No Substitute Teacher! Again!?

We used to have those around here!

For a teacher who cares about their students, sometimes taking a day off can be a struggle between staying home to get better from an illness, or going to school in spite of being sick just to make sure that their students get what they need.

Lately this problem has been compounded because a shortage of substitutes is wreaking havoc in education! In this blog post, which happens to be on website of the company that my employer uses to contact substitutes, an administrator gives some insight on the matter.

One of the answers our district has used in response to this need when it arises is to have other teachers use their planning time to cover classes. It is being discussed as to whether or not they will be compensated in the future for “giving up their planning time.” Sometimes, like in my case as a specialist, they simply cancel music, art, P.E., etc. for the day. You can probably imagine how my colleagues appreciate this wrench being thrown in their daily lives!

Here are a few articles from the regional news about our local districts and the teacher shortages both regular and substitute.

Have you noticed substitute teacher shortages in your teaching situation? How have they affected you? What is the outlook you see for responding to this problem the future if this trend continues?

13 thoughts on “No Substitute Teacher! Again!?

  1. Drue,
    You are not alone in Lancaster. It is happening in Northampton also. Actually, I hear it’s happening everywhere! I substituted for two years before I signed a teaching contract. I know from personal experience that the paycheck for a sub hasn’t risen in thirteen years. It is normally less then $100 per day. That is not enough money for someone to be responsible for babysitting kids all day in an environment that already is ripe for misbehaving students.
    I also have spoken to many subs who tell me they pick and choose where to sub based on the school environment. There are some schools that cannot find subs because the students are so disrespectful and the administration does not support the subs when they write referrals.

    Here is a local article that touches on another issue of subs- outsourcing these jobs to people for hire? Who are we bringing in to watch over our kids when we have a personal day or sick day? I believe we must pay more them more. Bottom Line.


  2. The substitute shortage is happening in Parkland School District as well. We were know to be one of the higher paying districts for substitutes so I though that we wouldn’t see this issue quite as much but we are. I think any teacher would prefer a substitute to having coworkers covering your classes when you are absent. However, I really get worried about coverage because I am a traveling teacher within my building. In the past, a teacher has covered my class, left my lesson plans in my first classroom, and then when the second teacher showed up for coverage in my other classroom they didn’t have my plans.

    Many of us have had to give up planning time to cover class. In the past we would get that period back with coverage of a study hall later in the week but now, since we are constantly short substitutes, that doesn’t always happen.I’m not sure what districts will do for the future. My friend in another district has said that their new contract offers hourly pay for teachers when they have to give up their prep to cover as you mentioned as a possibility.

    We used to be able to even request subject specific substitutes and now we are just happy to have an adult in the room with our students.


  3. Drue,

    I agree with Lisa and Kayla. Lisa and I teach in the same district and Kayla teaches at a neighboring district. My wife also teaches at a different neighboring district. Our entire area is suffering from a substitute shortage. At my school, Northampton High School, students are usually sent to the auditorium when no coverage can be found. Most of my classes are in the morning, so I only teach one class in the afternoon. I have had to take a few half days for appointments recently and my one afternoon class needs to be accounted for. I have actually resorted to taking the half day (we are allowed to leave at 10:35) but staying through my afternoon class before leaving for my appointment. It is just easier than having that period fall behind the rest.

    I absolutely dread calling off because I know my students will not get anything done and it will mean more work when I return. I think this is the same just about everywhere. If we want better subs, we need to start by raising compensation. Another issue is that people have been scared away from the teaching profession so we don’t have such a large pool of new candidates to serve as subs each year.


  4. Drue,
    What an excellent topic that I would have never thought to explore! Although I don’t think in Pittsburgh we have as much as difficulty as it sounds like you are having in your area, finding good substitute teachers that can teach/know the content is almost impossible. There are rarely any math subs, and if there are they are hard to come by, so I often find myself planning an online lesson that I place on Schoology for my students the day I’m out (this masters program has helped me with that). However, the one good thing my district does is offer coverage to teachers who cover someone else’s class. Since we have four 80 minute periods a day, if we cover four classes we have an extra day that we can use throughout the year as a personal day. It is definitely a perk that I do not take for granted. It is also helpful, especially in a Keystone tested subject, that I can have a fellow math teacher cover my class and not “miss a beat”. As teaching continues to be a tough profession to get a job, especially in Pennsylvania, I would expect there to be more substitute options available. I guess we will just have to wait and see if this problem continues to exist.


  5. Personally, I don’t deal with this issue at the college level – if we call off for the day, classes are just cancelled. I have to say that I’m glad I never have to deal with the subbing situation (unless in the case of a long-term absence), as I never had much luck with subs when I was a high school teacher years ago. I remember one particularly bad situation in which the sub spent a week trash-talking me to the students, rather than actually working through the lessons – come to find out, she had also interviewed for my position and was carrying quite a bit of resentment over not getting hired.

    In terms of the shortage, it looks like IL is dealing with similar issues (in fact, it looks like quite a few states are, too!):

    I don’t know exactly how to fix the shortage issue, but I can say that based on my own experience working as a sub year ago, one of the major problems in the Chicago-area is the terrible pay. Another issue is with the way in which schools are supposed to contact subs. There’s a central automated call center for all of Chicago public schools – teachers are supposed to contact that call center to request a sub and the robo caller reaches out to subs in the system. Unfortunately, there are numerous glitches with this system that often leaves schools with coverage.


  6. What a great and poignant topic! This is certainly an issue we’re facing in our district. I remember having to set reminders on my phone to call into our Sub Service every 5-10 minutes on nights I didn’t yet have a job for the next day. If the secretary offered me an assignment before leaving one day, I would clear whatever it was on my schedule. Coincidentally, the principal that hired me said it was my flexibility and willingness to help out on the drop of a dime regardless of my schedule was paramount among reasons for getting me an interview.

    Today though (mind you, the above scenario was only 6 or 7 years ago), We are constantly having to cover classrooms on shortage days during our prep time. That tends not to bother me much because I usually get an extra prep on another day to make up for it, but the point is that it is shocking that it is a problem!


  7. Drue,

    I would have never thought to include this as a topic of discussion for this course, but it is a brilliant idea! It seems like many school districts are having this issue – including mine. Luckily this year we have only had some minor issues, but at the end of the school year last year it was a huge problem. I ended up having to take two sick days in a row (which I absolutely HATE doing but I had to) and neither day they were able to find a substitute for me. This meant that other teachers in the building had to cover in 15-minute shifts during their prep periods. This was super frustrating for them and for me, as I hate making them take away from their prep time that we all desperately need. I felt super guilty. I would expect that more people would be willing to substitute-teach, however we all understand that it can be demanding depending on the school district, type of students, grade level, and course.



  8. Hi Drue,
    You bring up an issue that is a huge problem in my school district. When I first starting teacher 8 years ago, when I went online to put in for a substitute the absence would be filled within the hour if not within minutes of me clicking the post button. Times have definitely changed in the area of substitute teachers. I know this issue probably stresses our school secretary out the most. She is the one in charge of finding subs if the the absence isn’t filled in the morning by the time kids come in to school. We do have a few aides that are qualified teachers that sometimes have to be taken from their normal schedules and placed in to a classroom last minute. I know this puts a lot of stress on those teachers as they don’t have a lot of time to look at the plans for the day. It even causes problem if they are supposed to be support for one teacher, but then are pulled out because they need to fill in for another teacher. Hopefully the issue of the substitute teacher shortage ends sooner than later. It causes a lot of problems for the teachers and administrators and it sometimes affects our students which isn’t good!


  9. Drue,
    What a great topic to post on. I am not currently teaching, but this was a HUGE problem when I was teaching. We were required by our principals to make sure we had not only 3 days worth of emergency sub plans on file, but also split packets. These were packets you hoped you would never have to use when you were creating them and PRAYED you never saw a student (more like group of students) walking into your classroom carrying one. Split packets were created in case the classroom teacher was out and there was no sub. The students were then split up throughout the building and given these packets to work on. This meant extra work for the classroom teacher and more disruption in the classroom.

    This is a growing problem for sure. My daughters’ elementary school is in the same position and have had to have classes covered by RTI teachers, Itinerant staff, special areas teachers…even the principal!

    We need to find a way to have substitutes make more money. Especially for people in my situation. I am not teaching but would like to get my foot back in the door. However, I have to pay a sitter for my two children at home and BAC for my school age girls all with the $75 substitutes make before taxes. We also need to make sure these teachers are properly trained so they do not feel incredibly overwhemed by the students.



  10. Hi Drue,
    I think it’s important to state first and foremost that no teacher wants to miss school. Missing school for any reason causes the classroom teacher so much more work than just being there. Secondly, there seem to be more and more reasons that teachers are pulled out of instructional settings for professional development, and no teacher wants to be absent in these cases. That being said, districts all over the country are finding it hard to hire substitute teachers. Certainly the low pay is one reason, but maybe growing concerns about liability, have become another reason. Like many teachers, when I entered the job market, I had to sub for two years before I got a contract position. Today’s college graduates may not have the luxury of waiting for that job to open up with massive college debt looming. Where I work, not just anyone can get on the sub list. You need to have PA teaching certification, and subject area certified teachers are given preference for each job. When no sub is available, which happens more and more frequently, teachers are reassigned from duty periods to cover. When there are no teachers from duty periods who can cover, teachers may offer their planning period in return for compensatory time. I think districts may have to move to a system of hiring permanent “super subs” who report to work daily and can move throughout the building and cover any areas needed.


  11. Drue,
    Great topic! I have had four times this year alone that my absence was not filled using our Aesop tool. Luckily, we have aides that have their teaching certificates and can take over if needed. I know that it is definitely frustrating for them and the teachers they work with, though, because they are unable to work with the groups they have on a daily basis. This definitely puts a strain on the entire school and makes me feel like sometimes it is just a lost day for my students.

    Eight years ago when I was trying to get a job, it was nearly impossible to get a substitute position every day. I had to pay the monthly fee for my phone to notify me of an opening, and even then I was still jobless some days. It is amazing how quickly this has changed. A colleague told me recently, “with the stresses put on us by the government and the attacks on our pensions, parents are pushing their children away from going into education.” I must admit, I would agree with them. I am not sure if there really is an answer for the near future.


  12. I do not have experience with subs. I can speak for my son. Whenever a teacher has been absent, the school has not had a substitute teacher. His experience has been that when there is a planned absence, the teacher gives them an essay to write and turn in the next dad in an English class, for example. If the absence is unplanned, the kids have lost the day.


  13. Drue,

    This is definitely an interesting topic, and I know many schools are struggling with a shortage of substitutes. I work for an online school and we don’t really have this issue because our teachers are able to have a pretty flexible schedule. However, we do have substitute teachers for long term absences. The district that I live in also struggles with having enough substitutes, and I know that there have been times when the school needs to come up with coverage. Like you said, this district has used the special teachers to cover the classroom teachers and then there wouldn’t be any specials that day. I have also seen classes divided and then students sent to the classrooms with teachers. For example, if there are three third grade teachers and one is out, the classroom without the teacher is divided into two and one half of the students are sent to one of the classes and the second half are sent to the second third grade teacher. With all of this said, I can understand why there is a substitute shortage. I was a substitute for a short period of time after college, and it can be a struggle to go into a classroom without knowing what lessons will be left for you, if any, knowing the procedures of the classroom (how to take attendance, how the bus routine works at the end of the day, etc.), and some teachers do not leave much of anything for substitutes. Sometimes other teachers will help the substitutes, but not always. The pay is also not the best, especially for the amount of responsibility that substitutes have. I have also seen many substitutes stop subbing for districts because even after years of subbing, when an open teaching position has become available, the school hired someone outside of the district and this upset the substitute teachers.



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