To the Editor:
Regarding the Commentary “Don’t Hire Substitute Teachers in High School,” John Fitzsimons suggests several reasons why bringing substitute teachers into high schools is a waste of time and money, noting that we do so for such reasons as lack of trust, legal consequences, and a lack of creativity on the part of school administrators. I would contend that some of his brush strokes are rather broad and inaccurate.
The quality of lesson plans provided by high school teachers, I believe, is largely dependent upon the expectations established by the principal. As a former high school principal, I would do spot checks of lesson plans left by my teachers who were absent (I was the one responsible for making sure high-quality teaching was taking place in my building). In fact, this was one of the main points that I discussed with my faculty at the start of each school year.
Are there circumstances when finding a quality substitute for such content areas as mathematics and foreign language is difficult? Absolutely! These teachers (and principals) need to give extra thought to their lesson plans for the days they will be absent, especially those days when illness overtakes them. Classes can be combined, qualified colleagues can be paid for teaching an added section or two, or lessons of the absent teacher can be captured on video and replayed. But none of these things will take place when no thought or effort is put in ahead of time.
Students and their parents have a right to expect quality teaching—and learning—to take place each and every day, regardless of who is facilitating the learning process. This burden should not be placed on the shoulders of the students with the expectation to “manage their time better.” To throw up our hands and assign the classroom to a custodian or a secretary to act as custodial supervisors is an equally weak solution (as though they have nothing better to do?).
As professionals, we have the right to expect better of our teachers.
Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals
St. Paul, Minn.
A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2012 edition of Education Week as Poor Lesson Plans Are the Problem