When teachers are absent, their classes by law must be covered. It’s not like college, where a note pasted on the classroom door informing students that their professor is sick means they are on their own. In public schools, substitute teachers are notified, and with luck will find a lesson plan to follow. But too often substitute teachers are left with nothing except a group of students who can make their time in the classroom an ordeal (“Attack of the Student Hairdressers,” The New York Times, Mar. 1).
During the first 23 years of my 28-year career teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I rarely called for a sub. I was young, and teaching was still fun. But as the student population of the school changed and fatigue set in, I began to use more and more of the 10 days allowed annually under the district’s contract with United Teachers of Los Angeles. I always left a detailed lesson plan that I hoped would help the sub be more than a glorified babysitter.
But even under the best conditions the truth is that being a sub is arguably the most unappreciated work in public education. So much depends on the students whom the sub happens to inherit. They can be hostile and cruel, or they can be respectful and obedient. It’s hard to predict. Even when subs have students in the latter group, I wonder why they sign up because the pay is absymal.
Since every day counts in educating students, it’s time to make subbing far more attractive. That means not only paying subs a decent salary but also offering them proper training. I don’t care how much subject-matter expertise subs have, it is never enough without classroom management skills. With pressure mounting on teachers in today’s accountability movement, I expect to see increasing numbers of teachers calling for subs. It’s time to get real about the issue.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.