As the new school year is set to begin, some districts in the Bay Area are struggling to fill open teacher positions, which could mean students may be in class with an non-credentialed or underprepared teacher.
Schools across California have been struggling to fill open teaching positions, in some cases even before the pandemic. More than two years later, the situation hasn't improved much, and the ceonsequences are showing in several Bay Area schools.
This year, San Francisco Unified School District is struggling to fill about 100 vacant positions by Aug. 17. Oakland Unified, which has some students returning to classes this week, is scrambling to fill 40 vacant teaching positions.
Bay Area teachers say the pandemic has taken a physical and emotional toll on many.
Sasha Rockwell, a teacher with Oakland Unified, is scheduled to go on maternity leave in September. She says finding substitute teachers also is a problem.
"For my position, for my five-month leave, to fill that leave, it will mean taking out of classroom staff, out of that role and into the substitute teacher role. The idea is to split it between out of classroom staff," Rockwell said. "That’s really wrong, that our school has to use our own limited resources to fill my leave."
It's an issue that's felt across the country, as about 600,000 U.S. teachers quit between the start of 2020 and February 2022. Some retired early, and others decided to leave the profession altogether.
In exit surveys, teaches cited the challenges of the pandemic, distance learning and the difficulty of students returning with greater mental health needs.
Because there were fewer teachers available last year, 1 in 5 California classrooms was led by a teacher who was underprepared, not yet credentialed or out of their fields.
In the Bay Area, according to teacher assignment data released in June, Oakland Unified had underprepared teachers in 42% of its classrooms. In San Francisco Unified, that rate was 19%, and in San Jose Unified, it was 13%.
Sausalito-Marin City schools reported it had more than half of classes led by underprepared teachers.
To attract more teachers, San Francisco Unified is holding job fairs and offering bonuses for bilingual and special education teachers.
But if the district can’t quickly hire teachers?
"We are also looking at closing some classrooms if there is not full enrollment, and we may have to take the difficult step of using other district staff to cover classrooms," said Kristin Bijur, head human resources officer. "But we are committed to having a teacher in every classroom the first day of school to welcome students."