Being in the classroom is hard.
I read Mrs Mimi's great take-down of this opinion piece by a substitute teacher. (Link: The Replacements) Mimi made some great points about the piece, and I wanted to add a few of my own.
Here is some background info: This is my 6th year teaching. (Holy cow!) I've taught at three different schools. The first two weeks of my first year were spent subbing (one in a kindergarten classroom as an assistant, and one in a very tough middle school that would go through four principals that year). I subbed for three months last spring at a few charter schools. So at this point, I've seen enough to know both sides of the story fairly well (and also to know that, as rough a time as I've had, things could be so.much.worse than I've ever had it).
This woman subbed once a week for two years. This does not make her a reliable expert to me. If she had ever been a classroom teacher, she wouldn't be saying most of this. Most of her 'facts' and all of her suggestions show little to no research on her part. Also, her tone is just too far out there.
She says that teachers are out all the time, and that while sometimes it's 'legitimate' (ie, sick), she implies that many teachers are just selfish and lazy and are absent all the time (they take a mental health day or go to an event (which, I agree, is weird and probably inappropriate)). Obviously she hasn't spent enough time in a classroom to know that teaching has to be one of the hardest jobs out there. Surely she has met teachers who cough and hack for days on end because even if you do bring yourself to take one day off, you can't take more than that, even if you need to. (I have had to cough, hack and spit over the garbage can in the middle of teaching, because I was still sick. The kids looked concerned and asked if I was okay. "Not really," I replied. But what else am I gonna do?)
So a mental health day here and again? Any teacher who's been a teacher for more than a few months knows that mental health is a real thing and it's a real thing that can bring you down down down. The teachers I know don't take it lightly and don't take advantage. But sometimes, yes, for god's sake, we need a day off. If you think subbing is so, so hard, because no one told you what to do, try that for an entire year, every single day, in the same room with the same kids! You will need an occasional day off too!
As a middle school teacher, I often had to cover another class during a prep. Usually it was older kids, ie, devils. As a sub, I almost never had a lesson plan left for me.
If a teacher wakes up sick one morning, how is he or she supposed to magically send a substitute plan to the school? Ain't gonna happen. Are teachers required to have generic sub plans submitted to the office? Of course. Does everyone do that? Who knows. Do the plans make it to the classroom on the occasion that a sub requires it? Probably not.
Teachers know that a sub in their room means total chaos and destruction will most likely ensue. One day I returned from being out and things (charts and bulletin boards attached by nails) had been TORN OFF the walls.
Naturally, if you know ahead of time that you're going to be out, you want to leave something for the sub (because you can sympathize about the panic when faced with a group of unfamiliar, rowdy students with nothing to do, and because you want to minimize the damage to your classroom). You can't do anything new, because the kids probably won't get it and you don't want to trust a stranger to teach it how you want it to be taught. You basically have to find some busy work for the kids. Any sub worth their salt knows this and wants this. The sub can't really do much other than say, "I'll have to tell your teacher that you x/y/z." But it's better to have something concrete to give That Kid to do than nothing at all.
Are there bad teachers who don't give a shit about anything and never leave anything at all for the sub or the class to do? GOD, YES.
So guess what? I always brought a bunch of stuff with me. I wanted to be prepared, just in case! I have an assortment of games, activities, generic lessons (often grammar related, since I taught english for so long) to be ready with. I'm like a scout--always prepared! Can you imagine the alternative?
It sounds like she's had tough times with a few plans from a few teachers. And that sucks. But, and this might be my martyr complex talking, be grateful for anything left for you at all, for crying out loud! Also, there is always a good student somewhere who can tell you about those mysterious routines teachers might mention.
Point/counterpoint for her so-called fixes:
"School administrators should provide substitutes with basic training in classroom management, teaching, contacting the office and dealing with medical emergencies."
YES. Of course. That would be the professional thing to do. Realistically though, if you're going to a different school each day, and showing up 10-30 minutes before school begins, there's not a lot of time for this, for the sub or for admins.
"They should check with their subs during the school day."
This sounds like common sense, doesn't it? It never happened to me. Nor did I really expect it. Administrators, good ones and bad ones, are freaking BUSY PEOPLE. They have demands coming in from all sides all day long. There's no time to talk to a sub about how she's feeling that day. Especially if, like in so many big nyc schools, there are anywhere from two to eight subs in the building at once. The sub has the unfortunate duty of taking on a difficult task with little to no thanks or feedback. Come on, you have to know that going in!
"And they should form district-wide advisory committees (comprising the superintendent, principals, teachers and substitutes) to find solutions to problems related to substitutes."
That sounds awfully complicated, vague and, again, unrealistic. There are way too many big problems that schools/districts need to worry about. Subs should be certified and trained, sure. But I don't think that they can do much more than that. Subbing can really suck, and teachers have to be absent sometimes. End of story, really.
"To minimize the need for substitutes, principals should require that teachers call them personally when they’re ill — calling in to a machine increases absences."
Meh, I don't know about that. Teachers feel guilty about taking a day off; they're thinking about their students and their classroom. That doesn't change if they're talking to a machine.
"They should keep track of all teacher absences."
Um, they do that already. Where are you that they don't? Why on earth would you think otherwise?
"And they should hold in-service training sessions for teachers on weekends or during the summer, rather than on school days, or else conduct them in the classroom with the students."
No Effing Way. Are you on glue? NO.
"Principals should also try to arrange for other teachers to use their prep time to fill in for absent colleagues. British secondary schools do this — and pay teachers a stipend for the extra work."
Again, they already do this in secondary schools. It sucks, but those teachers deal with it. Because of course teachers of adolescents need to have even more stress during the day, dealing with unruly, unfamiliar adolescents. But it happens, and teachers have to suck it up and do it. Who is this woman claiming all these outlandish things as suggestions?
I've been Just a Sub. It's freaking hard. Ignored, left high and dry to suffer through a day. Some students are pleasant and polite, but many are not. And that's to their 'regular' teachers, so amplify that times a million for a strange substitute that they'll see for less than a single day. That's a hazard of the profession. (At least in this town.) Some subs work really hard to manage their temporary charges, and teachers admire them and are grateful to have them cover their classes. Some subs don't work very hard. Some subs do try hard, but the kids can make things really difficult.
I agree, there are a lot of things that need to be fixed about education, teaching, teachers, curriculum, discipline, management, and schools. Substitutes are a necessary thing, and I really empathize with the people doing it, but it's nowhere near even the first half of all the trouble facing schools nowadays. This lady needs to get over herself.