December 4, 2021

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What Have Been Your Experiences With Substitute Teachers?

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Across the country, schools are facing a shortage of substitute teachers. In Seattle, public schools were closed last Friday because there weren’t enough staff members to cover classes, while other school districts have been forced to return to remote learning temporarily. Is your school experiencing similar teacher shortages?

Does this make you appreciate substitute teachers more than you did before?

In “Substitute Teachers Never Got Much Respect, but Now They Are in Demand,” Giulia Heyward writes:

When Amber McCoy called in sick this fall, there was not a substitute teacher who could step into her fourth-grade class in Huntington, W.Va.

Instead, her students at Kellogg Elementary School were taught by a rotating cast of seven staff members, including the assistant principal, who switched off every 45 minutes.

“We are basically relying on every other warm body in our school,” Ms. McCoy said. Her current fear is that one day, several teachers will be out — with no one to fill in.

“We could shut the entire school down,” she said.

Across the country, some schools are doing exactly that. Schools in Seattle will be closed on Friday because they allowed too many staff members to take the day off following the Veterans Day holiday. A Michigan school district has already closed down for several days this month. And some Colorado public schools have moved to remote learning this week, while others canceled classes altogether.

The shortage has become so acute that substitute teachers, who have historically earned low pay, suddenly find themselves on the beneficial side of the supply-demand equation. In some cases, that has led to a rise in wages — and steady work.

But as the crunch continues, some schools are lowering their standards for substitute teachers, which were already lower than those for full-time faculty. The situation has become dire enough that within the last month, at least two states, Missouri and Oregon, temporarily removed their college degree requirements for would-be hires.

The moves have led to concerns by parents, educators and policymakers over the quality of instruction. It is already evident that a combination of school shutdowns and remote learning led to significant learning losses for students.

The article explains some of the causes for the teacher shortage:

The problem starts with the need for more full-time teachers in many school districts. In Arizona, nearly 1,400 teachers left the profession within the first few months of the school year, according to one study. In Florida, the school year began with nearly 5,000 teacher vacancies, according to a video posted by the Florida Education Association’s president, Andrew Spar.

Low pay, high stress and challenging working conditions have plagued the profession for years. But the fear over contracting the coronavirus has created “the perfect storm,” Ms. Anderson said, and teachers are now leaving, or retiring early.

“School districts are really relying on substitutes because there are many, many teachers who have left the field,” Ms. Anderson said.

Ms. Heyward describes the experiences of several substitutes:

In Miami, Joshua Hicks, 26, started substituting while in graduate school for sports administration. When the pandemic paused his plans, he started substituting more frequently. He now teaches a range of classes — from physical education to dance to history — at the Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts, a public school.

At one point, Mr. Hicks substituted for a month in two different classes, after each teacher got sick. Mr. Hicks said he believed that he and other substitute teachers are more than capable of teaching with authority.

“The only thing that separates us — and I’m not taking anything away from a full-time teacher — is the pay and that we do have the ability to say no,” Mr. Hicks said.

Nancy Paine, who lives outside of Seattle, started substitute teaching after she retired from teaching math. “I think this is the year of the substitute,” she said. “I think of us as the rescue squad, and we should be treated as the certified teachers we are.”

Students, read the entire article, and then tell us:

  • What’s your reaction to the article? Is your school experiencing a shortage of substitute teachers, or staff in general? If so, how is your school addressing the problem? How has this situation affected you and your peers?

  • What do you think of the ways that school districts are addressing the shortage, like canceling classes and lowering standards for would-be hires? What recommendations would you offer to school districts and administrators to better tackle the problem?

  • What have your experiences been with substitute teachers? Have they been positive? Do you think of classes with subs as “free periods” or do you find them to be a productive learning time? Tell us about a memorable experience with a substitute teacher.

  • What qualities make for a successful and effective substitute teacher in your opinion?

  • Based on your experiences and observations, do you think substitute teachers are treated well by students and staff? Has the critical role played by substitute teachers during the pandemic made you appreciate them more?

  • Have you ever wanted to become a teacher when you are older? Would you ever consider being a substitute?

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