In summary

California needs to reexamine policies that prevent retired teachers from returning as substitutes within their first six months of retirement.

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By Donna Glassman-Sommer

Donna Glassman-Sommer is the executive director of the California Center on Teaching Careers, based out of the Tulare County Office of Education. 

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Marvin Lopez, Special to CalMatters

Marvin Lopez is the program coordinator of the California Center on Teaching Careers.

California’s teacher shortage means most quality substitute teachers are being hired on full time. At the same time, there has been a steep decline in applications for substitute teaching credentials since last January. 

In short, we’re creating a substitute teacher shortage as we try to ensure great teachers are leading our classrooms. The good news: You can help. 

Substitute teachers play a vital role in the success of students and teachers. Students spend, on average, approximately more than 10 days with substitute teachers during a given school year. Not having adequate support during these days has shown a negative impact on students’ achievement. Substitute teachers maintain healthy and successful learning environments for students and provide teachers the time and energy they need to build their professional skills to best support students. 

For some schools, access to quality substitute teachers has been an ongoing challenge. In Inyo County, the office of education proactively worked to build a pool of quality substitute teachers. 

For Inyo, this investment had two benefits: 1. Providing coverage to empower current teachers to take part in professional development and 2. Ensuring students have high-quality education when their teachers are continuing their own learning. 

Through support of a Cal Ed Teacher grant, new substitute teachers who signed on to be available to Inyo County schools from the 2018-19 through 2020-21 school years received comprehensive training and resources for success in the classroom, as well as support for examinations for teachers, or CSET. This dedication to developing substitutes’ skills provided access to continuity in teaching and learning for students. 

Full-time teachers could take advantage of professional learning, networking and collaboration opportunities. Most importantly, teachers felt secure and confident knowing students continued receiving a high-quality education without skipping a beat. 

California is investing in teachers this year but there needs to be more focus on substitutes as part of the solution. 

To expand the pool of potential substitute teachers, state policymakers need to collaborate and reexamine CalSTRS existing policies that prevent retired teachers, under state and federal law, from doing substitute teaching within their first six months of retirement. Retired teachers have experience leading students through their educational journeys and are familiar with the communities they served.

Having opportunities for retired teachers to temporarily work to continue helping local schools while solving a statewide shortage of teachers is a short-term solution, but one that is needed this school year. 

Having the support of policymakers is only part of the solution. The support and involvement of all our communities is also important to make a difference; this is how you can help: 

  • Research requirements to be a substitute teacher and see if this is a good fit for you or someone you might know. This can be your way of giving back to your community and helping our next generation of young scholars.
  • Call your local district and neighborhood schools and find out how you can provide additional support on campuses. If not as a substitute, it’s likely volunteers are needed. 
  • Attend career job fairs to learn more about what it takes to be an educator in today’s world and how you can support districts who might need higher levels of support. 

Recruiting and retaining enough substitute teachers to help solve the shortage won’t be an easy task. This is a statewide problem that will be solved locally with the help of many people, people like you. Even if you’ve never worked in education, take a moment to learn more. What could be an occasional day of work for you could be what provides the consistency students in your town need to learn, grow and succeed. 

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