then went to Alameda two years before the state takeover, because she felt completely alone and overwhelmed in her OUSD classroom.

    So, out of those five teachers, I know that today one is still working at OUSD, one I’m not sure about, and three left the district before or immediately following the state takeover.

    I think we need to pay our teachers as well (or better!) than neighboring districts so our best and most experienced teachers don’t keep transferring, and we need to provide better support and resources if we want to develop and keep less-experienced teachers from burning out and leaving – either the district or the career of teaching.

  • John

    If I might considerably add to Sue’s comments – Fully credentialed special education teachers are typically in demand state wide, along with other related specializations (e.g., school speech pathologists). It’s, as much as anything, a supply and demand issue.

    In addition to: (a) an OUSD contract that is more restrictive of credentialed special education staff reassignment rights, compared to OUSD K-12 teachers; and, (b) the absence of a specialized (sp ed) training/credential stipend as is the case for sp ed teachers in many other CA districts – the beginning of the OUSD state take over marked the beginning of the special education department take over by an individual who had less background and formal training in special education than a first year special education teacher. The new department head was essentially a hatchet person with a mandate to demand more from and spend less on existing special education staff. Those who substitute in special education classes (like the state take over transitional department head) are not required to have special education credentials or experience.

    Sue, you’ve made other good points about the symptoms of ongoing problems with the OUSD (e.g., spousal anger, your son’s safety at Skyline). You correctly observe that “our best and most experienced teachers…keep transferring…” You also know from your own experience how important it is for special needs students to have sufficient staffing and properly qualified/experienced teachers.

    While I appreciate and respect your commitment and dedication to your neighborhood Oakland school do you ever think there might come a time when it’s best (if one has the option) to follow those experienced “transferring” teachers to another district?

  • Caroline

    My understanding is that teachers wait till August to quit so they don’t have a gap in health insurance.

  • http://www.tigerthegecko.blogspot.com A Former Oakland Teacher

    No, you have health insurance through August whether you sign up for the following year or not. That isn’t a reason. (I quit OUSD and had health insurance through August 31).

    What is much more likely is that teachers had no idea how badly they would be treated by the district, how little resources they would have to work with, and what kind of conditions they would have to work in. In addition, you could be hired to teach kindergarten, switched to fifth grade the day before school starts, and given a 2/3 combination class two weeks later.

    The question shouldn’t be why teachers wait so long to quit, but why more of them don’t!!

  • Sue

    Former Oakland Teacher – you could be one of the teachers I and my husband have talked with. We’ve heard exactly the same things that you said, too many times! It feels so inadequate to not be able to do anything more than lend a sympathetic ear.


    Okay, I don’t see any personal attacks, and I can’t recall if you’d responded to me before without making any. So, I hope this non-troll persona will stay around, and you’ll consider this as a polite request. That’s what I intend it to be – it’s always my intention to be polite unless I state otherwise.

    Can you, please, stop cherry-picking my words?
    Can you, please, stop attempting to put your words in my mouth?

    I’ve said some pretty scathing things about the neighborhood school in the flatlands where I live. I’ve posted here *repeatedly* that my 5th grader is *NOT* in that neighborhood school. He’s in a hills school with almost no neighborhood attendance at all. His school – which I’ve posted before is Carl B Munck – is not in our neighborhood, but I wish we could afford to live up there.

  • rj

    The answer for finding teachers is right under the district’s noses. There are a plethora of classified employees with classroom experience, that, with the assistance of the district, would make perfect instructors, including myself. Place more attention to what is already here, and your chances of retaining your staff heighten. Other districts within the state are looking into programs that help current classified personnel complete their studies, and that increases the districts’ chances of holding on to its own ….food 4 thought!

  • John

    Sue: Thanks for sharing.

    By the way, do you have any thoughts about any of the ISSUES I mentioned?

  • Sue

    Comments about issues you raised:

    OUSD contract – don’t know specifically what is in the contract, so I can’t make any knowledgeable comments.

    Spec. Ed stipends – First time I’ve heard of it. Sounds like a good idea, especially if it’s already working in other districts.

    I agree with your evaluation of Dr. Harris. When my husband called her a couple of weeks before she came to OUSD, he learned from her that she had very limited education in Spec Ed, and no practical experience.

    I’ve previously expressed my Extremely Low opinion of Ms. Cole and the reasons my family is completely unable to work with her.

  • John

    Thank you Sue!

  • Jean Womack

    Thanks again Katy, for your great news reporting on another crisis situation.

    Regarding class sizes: I was a student teacher in San Francisco for a master teacher who had gone through reconstitution and been layed off for two years. When she finally got another job, she let every student into her art class who wanted to be there. They were shoulder to shoulder. I guess she figured as long as she had students, she had a job. She loved those kids and they loved her!

    My other master teacher, who had been though the same reconstitution, limited her class size severely according to the contract, I guess. Those kids would not get up out of their chairs without her permission. They were glued to their chairs. Her husband had cancer so she basically had more than she could handle. I’m glad I was there to help and I am grateful to them for a chance to teach at a fabulous San Francisco high school.

    Subs don’t want teachers to lose their jobs. The skill it takes to be a successful sub is slightly different from that of a teacher. I can leave it behind when I go home! I don’t have to do grades! If I am in a bad situation, I can go somewhere else or turn a job down without penalty!

    If a teacher is feeling guilty about something, it’s not the sub’s fault–don’t take it out on the sub. Maybe the teacher is thinking, oh, I didn’t take my whole weekend and spend it calling all the parents, or I didn’t tell Johnny his grade which he asks me for daily, etc.

    I get sent places and I have no advance knowledge of the situation I am going to find there. The attitude that I am there to take someone else’s job is incomprehensible to me. It’s completely fabricated and total nonsense. It causes me to be personally and physically attacked.

    Maybe the teachers want it so that they can never take a day off for fear they will lose their job, but in San Francisco, they have teachers who are out for six months or a year and then get their job back. In fact, they got their job back and it had already been promised to me. That’s how they forced that teacher back to work! So how do you think I felt about that? I guess they thought it was fun to make me cry and make me feel badly. What kind of a gang was working at that school, anyway? If that’s the kind of mean thing that the administration does to teachers, it’s no wonder they quit.

    I realize that teachers have separation anxiety with their students, but let’s hang on to reality, folks, they are not our kids. They are someone else’s children. Anyway, I am all for you in your quest to get a raise. Good luck in your bargaining situation.
    Jean Womack

  • Jean Womack

    Hi Katy, here I am again, just can’t shut up, I guess. I just wanted to tell you my main gripe about all the school districts in this whole area. They tell me to stop writing. So let me raise this issue and address it here where everyone can see it.

    There is a saying in academia, “publish or perish.” I think that was mainly for the scientists because of World War II. The U.S. knew what the Nazi scientists were doing because their experiments were being published in medical journals. That’s how we knew to go over there and rescue as many Jews, disabled people, and gays as possible. So if you ask the head of the science department at San Francisco State about that saying, he will probably tell you that don’t have a career if you don’t publish your work, just like he told me.

    Another professor in education at San Francisco State thought it was all right to write, but don’t put the kids’ names on anything that is going to go on the internet. That would include any email you might send.

    Who doesn’t want anything bad written about them? The elementary school where I did my early field experience wanted me to show here everything I had written before I gave it to my professors. Of course it is true that you owe loyalty to your boss if you are in business. But we are talking about all the normal frailties of human beings and the complete political spectrum in the public schools. Do we really have to represent the schools as a paradisical place that doesn’t exist? Where the well-groomed, well-dressed children sit in straight rows, always turn their homework in on time, and never speak unless spoken to? That’s not really what we want, anyway, is it? OK, that kind of intimidation will work for a little while, but not forever.

    I published a newspaper for ten years. I wasn’t out to get anyone, and I didn’t get anyone. All I got was a little self-respect and some respect from the community. Why don’t you think about American literature? Why is it that every great book we study seems to have been written in England or Russia? Why can’t we have out own great literature? We are certainly not going to have any great American literature if the teachers tell each other not to write anything down. I would like to nominate Frank McCourt as a great writer. His book Teacher Man is a breath of fresh air.

    In teacher college we learn to write a success and concern every week. So when other subs or regular teachers tell me to stop writing, I think obviously they didn’t go to teacher college, because in teacher college we learn that we have to write and keep writing. YOu have to look for good stuff and write that down too. One middle school had a long form for subs to fill out, which included the names of children who had done something good in class.

    In one middle school where I subbed in San Francisco, the teachers told me, don’t write any more referrals. The counselor who had been at that school forever, told me, “Just write it on lined paper, don’t write it on an official form. I want to know what is going on.”

    That was the place where they promised me a job and then brought in a man who said he had changed his mind and wanted his job back. I had subbed there many times, but I guess I didn’t have the political muscle to get that job.

    What is the point? Just to make fun of a fat middle aged woman with one of her breasts cut off, who strives and strives and can’t get anywhere no matter what she does? Who has a house that people want and credit card bills to pay? It doesn’t take much brains to do that. You don’t need any brains at all to make fun of people, do you?

    Jean Womack

  • http://www.tigerthegecko.blogspot.com Former Oakland Teacher

    Sue –

    I haven’t spoken with you, but you can check out my blog about teaching in this district at tigerthegecko.blogspot.com

    Everyone – believe me, there are SUFFICIENT reasons for teachers to quit. Even in August. I’m a little offended that people might think it’s so there’s no gap in health insurance. There are many, many more serious reasons.

    Like I said, we shouldn’t be wondering why teachers quit in this district – we should be wondering why they don’t ALL quit.