Teachers are undervalued and can no longer endure systemic pressures, says high school principal

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Bennett Purser

Starting this week, all LAUSD staff must have their first COVID-19 shot to enter school property. The second shot deadline is November 15. 

Four staff members at San Pedro High School (SPHS) are not getting vaccinated, says Principal Steve Gebhart. That includes two teachers who have been granted exemptions by the district, a psychiatric social worker (PSW), and a cafeteria worker. He says the PSW will be reassigned to an online education program, and the cafeteria worker will likely stop working for the district after November 15. 

LAUSD is also short-staffed, from teachers to crossing guards to lunchroom attendants. Last month, the district still had roughly 2,000 vacancies

SPHS is struggling with a substitute teacher shortage, says Gebhart. “People are still going to be sick, or things come up and need to be out. And every time we've had a teacher out, even at our full staffing, we haven't had enough substitutes to cover the openings or the teacher absences as they existed.” 

Gebhart says there’s a low supply of viable candidates. “Many times substitutes are people that … are looking to become teachers. … They're serving while they're on that pathway. But that's been decreasing for years, people interested in joining the profession. And so it's been put under further strain during the pandemic.”

He says education is losing workers at a dramatic rate. “Our entire profession is in a crisis mode because people just don't respect it and appreciate it the way that it used to be. The continued systemic pressures that are put on the classroom teacher and just all levels of educators on the school site is just something [educators] are not able to manage anymore. … I think that they're finally realizing it's just not worth the systemic pressures.” 

Due to the pandemic, Gebhart says teachers have been struggling with work/life balance, which has led to new pressure on educators. 

“The one thing that teachers could count on was at least some degree of separation between their home life and their professional life. … What the pandemic did for an entire year was pretty much blend those two. Teachers felt like they were constantly at work,” he says. “That pressure just mounts and mounts, whether it is something they recognize or not.”

Gebhart says he’s experiencing a level of duress like never before. “It is definitely a challenge and not one that I could have ever foreseen. But it is for sure a situation that I have not endured in my eight years as a principal and not one that … if it continues, is the sort of thing that I would want to continue with potentially.”