This I Believe

Glen - Jemez Springs, New Mexico
Entered on November 27, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65

“Substitute Teachers Need Help”

As a substitute teacher, I truly know that our American schools need help. I also believe that our educational system is in dire need of a systemic change, which would both honor and better support substitute teachers.

I am called on to be a “sub” in the early hours of the morning. Once I arrive at the school, I hope the teacher has left a lesson plan or that the secretary can find an emergency lesson plan if no current lesson plan has been left. How frustrating it is when no lesson plan exists!

Upon arriving to the class, I busily look for the needed school supplies of paper, pencils, and so on. Some classrooms have these and some have little.

Once students arrive, they are surprised to see that their regular teacher is gone. Their attitudes and willingness to act as students somehow gets changed. In some cases, the change is astounding. A few students who are the trouble-makers find the situation pregnant with possibilities for acting out their antics and even for abusing an adult, namely, the sub teacher.

On rare occasions, a teacher’s assistant or educational assistant is available. If not, I have found myself to be totally challenged and wishing, even praying, that any parent might knock on the door and ask to visit. Such a miracle never happens, unless a rare parent happens to work in the school as a librarian or in some other capacity.

When those few students who enjoy holding a classroom hostage with their misbehavior push beyond the limit of acceptable classroom behavior, I and any other sub has the option of pushing the button to make a call for help to the office. The principal, the counselor or the secretary might come to the class and spend a very brief moment before leaving. Misbehaving students know that they can then continue their controlling capers. If I am very fortunate, the one out-of-control student goes to the office. At times, the principal speaks to the student and then sends him or her right back. Upon the student’s return, their misdeeds often resume. No change has taken place other than a short period of relief for the sub.

So what do I believe is an answer, or at least a start, to help change this situation which negatively affects the classroom behavior for the rest of those who would like to learn?

It seems that principals, parents, and other adults, including other teachers, need to understand the “one down” situation of the sub and be willing to address the reality. Namely, that the sub needs assistance if learning is to happen. In a school like the one I am in, the three-dimensional racial situation of Native Americans, Latinos and Whites compounds the challenges for everyone involved.

As it is said, there is a no-brainer in the solution that a lesson plan and several emergency plans need to be available. Principals must insist that teachers have this. If not, everything quickly goes downward in the classroom. Assistants must also be available. School districts need to have funds available for this. The Bush Administration can create all the demands of “No Child Left Behind” on teachers and administrations, and still totally miss the boat when it comes to the question of what happens to students in the classroom when the teacher is gone and everyone lays the burden on a sub.

I believe a far out possibility exists that even principals would pray for. That is, to have parents agree to make a surprise 10 minute visit to the classroom twice in a school year. I know this would send a much needed message to students, especially to those who have problems acting appropriately. Might schools even be able to expect parents to share the responsibility for the students’ behavior?

My children attended public schools and both graduated from public high schools. One child did better than the other. Had I been asked to do a surprise visit to my kids’ classrooms, I would have made time to do it. Once every four months is not an unreasonable request. This is what I believe could help teachers, students, principals and sub teachers. Children could easily see that their parents do care enough to make the effort, and that they definitely do care.