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- From STEM, Let's Pivot to the BRANCHES of the Humanities - May 25, 2021
- Would Education Collapse If Teachers Stopped Working for Free? - May 20, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part II - April 21, 2021
- 8 Tips So Your Substitute Plans Don't Suck - April 14, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part I - March 12, 2021
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers: Habit 3 - First Things First - February 26, 2021
As our local association's president, I traveled to all 10 schools in our district for a 10-minute meeting at each one. At these meetings, I asked the members there what single topic they wanted to discuss, and at 4 of the 10, the teachers wanted to address the dearth of substitute teachers available. "]Not only are we now expected to teach more with less, we're expected to sacrifice our planning periods to and sometimes even our lunches to cover for a missing colleague. To many of the teachers - and to me - this is completely wrong. But it just might be the "canary in the mine" for education.
What is a canary in the mine, readers might ask? In the coal region of Pennsylvania, where my family is from, my ancestors learned of trouble (carbon monoxide and other dangerous gasses) brewing in the air. The canary's death would warn others of impending doom and allow them to get out before they were smothered by the silent gas. Today this colloquialism serves as an allusion to anticipate and warn of things to come.
The problem with the lack of substitutes is five-fold. Here's what I explained to teachers in my district who were concerned about this canary in the mine:
1.School districts are strapped with cash and it really is difficult to live on a substitute's salary. In our district, it's just north of $100. In others, it's a bit more. For most, it's much less. Districts who were fortunate enough to have substitutes on their teaching roles, like Philadelphia, have cut those positions. In the meantime, the city has had difficulty placing substitute teachers in more than 15% of the teacher absences while using a private firm.
2.Many districts are using the same firms, and, consequently, competing for the same substitutes. In the past, most districts used to have a person who assigned substitutes to schools. They developed a relationship with these substitutes and "won them over," helping to place them in a regular setting and being more reliable. Today, a computer program probably assigns substitutes to your school. For many districts in a region or state, they probably use the same program.
3.The current substitutes are getting frustrated and leaving education altogether. In the past, a new teacher would cut his or her teeth by subbing for a semester, a year, or maybe even two. There are certain teachers who have been substituting for upwards of five years, hopeful to eventually land a position. Instead, they feel like damaged goods and just leave the profession and seek other types of more reliable employment where they feel appreciated.
4.States have cut back on the ability of retirees to take substitute positions. Many, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, limit the teachers with experience because it can go beyond their earning maximums with their pensions and retirements. Others outright bar retired teachers from returning to the classroom. To see a state-by-state comparison of substitute requirements, click here.
5. The Youth aren't entering the field. Think about the last student who told you they wanted to be a teacher, and then think about your reaction to their statement. You probably gave them a warning of some type, asked them multiple times "are you sure?!", and had them think about it multiple times. Even if you didn't, students aren't blind to see that teachers have been running the gauntlet in the public comment sections of the local online periodical.
In order to conquer the substitute shortage, it's going to take a few things:
1.A short-term plan developed by the district and the local teacher's association.
2.A long-term plan developed in a similar manner.
3.Thinking outside of the box, including having building subs for guaranteed 45 day assignments, an increasing pay scale, rewards for quality substitute teachers, and promises of interviews if substituting more than a certain amount of days.
4.The district and association should also be recruiting stay-at-home parents and grandparents whose students are old enough to attend school (elementary, middle, or high) and promise them to be assigned to their child's school and that they can leave the same time as their child does.
The truth of the matter is substitute teaching made my career. Student teaching was difficult, as I felt like I always had something to prove to someone, whether my adviser, my co-op or a possible interviewing administrator."] Once I was unfettered from that and in the classroom for the students and to do a good job, I fell in love with the profession all over again. I enjoyed learning how others ran their classroom, created curriculum, and worked with students - until I found my place in full-time employment. Today's substitute teachers should be just as fortunate.
Got any other comments, suggestions, or ideas about how to solve the substitute crisis before the canary falls over? Leave them below!