Substitute shortage reported in urban and rural schools across the state
100+ substitute positions are unfilled daily with others diverted to fill-in
News Release from HSTA, October 20, 2021
Educators across Hawaii report the substitute shortage caused by the pandemic has made it more difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn in large and small schools in communities of all sizes, according to a survey the Hawaii State Teachers Association conducted of its members in October. More than 100 substitute positions go unfilled every day around the state, according to reports from schools.
An overwhelming majority of educators who answered the HSTA survey reported staffing shortages and many of them offered specific examples of how the substitute shortage affects them and their students.
The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) at first falsely denied that schools were suffering from a substitute teacher shortage, reporting that 3,200 registered substitutes were available statewide on a recent day when just 1,200 were needed. Those numbers masked the real problem that large numbers of those substitutes — a great many of them retired teachers — are not comfortable teaching in schools during the pandemic and are turning down jobs. In addition, subs can only register for one district to work in. So if an Oahu substitute is registered in Windward Oahu, they are not able to fill-in for teachers in Leeward Oahu, for example.
“Some substitutes have accepted a job only to be pulled from the assignment they signed up for to babysit multiple classes in a cafeteria or gym – or some other bait-and-switch – and are no longer willing to take jobs at a particular school or within a complex,” wrote one teacher.
“On any given day, we have subs for 1/2 to 2/3 the number of absent teachers, and I know that my school is FAR from the only one.The level of sheer ignorance or absolute dishonesty shown by the HIDOE in claiming that there are no staffing/substitute shortages is OBSCENE,” the teacher said.
A Hawaii Island high school teacher wrote, “There are daily shortages of substitutes on campus. We average approximately three substitutes short per day. The claim by the superintendent (interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi) that there isn’t a shortage is ridiculous and unfounded. Just because a sub is listed does not mean he/she is subbing. The superintendent needs to go beyond the surface of information he has.”
A high school teacher from Maui said, “It doesn’t matter how many subs are in the pool if most of them are declining jobs (and who could blame them?).”
The HIDOE later claimed the problem was mainly in rural areas, which again doesn’t match the reality that HSTA members see daily.
A teacher at an urban Honolulu high school told HSTA’s survey, “We had a shortage of five subs on one day this week.”
Another teacher at an urban Oahu school said, “There are absolutely not enough substitutes available for teacher absences. Our campus is a smaller high school and there have been multiple instances of classes being held in the cafeteria being supervised by adults because no sub was available.”
A third educator at an urban Honolulu high school said, “Our principal finds other staff to ask teachers to ‘cover during their prep periods.’ It is simply an ask, but they shouldn’t be doing this. It guilt-trips teachers.”
Teachers also reported that students are getting short-changed and are sometimes getting very little to no quality instruction because of the shortages.
A teacher at an intermediate school on Hawaii Island reported, “Oftentimes there are signs on classroom doors directing students to report to the cafeteria. While in the cafeteria, students from multiple classes are supervised by a substitute and an administrator where the students are told to read or work on their computers.”
A neighbor island high and intermediate school teacher said, “There IS a shortage! EAs (educational assistants) who should be in classes are subbing! Admin is trying hard to get subs, but subs do not want to sub at our school with a school culture that is struggling to stay positive.”
An English learner teacher at a Hawaii Island elementary school said, “I have been asked several times this year to cover a class for a teacher when there was no substitute available. My job is to teach English learners, so when I am used to substitute for another teacher, our ELs do not get the additional support they should get and desperately need.”
On Kauai, the situation was so bad that HIDOE’s Complex Area Superintendent Paul Zina — the highest ranked department employee on the island — substituted at a Lihue school earlier this fall. At other schools, principals and vice principals are routinely filling vacant substitute spots, taking them away from other important duties such as ensuring that COVID-19 protocols are being followed or performing initial contact tracing when there are positive cases.
The substitute shortage has caused educators to cancel or not attend professional development and other workshops to learn new ways to teach children better.
A Windward Oahu high school teacher reported, “It has been hard to find subs and at times teachers are unable to attend in service workshops that they have been asked to attend because the sub wasn’t found or bailed at the last minute.”
Another teacher said her school was “unable to hold weekly PLC (professional learning community) meetings with grade levels or attend scheduled PDs (professional development) due to lack of subs. Subs also have been accepting the job and then cancelling the day of or not showing up.”
The teacher continued: “We have multiple long-term subs in teaching positions, including SPED (special education). The SPED department is struggling to manage not only their caseload, but the caseload of vacant special education positions.”
Teachers are also unable to take a day off to take their own children to the doctor or other important appointments.
“It is so hard to take off when no subs can take our jobs. We have to take off to take care of our children but there’s no one that accepts the jobs. So sad and frustrating,” wrote one teacher.
HSTA President Osa Tui, Jr. said some substitute teachers have told him they’re not interested in working right now.
“Their phones are ringing off the hook every day,” with some receiving five or more autocalls from their district a day asking if they would accept a substitute teaching job opening at a particular school, Tui said.
“They decline over and over. They’re just not willing to put themselves on the line like that,” Tui added.
One Honolulu district substitute, a retired public school teacher, told the HSTA she still receives more than 20 calls a day with substitute openings which she is turning down because she is 65 years old and isn’t comfortable working in crowded classrooms where younger children aren’t eligible for vaccines yet.
“Some of our non-retired substitutes don’t have any kind of benefits, they don’t have any health coverage. So if they get sick, that’s on them. And that’s very scary for them. They’re just a day-to-day sub. So they’re not willing to put themselves in a class of 30, 35 students,” Tui said.
Tui said the HIDOE “could be putting way more effort into advertising substitute positions.”
“Our hospitality industry is seeing a lot of layoffs. They could be activating a lot of those people too,” he added.
The department also has its own rules which say substitutes cannot travel across districts.
“Those are the structures that are in place that inhibit making progress. If they stick to their rigid structure,” Tui said, schools will continue not functioning properly.