Thursday, March 10, 2016

No Subs Available #SOL16 Day 10/31

The ninth annual Slice of Life Story
Challenge is sponsored by the fabulous
team at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, TWT
I have over 200 sick days accumulated, and I'm planning to convert these days to medical insurance when I retire in a few years. I'm lucky in that I rarely get ill, and I've had no long-term illnesses during my career. However, occasionally I need a sick day. Unfortunately, we regularly have a shortage of substitutes in my school.

Last week I began experiencing severe cold symptoms, which became worse with each day. I didn't take a day off because I knew we had no subs available; however, by the time Monday arrived, I was too sick to work. I called in via our automated system and was fortunate enough to to avoid the "there are no subs available" message. 

When we have no subs, our administrative secretary assigns the subs in the building to cover other classes during the prep period; she recruits teachers assigned student teachers classes to cover; she emails the staff and lists periods and teachers that still need covered. We're promised comp time when we cover a class, but with a sub shortage, it's hard to demand that time. 

I haven't "covered"many classes this year because teaching a night class at the university and having a consulting gig put extra demands on my time; simply, I need my prep. Conversely, I don't like to impose on my colleagues to cover my classes when I'm gone. 

I'm accustomed to dragging myself into work when I'm not 100% because I don't like having to delay speeches or having a sub listen to them. When I'm teaching Comm 1101 I can't have a sub evaluate speeches. 

Earlier in my career, subs were readily available. But as the teacher shortage has increased, so too has the shortage of substitutes. 

With alternative routes to certification the norm, and with many districts de-professionalizing teaching to the point that some states have abandoned the mandate that teachers have a bachelor's degree, it's no wonder that a trend toward classes self-subbing (read: students monitor themselves) has gained traction. A post on the Crumudgucation blog last summer offers a pointed critique of the problem of finding and keeping subs. 

Often the sub pool is depleted when we have chronically absent staff. I've noticed that subs get assigned to these teachers first, leaving those of us who rarely miss with multiple people covering our classes. I'm troubled by this because I'm someone who misses few days. 

Teachers know that missing school takes work, as a popular meme reminds us. 
I had a fantastic sub Monday and try to make my classes pleasant for the sub so that they'll want to return. But the substitute teacher narrative has changed. The sub shortage is one more example of collateral damage brought to public education by the failed education reformers. It's enough to make me sick. 


  1. There is so much in this post that weighs heavy on a teacher's heart. In Florida we o not have a substitute shortage, but I know that we have difficult coverage days. In my district administrators are no longer allowed to ask teachers to cover class periods, but it is putting everyone in a bind when we are short coverage. I have not seen a trend toward students self-subbing here. Are your parents aware of the substitute shortage? I wonder if one solution will be to enlist parents' help. I hope you feel better, Glenda!

  2. This has become a problem here in Oregon as well over the past several years. I had a sick day last fall in which no sub came in, so different teachers covered my reading classes during their preps. Most of the teachers and class periods reported that it was fine, even enjoyable, but one math/science teacher was stressed out about having to read a chapter aloud to my students, and sent an irate email to our principal criticizing my lesson plan. He asked to see it and let me know it was fine, but our formerly collegial relationship has been strained every since.

  3. Wow. This post right here should be read by community and political members. So they can see how most teachers would rather not call in and truly do love their jobs to show up but when our body's just can't take it anymore we (our students) are left with a big gap sometimes with a sub shortage. I hope you feel better soon. And 200 days?! AWESOME!

  4. I know what you mean! I'm so glad you got a sub for Monday. My paraprofessional in my room is often asked to sub, and she does a great job. But, yes, the dilemma is real. We need more! We had a death this week (a former principal's mother) and only one person from our team could go to the funeral. It's so hard! Jennifer Sniadecki

  5. Yes, yes, yes! You are so right...and how sad it all is, too.

  6. Yes, yes, yes! You are so right...and how sad it all is, too.

  7. Oh, I remember those days of calling in the automated system. We had terrible subs, and I just knew I was going to come back to a mess. At my school, we have a sub in the middle school, but the upper school teachers cover for each other. The nice thing is that we can usually get the favor returned some time. I am covering a history teacher's class tomorrow, as a matter of fact. I just finished covering a colleagues class for weeks as he recovered from a major health issue. I did get extra pay for that, but it was hard. I know it's hard with this system, but one good thing about it is that we are really good subs for each other, and you can usually find coverage. When you can't, you can cancel classes, and I do that often with upper classmen. It's really different in private schools.

  8. I loved your last line! I'm a sub (retired teacher) who has to remind myself that it's okay to turn down folks for subbing so that I can do other things too. I rarely ever covered classes when the plea went out because it was so frequent and I always needed my prep period. I also felt that when teachers stepped in, it didn't solve the root problem. This is an ongoing problem in the bldg. where I used to teach and where I now sub (sometimes more than I want). I'm learning to say no.