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Day 72: Summative subbing

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Day 72/180: More thoughts on long-term subbing

While working that 12-week maternity substitute teaching job, I was told by my close co-workers that I was one of the few effective and functional long-term subs they’ve ever had. While flattering, it’s also terrifying. While not the norm, long-term subs aren’t at all uncommon, and the idea that they’re ineffective says something about societal values of education, as well as how tied districts’ arms are when it comes to the word “substitute.”

As a classroom teacher, I’d originally scheduled a short density lab for my students, but when I got sick, my sub plans were my usual critique of Mythbusters episodes. When I got back, the sub notes said that she was a chemistry teacher looking for a job, and had gone ahead and done the lab with my students. But she told my students that more dense objects float because of the word “more.” I was floored. And with various field trips and excused absences, the damage control of that one incident took more than two weeks.

More recently, my coworkers told me about one of the last long-term subs. They’d hired a competent guy who was doing good work, but was called up for active-duty. Because he still had to be on payroll, the school couldn’t re-fill the position, so they had to fill the position in-house by the hour.

While I was working at the school covering for a chemistry teacher, the AP Spanish teacher also went on maternity leave. The baby came a couple of weeks early, so the sub wasn’t hired yet. And then the sub caught pneumonia. The bulk of the 12-week maternity leave was covered in-house by random teachers, the regular teacher sending slide decks for each day without knowing what had happened in class.

When I was in high school and one of the two physics teachers was put on leave, a sub was hired for the year from the sub-pool. She was normally a PE sub, and had never taken physics let alone taught it. She watched our teacher during first period and taught from her notes the rest of the day. Thankfully, a student teacher came during second semester, and he actually taught her classes the rest of the year.

My point is, there’s very little incentive for people to be substitutes (except as just-starting teachers looking for working interviews of a sort, or for retired teachers as a couple of extra bucks). There’s no faith in the subs to be competent, and no real belief that sub days will produce any real learning. There’s no administration support for subs, let alone full-time hired teachers.

The other day, Andrew Schauver posted some ideas on making teachers more effective, including some ideas about hiring some subs as staff. I have to say, based on what I’ve experienced as a classroom teacher, and the stories I heard while a sub, that’s a fantastic idea. I mean, there are schools lucky (read: funded) enough to have the occasional Educational Assistant to help do things like lab set up and clean up. Maybe the rest of their job is being a functional substitute teacher.

Teachers, like other normal people, wear so many hats. It’d be nice to have functional substitutes to count on when the classroom teacher is under the weather. Or on jury duty. Or on active duty. Or on maternity/paternity leave. Or in SPED meetings, PD, textbook committees, observations, or mentoring sessions.


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