Sub Shortage Creating Crisis at Novato High


Students packed into the cafeteria due to the shortage of subs

Alexis Weiss, Reporter

Since the beginning of the pandemic, schools around the country have been faced with teacher shortages and shrinking enrollments. Novato High, along with many other schools, has been facing a giant classroom issue. More than two years into Covid, the dire need for substitute teachers has created a major challenge for schools. 

Even before the pandemic, substitute teachers were hard to find. Now, they’re nearly impossible to rely on. In just the Novato Unified School District, 10 to 20 subs are needed on any given day with more and more teachers needing to take sick days or caregiving days off. 

“There is a huge problem with how many subs we have at our school,” said Social Studies teacher Evan Underwood-Jett. “I think there are a lot of different reasons for it, but it’s gotten to the point where kids are being packed into the cafeteria or gym, and all sorts of different staff members are watching them… it’s just chaos.” 

So, why the lack of substitute teachers? 

Low pay could be a big factor. 

“Initially, subs here were being paid around $107 a day. I think that recently it has been raised, but either way, they aren’t paid well,” said Underwood-Jett.

Desperate for subs, the district raised rates to $200 a day, an incentive created in the hopes of increasing the likelihood of people showing interest in the position. 

Another reason for the shortage is simply the job description itself. High schoolers aren’t always the most respectful, cooperative group of people and many people looking for work don’t have the patience or the desire to deal with it. 

 And now, there is another major factor playing into the problem: Covid. 

“Covid is a huge factor and people are worried about contacting Covid and are reluctant to expose themselves to the virus. Many substitutes are older people who are at a higher risk of Covid and don’t want to risk their health for the job,” NUSD Superintendent Jan La Torre-Derby said. “There is no lack of educational resources as the state has been generous with Covid funds. It is a people shortage.”

Generally, substitute teachers are older people for whom the risk of covid is too great, especially when there are so many other open jobs in the workforce that pay better. The pool of substitute applicants has diminished because prospects have found safer and more appealing jobs.

While all these reasons make sense, students are currently experiencing the repercussions of this issue. Students are often packed into the cafeteria or gym and told to sit at the tables until the bell rings. Nobody is guiding them through assignments, even if there is work to be done in Google Classroom.

“I think it is impactful for kids and I think they do miss out on stuff. I think it’s really tough when you don’t have certificated staff to specifically cover,” said Novato High Assistant Principal Jim Larson. “And it’s not just at Novato High School. District-wide, statewide and nationwide there is a massive sub shortage, meaning that we don’t always have qualified subs.”

Teachers are feeling pressured to not miss school, and when they do have to miss days, they sometimes feel like they are letting their students down. 

“It almost feels like it’s impossible to miss school whether that’s true or not… but I feel like there is some kind of professional pressure to not miss school,” said Underwood-Jett. 

NUSD is working on solutions to the problem. 

We are exploring hiring permanent subs who would work for NUSD on a regular basis, similar to a permanent position as teachers in the classroom are hired,” La Torre-Derby explained. “We are in the beginning stages, but believe if we can do at least 5-6 permanent subs that would help our efforts.”