15 April 2005


As you know by now, I have to be out of my classroom a lot due to district and other demands. This means that my kids are often left in...yikes...the hands of a substitute teacher.

I can't knock them all, mind you. I have been fortunate enough over the years to have some fantastic "guest teachers." The bad thing is simply that they get hired for permanent positions. It's great for them, of course. And while I am happy to know that they (deservedly) have their own classroom, I am also selfish enough to wonder, "What am I supposed to do now?!"

In order to be a substitute teacher in Washington, you must have teaching credentials. This was not so in New Mexico, where one only needed a pulse and a few hours of college work. Even with the supposedly higher standards here, it is difficult to find anyone you really feel comfy leaving your kids with.

Some teachers hold the position that a sub should be able to walk in and do the original lesson you were planning on teaching that day. Gimme a break. Subs may be in a kindergarten classroom one day and have an AP Calculus gig the next. If they really knew everything there was to know about all of the subjects and grade levels, they sure as heck wouldn't be subbing. Personally, I try to leave relatively "idiot-proof" sub lessons. I really prefer that they not teach my kids...but rather just babysit.

Today, I had one of two subs I least like. He is a retired teacher. He taught science in my building and retired just before I was hired. The man is deaf as a post, so it's pointless to even have him proctor a test. The kids all know he can't hear them talking about the answers. Meanwhile, although he thinks he knows the content, a lot has changed in biology over the last 9 years. I can't tell you how many times I've come back to find my kids completely confused because he told them the opposite of what I had. (This in spite of me leaving instructions to allow students to work independently.) Got a lesson on evolution? Don't even bother. He's a staunch Creationist. I also hate that while I leave this man detailed notes and all materials in one neat stack, I come back to find papers in all sorts of places. It takes a long time to dig out from the damage he causes. And today? Sheesh. All he had to do was take my AP kids to the computer lab to let them work on a virtual lab. And he couldn't even figure out how to do that right. So, one class didn't get the work done...and one did after I checked in on things.

Why don't I just not have the guy in my room? Because I'm not allowed to say I don't want him. If I do, then there is a huge chain reaction set off. I have to collect evidence. He has to be observed 3 times by the principal. There's a review process. And the thing is, maybe he's a great sub for some people. He's just not working out for me, but that reason isn't good enough.

Anyway, I should be more upbeat, right? It's Friday. I've turned in my quarter grades and have absolutely no marking to do for the weekend. Planning? Piece of cake next week as we're doing state testing. I'll only have half my classes.

I might even get to just be me for a weekend, if I can remember how to do that.


Anonymous said...

Just starting my Masters in Teaching program and I plan to substitute for a time while my youngest finishes high school so I read your post with interest and just a little anxiety! ;-)
Also in Washington state, my 9th grader is taking chemistry this year and planning on AP Bio next year.
Put your feet up for the weekend, you've earned it!

Anonymous said...

Your post is a bit harsh: "If they really knew everything there was to know about all of the subjects and grade levels, they sure as heck wouldn't be subbing."

Many subs simply don't want a permanent teaching job. There are loads of highly educated stay-at-home moms who enjoy an occasional sub assignment but want the freedom of two or three day work weeks. Your "idiot-proof" comment is insulting!

Mary D.

Vicky said...

Here's a bit of (possibly outdated) student perspective. I graduated from high school in 1998, having taken 13 AP exams and something like 17 AP courses. What seemed to work for us was to be prepared, as students, for what we needed to do when the teacher was out. In AP French IV, for example, we knew that if Monsieur was out, we were to read aloud from our current novel. In Computer Science we were to work on ACSL competition material. In math and science classes, it was understood that we were supposed to do the end-of-chapter book questions which we normally skipped (in favor of more tailored assignments) and turn them in by class end. In English we would do timed writing. In several classes, fair or not, the teacher even left the name of a trustworthy student to defer to. When the teacher explained at the beginning of the semester what the drill should be in case of absence, as responsible students we were expected to cope.

Anonymous said...

As for Mary D.'s comment above:

Do you think a person can stay informed and abreast of a multitude of subjects, grade levels, instructional methods and theories while only participating in "an occasional sub assignment"? To say that you are that good while working occasionally is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of instructors who eat, sleep and live in the educational world.

BTW, I teach Media and Video Production 8-12. If you are able to teach Final Cut Pro HD, Canon XL-1's, iMovie, MS Movie Maker, Adobe Premiere, studio lighting, audio support, planning, scripting, shooting and delivery....and then teach HS Honors Biology the next day in a new school....I would like to meet you. As a part-timer, don't be arrogant enough to insult those who have made this our full-time life's work.


Anonymous said...

As to the "idiot proof" lessons- all I can say is that in the short time I subbed (between getting my credential and finding full time work) I loved detailed plans that I didn't have to decipher. I was often called between 5-7 am for a sub assignment and was usaully able to just beat the bell. To then have to ponder the ultimate meaning and search through my brain for what I could remember (in a split second) about a given subject at a given grade level was not appreciated.

I would have felt differently had I known ahead of time and been able to sit down with the teacher and plan together. But to just walk in to a foreign situation and say "GO! Teach the concept of..." was ridiculous and never just set me up to look the fool.

So keep developing those idiot proof lessons- your subs-especially the last minute ones, appreciate it.

As to not being able to choose your subs, or choose NOT to have a particular one, that's terrible. We were allowed to ask for our favorites if they were available and request not to have anyone who didn't "fit" right for our class- no questions asked.

Doug H.

Anonymous said...

Oops. Should have proof read my comment. Please change usaully to usually in paragraph one and omit the never before just in paragraph two. I know- small things- but they bug me- especially being a teacher.
Doug H.

The Science Goddess said...

And I didn't even mention the sub who shows up with his knitting to do all day...or the sub I have on occasion who does as she pleases, rather than following any instructions I leave...or the one who berates my nice kids.

But I also didn't mention any specifics on the fabulous subs I've had over the years. There really are some good ones out there---many in between jobs or just starting out in teaching.

I am fortunate enough to have classes full of "Vickys." I help them learn to be as independent as possible. This works well, as long as no one gets in their way when I have to be gone. :)

Thank you to everyone who has posted so far! Other comments are always welcome.