By Andrew Hawk
I attended a corporation seminar for aspiring administrators when I started my college preparation program. The superintendent was leading the seminar, and on one occasion, he invited various administrators from our corporation to speak to us about their experiences in their administrative roles. One of these administrators happened to be the director of personnel.
During the Q&A portion of the evening, she was asked to share the “biggest challenge” in her position. She needed no time to consider her answer. “Finding enough quality substitute teachers,” she replied. When I reflect on my own career, I can honestly say that finding enough subs has always been a challenge. But this problem has been compounded since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Here are some do’s and don’ts in case you find your school in need of substitute teachers.
Do Be Proactive
If you know you are short on subs, it’s time to start recruiting. The requirements to be a substitute teacher vary from state to state. In Ohio, for example, you have to have a bachelor’s degree, but it does not have to be in education. In Indiana, this requirement is not in place. I have found many good substitute teachers by recruiting parents. Posting on your school’s social media accounts and reaching out to nearby colleges are also strategies I have successfully implemented.
Do Use Teaching Assistants
When principals rearrange staff members, they are most likely trying to make the best of a challenging situation. If a teaching assistant has to be pulled from their regular duties to be a substitute teacher, then they are no longer working as a teaching assistant. This is not a perfect solution, since it begs the question Who will fill their place? Chances are good that no one will fill this newly created gap. Is this weakening one area to strengthen another? Yes, but unfortunately there are times when this is necessary.
Do Call for Help
Do you have any other buildings in your school district? If you are in a pinch, I recommend calling your colleagues to see if there are any subs or teaching assistants they can spare for the day. This is a common practice in my current school corporation, and we are always willing to help each other out if possible.
Do Use Teacher Planning Periods
I operate a preschool through fifth-grade building. If I ask one teacher from each grade level to be a sub during their planning period, I have covered nearly the entire day. When I do this, I have a teaching assistant fill in the gaps, or I fill them in myself.
Do Split Classes
I have three classes in each grade level. If I am really in a bind, I can split the class with no sub in half and put one half in each of the other two classes. This is not ideal, but it does work in a pinch. I do not recommend trying this with less than three classes. I do not recommend doubling class sizes even for one day.
Don’t Use Your Title I Teacher
Pulling a classroom teaching assistant is a hassle, but pulling your Title I teacher (if you have one) is illegal. These teachers must operate within the federal regulations that govern how to use Title I funds. Working as a substitute is not one of the choices. Depending on their duties, you may not be able to pull special education teaching assistants either. For example, if a teaching assistant works as a one-to-one assistant, pulling them would put you out of compliance with the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Don’t Hire in Haste
Having the wrong person working as a sub can be even worse than having no sub. Not everyone was meant to work in this high-stress, low-appreciation role. Follow your normal vetting process as you recruit substitutes and do not compromise your expectations.
Don’t Cancel Classes
Canceling classes causes a number of challenges for administrators and parents alike. I personally have never been a part of a situation like this, but I have heard of it taking place in neighboring districts. Explore every other avenue first, including being the sub yourself, and avoid canceling classes unless there is no other option.
Don’t Use High School Helpers
The majority of the schools at which I have worked have had high schoolers who came to the elementary building to help teachers do various tasks in their classrooms. I know it is tempting to consider using these students in a partial substitute role, but just like pulling your Title I teacher, this is at the very least immoral and most likely illegal.
Stay calm! If you start to panic, it will spread to your other staff members. Panicking will never help you accomplish what you need to accomplish. If you are absolutely out of ideas, call your superintendent to see if they have any suggestions.
Stay healthy, everyone!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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When teachers assistants are constantly being pulled and not able to do their job properly it makes that staff member feel like they are constantly being used and abused by their school district. They don’t get any more of a pay bump for being pulled to sub, the students are more disrespectful towards the aide who is pulled to sub, and then the teachers don’t discipline the bad behavior reports, leaving that aide/sub feeling like what they are having to overcome daily is going unnoticed and what they are dealing with in the classroom when they are pulled to sub, like it doesn’t matter.
I can not begin to tell you how many times since I’ve been hired as a staff member at my school district that I have pulled every single day to sub. In this new school year, I have been pulled to sub 26 times and the semester isn’t even over with yet, but I’m only a part time employee. I get yelled at if I go over my allotted hours for the week, and I am told repeatedly that I can not leave students alone in my classroom when I am subbing to go clock out, but yet I have students who want to take their time in leaving the classroom at the end of the day.
If pulling teachers assistants or aides continues to be the “do”, then you are opening up a lot of violations when it comes to working with students who have IEP’s and 504’s. I, personally, am an aide for teachers who have students who require individualized help or small group help but when I am pulled to sub, that teacher now has to help all their students or sit and focus on the students who require more guidance to full understand what is being taught.
Being an aide that is constantly pulled to sub, has gone unappreciated and when I get to do my actual job, when I return my students are excited to have me back and then I’m gone again for a week. We started school in August and it’s only November 22nd. 68 days that includes fall break and labor day. I have been pulled 26 times to sub that means I have only been able to do the job I was hired to do 38/39 times (I missed a few days). I am worried that if school districts continue to pull their aides, they will lose their aides a lot faster than they had hoped, leaving them with a sub shortage as well as a staff shortage to help with students who have IEP’s and 504’s.
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