Sunday, January 31, 2010

Replacing us

About a month ago, there was a big brouhaha over this article about substitute teaching. Most teachers (the non-substitute ones, that is) agreed that the author had some valid points and some invalid ones, and everyone wanted to address the issue from their own perspective.

I'm late to the party, and most of my issues have already been admirably covered by Mrs. Mimi and by Mildly Melancholy, but I just wanted to add a few thoughts of my own.

The article's author is "angered" at how many teachers are absent on any given day (er, except if they were in school, then you'd be out of a job, wouldn't you?). Teachers, she claims, "are most likely to be absent on Fridays, followed by Mondays."

This is an issue I can address from personal experience -- and it's not because teachers are party people who want a three-day weekend. Rather, it's the opposite. My first year teaching, I was out sick five times, most of those on Friday or Monday. And it's because I got sick (from a roster of 400 elementary school students carrying hundreds of millions of germs), but I continued to dddrraaaaaaaaaggg myself into work day after day until I was so sick by the weekend that I had no choice but to call in Friday and/or Monday. Sorry to burst your bubble there, sub!

One of her suggestions is that administrators "should check with their subs during the school day." This sounds like it's coming from someone who's never actually worked full time in an actual school. I'm not the World's Biggest Fan of my administrators, but I will tell you this: They are busy people. On any given day, we have state testing going on, or our suspension room is in effect, or inquiry teams are meeting, or there are grade conferences, etc. Checking in with substitute teachers? Is the least of their concerns.

My favorite part is when she says, "Principals should also try to arrange for other teachers to use their prep time to fill in for absent colleagues." Hi, that was my nightmare last year and I did not like it one bit. And guess what, those teachers didn't leave very detailed plans for me, either, but I sucked it up and dealt with it because I am an intelligent human being.

Last, she wants unsuspecting parents and educators to know "that too many teachers are leaving their children’s education in the hands of unskilled, untrained stand-ins." Okay, well, first of all, that's the district's fault, not mine. If the district is going to hire people as substitute teachers without requiring them to have any formal teacher training, does that mean I should refrain from calling in sick because God forbid my class have to spend the day with one of these "unskilled, untrained stand-ins"? Please, I have enough things on my mind already. Second of all, speaking as someone who's both subbed and had other teachers sub for me: When you're subbing, that day may feel like the longest day in the world, but in reality it's usually just one day out of a week or a month or a year. Most teachers I know are just happy to come back to a classroom that's not in complete shambles and the absence of accusatory notes from the sub on her desk. No teacher I know would leave an absolutely essential or vital lesson plan in the hands of a sub, even if they knew it was going to be a competent person, just because when something is absolutely essential or vital, of course you're going to want to teach it yourself.

I'm writing this as I'm sick at home with a cold, and will I call in sick tomorrow? Probably not, because I've managed to schedule three parent meetings for the morning that I don't want to cancel. Oh and also because, like the vast majority of teachers I know, I'm pretty dedicated. Don't forget it.


Theresa Milstein said...

I read that article as well. Your points are perfectly said. He makes it sound like every class incompetent, lessons left are just a pacifier (lacking actual content), teachers are taking off for fun, and so on.

I'm a sub now, but I was an extended term sub for three months, and an assistant in charge of my own subjects for years. Even part-time, I took work home. Teachers in my district sometimes do training in the evenings, but how much can they add outside of the classroom?

I haven't been able to find a job due to the economy. If there are further budget cuts, I hope subs aren't next on the chopping block.

J said...

also, doesn't that mean that she herself is an unskilled, untrained stand-in? /eyeroll. that article was so dumb. i can't believe the times published it!

Anonymous said...

I also read that article and cringed as I was reading it. Mental health days are completely legitimate. Asking teachers to sub during their prep is crazy. Do you want healthy teachers to give well-planned lessons or not? Teachers are human beings!

I am a certified teacher, but subbing now because of the hiring freeze. So I was reading the article from both angles-the teacher and the sub. Sure, subbing is hard, but it's supposed to be because teaching is hard! I walk into a school ready to do my best to follow any plans left for me. Sometimes that is not possible for a number of reasons, so I have to rely on many go-to lessons or art projects or whatever to keep the kids focused and learning. I am prepared for total chaos. Many times it is! I also know that it's my responsibility to better myself as a sub.

One thing that I would suggest to teachers is building a pool of parents in the class that would be willing to volunteer, in addition to the sub, when the teacher is out sick. That could help the sub with classroom management. It could also give parents a greater respect for teaching and get them more involved with the child's education.

Basically, I don't like the fact that she is complaining about money going to subs and putting the burden on teachers and school employees who are already overworked. With smaller class sizes and more parent involvement, the need for subs should be reduced naturally.