We need to redo the substitute teacher system!

This thread is about substitute teachers and the purpose is to ask what everyones experiences have been with subs and their opinions on the issue.

I think by and far most teachers do a decent job but the system really falls apart when they need to call in a sub. By and large, a sub is just a placeholder. A person who works just for that day for that teacher. Sometimes teachers leave lessons, sometimes they dont. Often it becomes a free day for the kids because they are just allowed to watch videos or do some other free activity all day.

Most people dont know it but in many districts a regular teacher is only required to supply 5 days at the most of lessons and after that, the sub is on there own. Yes, that means a sub now has the FULL responsibility to teach 2nd grade, 9th grade biology, 7th grade math, or whatever else the class is without near the resources a regular teacher has.

I used to sub. Every sub can tell you both horror stories and great stories about how different assignments went. The day and class you’d get depended alot upon the school, the kids, and the regular teacher. Most schools require regular teachers to leave lesson plans and a “sub folder” which has things like the seating chart, schedule, and info about the kids. How up to date and complete it was varied alot. Heck sometimes the class basically ran itself.

A couple of stories: One time for me the kids were so awful and the teacher barely had control themselves the principal basically said “just keep them in the classroom for 50 minutes”. One time a woman I know was subbing for a class and the class went on a field trip. Heck she didnt even have a class roster so she didnt even know what kids were assigned to her.

Subs also affect the other classrooms. Teachers usually try to cover for each other but that means taking time out of their own day to help in a sub situation. Once when my wife was a teacher, they couldnt get subs at her elementary school (inner city) so when a teacher was off they basically farmed the kids out to the other rooms. So lets say they had 25 third graders who needed to be supervised so they would put 3, 4, 5 or so kids in other teachers rooms. So maybe a 1rst grade teacher had say four-3rd graders in her room that day. Well what the heck does she do with those kids? How will they affect her class? So now you not only have a 3rd grade class not learning, but a whole school impacted.

As a parent I’ve had mixed experiences when my kids have had subs. Usually they do almost nothing that day. Some teachers are gone more than others. They might have a sick child or family member. They might get sick themselves alot. Other times the teachers… well I hate to say it but they seem to have other priorities. My son basically had a substitute teacher half his 2nd grade. First the teacher took 2 weeks off to get married and go on her honeymoon. Then over Christmas break she got injured and was off a month I think. Then she was pregnant so she spent most of May on maternity leave.

Sub pay around here is about $125 a day, more if the assignment is long term and subs make more if they have worked for the same district longer. In some areas where subs are not required to be certified it can be as low as $75 a day. They get no benefits even if they are on a long term assignment. They get no pay on days the school is closed like snow days or holidays. Well technically if they teach over a certain number of days per year they have to get some benefits but districts are careful to cut them off before that happens.

Now one thing that does kind of work is when a particular sub is a person who works often for a school and gets to know the teachers and kids. Some teachers request certain subs. However our district, like many others, has Kelly Services manage its sub program and its had poor results. The schools have little control of who works in their buildings and the people who sub dont get to talk or work directly with the teachers. All communication goes thru Kelly.

Now subbing is not all bad. People who like kids and need some extra money or who like teaching but dont want to deal with all the paperwork like tests and grading like a regular teacher deals with, find it a good gig. Retired teachers work out great. Its funny but I’ve seen when sometimes the sub is actually a better teacher than the regular teacher.
The point of this is I’d like to see the situation for subs improved. I’d like for the educational establishment to see this"black hole" for want of a good word, that needs to be filled. What good is all the best teachers, schools, and programs if the kids cannot learn because they have a sub? Quite frankly except in the best situations the kids basically dont advance or really learn that day. The more days with subs the less learning takes place.

A great idea are building subs or subs on full time payroll who’s job is to report to the school everyday and work in whatever classroom is needed. Another is for subs to get preferential treatment in the hiring process when fulltime jobs come open. Finally I think districts need to clamp down on teachers who use subs too often (like my sons 2nd grade teacher who I mentioned above). Schools allow way too much time off, way more than a regular company would tolerate.

So what do you all think?

Did anyone else work as a substitute teacher?

I suspect that, like many things related to the education system in the U.S., it’s a situation where experiences are going to vary wildly from place to place, as there’s undoubtedly a tremendous range of policies and budgets regarding subs (if for no other reason than administration, policies, and funding are done at the state and local level).

When many school districts lack the money to give their full-time teachers reasonable salaries, it’s not surprising that subs are paid so poorly. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that many districts would lack the money to keep a roster of subs on retainer.

My wife taught elementary school for two decades (at a parochial school). From what I saw, lesson planning is a lot of work, and I imagine that many (most?) teachers simply don’t have the time to work more than a week or so ahead on their lesson plans. If a teacher knows, ahead of time, that they’re going to be away for longer than a few days (i.e., a planned vacation, maternity leave), I suspect that many of them will have more detailed lesson plans prepped for the substitute who will be taking over. It’s a different story, of course, for the teacher who suddenly discovers that they’ll be out for an extended period of time (such as with a sudden illness) – but, in the end, that is no different from any person who suddenly must take an extended leave from their job, and whose employer and co-workers need to figure out how to cover for them in their absence.

When I retired from teaching in 2017, I was bombarded with offers to become a substitute teacher. I declined all of them. It is a difficult assignment and the pay is generally poor.
I was a union officer during most of my teaching career, so there are a couple things I’d like to address.

As a union officer, I would insist that this be treated as any other full time teaching slot. That is to say, receiving the same pay and benefits and accruing seniority. I’d also keep an eye on whether such full-time substitutes were getting let go for ill-defined reasons once they got off step 1 of the pay ladder. While there is nothing wrong with your idea, I doubt you will get many school boards to bite on it because they will consider it needlessly expensive.

Given that you substituted, you have at least a little experience with teachers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to you that they are people who lead lives of their own outside of being your child’s teacher. If you can’t live with that, I suggest home schooling. Then your child will have a teacher who can dedicate their every waking moment and thought to your child.

This, for sure. How dare she get injured and forced to take a month of sick leave? How dare she get married during the school year?

my wife, Pepper Mill, is a substitute. I think she’d agree with much of what you say, but I’ll have to direct her to your OP and have her read it.

She certainly takes her job seriously and tries to teach the students. It’s best when the regular teacher leaves material, but I think they usually don’t. She teaches Middle School students, so she knows the material in most cases. It’s appalling how the students frequently can’t follow simple directions.

And, yeah, the subs are paid abysmal wages.

I’m not in the education system, but I went to school and my kids are in school. In my experience, when schools need a sub for long term (2 weeks or more), they typically do a pretty good job of filling the role with a qualified teacher. If we’re talking about a day here and there during the school year, I’m OK with those days being less productive than normal. So, I don’t feel drastic changes are necessary. I’ve got bigger issues with our schools, so I think there are better ways to spend money than to have full time subs.

This was my first reaction to the OP. Isn’t it misleading to say “the system really falls apart”—is there really such a thing as “the system,” or does each state or district or school have its own system?

There’s often a strong correlation between “fixing things” and “paying properly”.

Here there is minimal qualifications for being a sub and the pay is astonishingly poor.

If you paid the subs more than the teacher would get for that day (you should expect to pay more for an emergency person than a regular one), you could raise the standards high enough to get retired/between-jobs actual teachers.

But school districts don’t see it this way. They’re already paying one teacher, so cheap out on the second. And cheaping out when it comes to education always works well. :rolleyes:

(Some subs are great. In 4th grade our teacher got seriously sick. The regular district sub took over for a couple months. We really liked her. Eventually they got a replacement who was of the “warm body” variety.:()

What resources is the sub lacking? I can think of two (there are probably more)

  1. Advanced planning. The teacher can plan lessons in advance.
  2. Subject matter mastery.

It’s pretty hard to fix either of those. Sure, if the teacher is getting married or having a baby, they can plan lessons for their absence. I guess you could maybe force teachers to file lesson plans farther in advance, but it’s not clear that the reduction in flexibility would be worth the gains from having prepared subs. It’s hard to know exactly how long a particular class is going to take to learn a specific thing. If you plan several weeks in advance you’re going to lose the ability to adapt.

Having subject matter-specific subs makes your subs less flexible. You either have to have a lot more subs waiting in the wings, which makes their lives harder, or you have to have higher-paid subs who have specific knowledge in many areas.

I don’t think that’s really different from any work anywhere. I’m not a teacher. When I’m out sick, my coworkers do their best to cover my job. But they’re not as good at it as I am, because I spend all my time at it and they normally do different things. This is just the other side of the boon that is specialization. We get lots of productivity by having individuals focus on specific things, but then when those individuals are not available, then the replacements aren’t as good. There’s no magic fix to this. It’s built in.

Those all sound like nice things for subs, but I don’t see how they address any of the problems that you mentioned.

I’m not sure that schools allow more time off than other jobs. When I was a student, subs were a rare occurrence. And they were almost always taken due to illness. And it would be a terrible idea to limit teachers sick days and have them come to school sick and get 100 kids sick.

Here’s an idea that addresses the issues above: Connected classrooms with movable partitions. If there are normally, say, 3 math teachers and one is out, you make one classroom twice as big and add a sub as a helper. The subject-matter expert is still present. There’s still the same ratio of teachers to students. The full-time teacher is familiar with their colleague’s basic lesson plan, and knows the kids because they’re there all the time.

I just signed up to be a substitute teacher in the interim as I continue to job hunt. It is flexible in that I can make myself unavailable certain days if I need to go to a job interview so that helps.

Substitute teachers with a college degree are paid $75 per day locally, $62 without the degree. Fast food workers are paid better, get benefits, and have more reliable hours than substitute teachers.

Yesterday, the first day of the school year for students here, I was getting my sub teacher id card made and I spoke briefly with the coordinator at the district office. When I mentioned I speak Spanish and my degree is in the life sciences she immediately asked if I would be interested in a long term substitute position. I may be the new ESOL/Spanish/Biology teacher soon?

I have taught some recreational things, scuba diving and sailing, that require some basic classroom instruction and at least a minimal lesson plan. But I am not a certified teacher. Yet the schools are so desperate to fill certain positions that a warm body will do and anyone with a glimmer of knowledge may be thrust into a full time role.

But as Sod’s Law would have it for the teaching plan today I got a call back from a recruiter about a real job. Better fit to my skills. Pays three times what substitute teaching does.

The no-lesson plan thing is hard: teachers don’t leave ambitious or complex sub plans because if they don’t happen, or happen half-ass and wrong, it’s a bigger disaster than if you just left tolerable busy work. It’s impossible to know if you will get a sub willing and/or able to do anything. It’s also not always possible to leave good lesson plans that anyone else can do: if you’re just starting a new concept in pre-cal, it’s not generally a thing a sub can teach–or the kids teach themselves.

For the most part, however, it’s not a problem that needs addressing: most teachers miss five or fewer days a year, in my experience, and the impact is minimal. Much of the time, that day can be used to reinforce or build concepts and even if it’s just an utter waste, it’s one day. Better subs would be nice, but I don’t know that they are worth paying for.

Longer-term subs are a problem. In my district, at least, if they were willing and able to teach, they’d have already been hired for that. It’s not feasible or reasonable to ask someone to make, say, six weeks of lesson plans. It takes a subject-matter expert to deliver them, and a subject-matter expert doesn’t need lesson plans. Also, frankly, if I am out on unpaid maternity leave, it’s kinda bullshit to expect me to still basically be responsible for my class. The answer here is to be willing to pay long-term subs full-teacher pay from day one and hire good ones–but clearly the powers-that-be don’t think that spending the money in that area is worth whatever they’d have to cut to pay for it. And that’s really the issue–they may be right.

Not only that, but this:

So, not contributing to solving the problem, but only getting in the way and offering no means to work within a budget. For a position that’s not a full-time teacher and doesn’t have the same roles and responsibilities as a full time teacher. :rolleyes:

Shit like this is why education sucks in America. Blame us taxpayers for not coughing up the dough, whereas waste like this happens.

I used to substitute teach. Some days were unspeakable, true. But the best days were great. Of course, I preferred the teachers who left lesson plans, but there were often times I was able to teach the kids a few things not one the plan. My favorite (which I’m sure I’ve told before) was teaching the 3rd graders that grandparents weren’t just friends of Mommy and Daddy. I once covered a gym class and divided teams up by counting 1, 2, 1, 2. Kids were outraged: how could I not allow them to choose their own teams? I said, “Know how some kids are great athletes and always get picked first?” They nodded. “Know how some kids are poor athletes and are always picked last?” They nodded. “Guess which group I was in.” A pause. “Oh…” I also told the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare” when I had a spare two minutes. Those kids (2nd graders) didn’t know it and were enthralled. And I taught more classes than I can count where New Jersey is on a map.

That was in response to

If a teacher is going to report to work every day and fill in whichever classroom is needed, why shouldn’t he or she receive the same benefits as any other full-time teacher ? Someone who is coming in every day and teaching is a full-time teacher. He may be teaching Mr. Heller’s classes on Monday and Tuesday and Ms. O’Malley’s classes on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but he’s teaching every day. The concept of a full-time teacher who doesn’t have his or her own class is odd- but it’s only odd because it’s not a common practice in teaching. It’s common in other jobs- for example, not all correction officers in my local jail system are permanently assigned to a post. Some come in each day and fill whatever post is vacant due to an absence. I believe some hospitals have the same system for nurses.

I retired from teaching 8 years ago. I subbed for a season before I got my first contract. It only paid $30 a day back then, but I enjoyed it and worked 3-5 days most weeks. I was called in the morning by an official the school system had that called substitutes- never by a teacher.
My first teaching contract was in south Georgia. Here, most districts (spell that counties, if you like) require teachers to get their own substitutes. The hassle of this creates a whole lot of presenteeism among sick teachers. Of course, the county likes it that way!

How much do lesson plans vary year over year and why would a professional teacher not have a basic outline of lessons available from prior years? I understand that curriculum and textbooks change and that the needs of students are varied but why would a teacher not have at least a basic idea of what will happen several weeks in advance?

I just recall my own experiences as a student. During elementary school, a one or two day substitute basically acted as a baby-sitter and we did nothing useful. In HS, it was different. Subs were rare, but we had one who filled in for an entire term. She was trained for teaching biology and assigned to teach physics. Fortunately, her husband was a physics teacher and tutored her. But she was only one lesson ahead of us. Then one day she came in wearing a leopard skin skirt and after that she was known as Sheba Sh— (her name really did start with Sh). She was also rather attractive and this was an all-boys school with nearly all male teaching staff (I think there was one other elderly woman teacher). Fortunately she had a fine sense of humor and got along with us all splendidly and we even learned some physics.

Curriculum and textbooks do change, yes, and that obviously has a potentially large impact on the specifics of the daily and weekly plans.

An experienced teacher will undoubtedly have that “basic idea” of what their upcoming lesson plans will look like (and may well have the prior year’s plans saved in a desk drawer, or on their computer). My wife always saved her prior lesson plan books, and could refer back to them when she was drawing up her weekly plans (which made lesson planning, in general, faster and easier than it was when she was a novice teacher). However, those broad plans (which may well be in the teacher’s head more than anything else) may not be much (if any) help to the sub who has to come in cold, when the teacher comes down with an illness, or an unexpected hospitalization.

As has been noted by several posters already, the teacher who has a planned absence likely has prepared plans ahead of time for their substitute. Unexpected absences are always going to be an entirely different matter, and teaching is no different from any other workplace in which the employees (even if they all have the same title and broad job descriptions) have unique assignments and responsibilities.

In PA, where I spent most of my career, a substitute teacher MUST have all the same licenses and clearances as a full time teacher. Now, perhaps, you will tell me why someone, with all the same qualifications as everybody else, coming in every day and doing the same job as everyone else, should be compensated on a lesser scale?

Because (theoretically) they are not spending all of the extra time the full-time teacher does by writing lesson plans, grading papers, calling parents, attending useless meetings/trainings etc.