We only get 180 days of instruction, and we need every one of them! For this reason, high quality subs are of great importance. With the ever increasing demands on our teachers and the school system as a whole, there are three major factors that play into why there is a sub shortage.
1.) There are some critics out there who want to point to numbers that show that teachers only teach for 180 days, yet they tend to be out of the classroom for 10% of those days. What those numbers don’t tell you is that because the state has cut the professional development days that used to be paid for, districts are instead opting to pull teachers from the classroom to give them professional development, so they don’t have to pay them extra money. Consequently, some teachers are not in the classroom for 10-20 days in a year, not by their choice, but rather because the district needs to pull them out in order to train them. In any given day in the Evergreen School district, 80 teachers being pulled from the classroom for professional development is not unusual.
2.) As the pressure and expectations continue to mount on our education professionals, health is diminishing. It is not unusual for teachers to e-mail the EEA office at 1:00am in the morning. Why that late? By the time a teacher does her job in the classroom, goes home to her family, gets the kids to bed, and does her 2nd job of grading and planning, it is 1:00am when she gets a chance to communicate to her union. When working these types of hours, it should not be surprising that health is failing, resulting in more sick leave usage.
3.) Subs make very little money! A day to day substitute in Evergreen Public Schools makes $132.07 per day, with a maximum opportunity to work 180 days. A yearly wage of $23,772.60 is not going to be satisfactory when the individual has student loan debt that was taken in order to earn a teaching degree that needs to be paid off. Consequently, unless an individual is in an economic place in his/her life where the money is not needed, they rarely stick around to do the job. They instead take their college degree and do something else. After all, if someone can manage 26 kindergarteners who are strangers to them when they walk in the door, they can supervise a few employees for a small business.
So here is a math story problem for everyone… If eighty teachers are pulled out of the classroom for professional development and several teachers are out ill with not enough substitute teachers to cover your first grade daughter’s class, what does the school do? The current answer, take away one of the two things your first grade daughter loves, their specialist time. Ask any elementary kid what their favorite things were for that day at school and (s)he will probably first say recess/lunch and then name what they did in Music, or read at the library, or did in PE class. However, since someone is needed in the classroom, the PE teacher will not be teaching PE that day, (s)he will now be teaching in a classroom for the day. The other option that is sometimes utilized, split a class up and put them in other classes for the day. Sometimes, students are sent to classes that aren’t even their own grade level.
This all has costs! When canceling specialist, students will not enjoy their school experience as much. Student burnout for the day, especially at the younger grades, will increase. There is already so very little room left in the elementary schedule for anything other than literacy and math, cutting out the little bit of physical activity a 1st grader gets or cutting out the creative outlet the music class provides is detrimental to the well being of our children.
Furthermore, there are actual financial costs. Right now, a sub costs $132.07 for the day, while buying the planning time of the nine teachers who can’t send their kids to the music class because the music teacher is subbing costs $185.40 for the day, never mind the fact that the teacher who was supposed to be teaching music is now getting a full teacher’s day of pay for subbing. As for the practice of sending your child to another classroom for the day, all this does is result in your child being warehoused in a classroom, thus missing out on instruction. While it might be fun for the fifth grader to spend the day in the first grade class, helping the students, that fifth grade student didn’t get his/her education for the day.
There is no easy answer for solving the sub crisis. Society has made the teaching profession less desirable, consequently there are not extra teachers to serve as substitutes. The EEA recommends three things to help mitigate this problem:
1. Pay substitute teachers a living wage so they can afford to do the job.
2. Lighten the workload on our teachers so they can keep their physical and mental health, thus needing less time out of the classroom.
3. Have less professional development during the school day. Offering more evening and weekend trainings and pay staff to attend might be preferential to many teachers.
The lack of substitutes is not just hurting teachers, it’s hurting your kids as well. We recommend that parents demand that the district aggressively work to mitigate the sub shortage problem.