For the children? Nope

The new substitute-teacher policy in Darren’s district is good for laid-off teachers, who’d get first dibs on substitute assignments. But it’s bad for his high school math students, he writes.

None of the laid-off teachers are math teachers.

So if a math teacher calls in sick, he or she cannot request a math teacher (or, in my case, cannot contact an awesome retired math teacher) as a substitute.  Instead we get whatever laid off teacher is next “on the list.”  If I were to call in sick, I’d get a laid off third grade teacher–who probably isn’t capable of teaching trigonometry or statistics.  In other words, I’d get a babysitter, and my students wouldn’t get any instruction that day.

And my district and local union agreed to this.

The teachers’ union always claims “education first” and “children are our special interest,” Darren writes. The district’s job is to educate students. But they couldn’t be bothered to write in a stipulation that the first qualified teacher on the sub list would get the job.

About Joanne


  1. I feel the high school math teacher’s pain, but they probably left the word ‘qualified’ out of it because it would be an almost physically impossible feat – especially in subjects that are permanantly short on qualified teachers like math. There aren’t enough full-time math teachers to go around as it is, so there certainly won’t be enough math subs to go around, to say the least.

    • If the ed-world credentialism wasn’t applied, the supply would be greater. For example, a cousin with a bachelor’s and master’s from a top engineering school and decades of top-level industry experience has been volunteering as a math/physics tutor at a local HS. Someone like him would make a far better substitute teacher in those areas than someone lacking math/physics background. The (probably now retired) headmaster at a top academic prep school told me that’s what the private schools do; look for the academic background and forget ed courses. The heads all keep lists of people that can sub (or replace an unsatisfactory teacher until a permanent replacement can be hired).

      • The supply is low?

        I’m certified in Math (7-12) and physics (7-12) in Va and NY. I had outstanding scores on the CST and PraxisII tests. My phone should be ringing all the time, and should have been since 2006, even though I applied for every teaching job I could find online (and killed my share of trees sending out hardcopy applications).

        When I left teaching in 2009 I was replaced in about 2 days.

        There’s something else going on, not any shortage of math/science teachers.

        • I think you’re right… Sadly.

        • Unless you are over the age of 45, then there’s some bit of information you’re not telling. Even over 45 (and I should know), you might be last pick for math jobs, but you’re still going to find one. So if teachers are generally being hired, and you’re not, then something’s up.

          • I’m 51. I was 43 when I started searching for teaching jobs for the first time.

            But, why should that matter if there’s a “teacher shortage”? If there’s a famine do you expect people to throw out bagels that are a day old?

            If I kept getting interviews and kept getting rejected you could say I’m so hideous that they’d rather have no one. But I’ve gotten very few bites given the number of applications I’ve sent out. It’s not like my teaching resume said “I’m old and hideous. Don’t call me”

            Not long ago I read an article stating that some school district was screaming “teacher shortage”, in spite of the fact that this same school district admitted that they had no open positions. Apparently, a “teacher shortage” in their minds boils down to “we need to interview a few people before we decide on one”. So, we need to expand the teacher pool so we can decide on our pick after one interview.

  2. This is a non-issue. You take time off, your kids are losing a day. That’s how it works. So Darren is personallly fussed because he has access to a retired math teacher, but that’s a one-off solution.

    • I agree with you on this: It IS a solution–even to you. “That’s how it works” isn’t very hopey-changey. What are your concrete reasons for disregarding this solution?

  3. palisadesk says:

    Does it make a difference if the substitute is hired for the day (or two) vs. an assignment of, say, six weeks or six months?

    My district allows unqualified substitutes to fill the short-term jobs, but not for substitute positions of 10 days or more. Those substitutes must have the qualifications for the position. In such a case, a third grade teacher would not be hired because it would be an extremely rare event that a third grade teacher would be qualified to teach ANY high school subjects (I am, actually, but have never done so).

    There’s a lot of competition for teaching jobs in my area so the list of qualified substitute teachers is quite long, thus supply and demand may be a big factor.

  4. palisadesk says:

    But they couldn’t be bothered to write in a stipulation that the first qualified teacher on the sub list would get the job.

    This may not be the union’s decision, but management’s. Typically they strongly resist any infringement on their rights to hire according to their own wishes. People who think school district management “puts kids first” any more than the union does need to give their head a shake.

    • In my experience, your last sentence is true across the board; not limited to hiring. That’s why the distric admin refused to let my incoming all-honors freshman take keyboarding in summer school, instead of in Sept (for which he was registered); “he isn’t in HS yet, so he’s not qualified.” Yeah, we’re really here for the kids – NOT.

  5. Obi-Wandreas says:

    In my district, you’re lucky to get someone who’s not an escapee from Bellevue. An actual teacher?!? I’m happy if I get back and my room hasn’t been demolished!

  6. Hasn’t this always been this way? When I was in middle school and high school in the 1980’s, we NEVER had a substitute who actually taught anything… we ended up with an extra study hall that day.

    (This is, of course, only for short-term, teacher was sick type situations… long-term replacements were a different matter.)

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      We had very few subs in high school. -public high school in MN in the ’80’s. It was really rare when a teacher was absent. Possibly, we should be asking why all the absenteeism among teachers?

  7. This post is out of touch with reality, and I speak as the wife of a substitute teacher.

    Unions exercise no control whatsoever over who gets the sub call.

    This comment on the post is correct: “Darren (and other teachers in our district) are allowed to call subs they know directly to arrange a replacement.”

    Substitute teachers may work on emergency credentials, which means passing the CBEST. Any math genius who wishes to step into a class of high-schoolers is free to go through that and the basic fingerprinting and go for it.

    My spouse has NO interest in teaching a class he doesn’t feel qualified to teach. Subbing is really hard work and it’s easy to lose control of the class. The notion that teachers with third-grade experience are dying to leap in and teach high school math comes from someone’s wild imagination.

    Come on, Joanne. You must know all this; you’ve been writing about education since the last century. Don’t run misleading stuff without correcting it. Have some standards.

    And Stacy in NJ, do we have evidence that absenteeism among teachers is up from the past, or is that an assumption? I challenge it, and remind you not to make unfounded assumptions.

    • You are *not* correct. We have been told that we are *not* to call others (e.g., retired teachers) because of an agreement with our union to give substitute jobs to our laid-off teachers.

      Caroline, assuming your screenname means you’re in SF, that means you’re a 90 minute drive from me–but please, feel free to tell me how *my* district and *my* union work. I’m all ears.
      /sarcasm off

    • J.D. Salinger says:

      Caroline, Just because your spouse has no interest in subbing/teaching a class for which he is not qualified does not mean there are no subs willing to do that. There are many subs who do it. I have a teaching credential in math, but jobs are scarce, so I sub. Word gets around among the teachers that I actually know math and the students are always surprised when they see I can answer their questions. Obviously they have had many subs who do NOT know this material.

      Where Darren teaches, I would be ousted by subs with priority over me who may or may not have the math background.

    • Caroline, I know that different districts have different policies.

      You owe Darren an apology.

  8. Caroline, while you describe the normal situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if the district committed to use laid off teachers first.

    In the first school I worked in, we told the central secretary when we’d be absent. She went to existing teachers and their preps first, and we almost never actually used subs. Second school, a much larger district, we had an automated system. We could request a sub, but they made the call. It would be easy enough for the district to just ignore that request. So while the unions would have no direct control over it, the agreement could certainly result in the district using laid off teachers.

    But again, this is a non-issue. Teachers are absent, the day is generally lost unless you know you’re going to be gone in advance and have an independent activity that the kids are willing to do. I’ve done it, it works, but I’m not sick very often. Darren’s got a sub he likes. Whoop de doo. It’s not an issue on a district wide scale, so why should anyone care?

    We need to stop paying teachers for sick days, frankly. Teachers who are sick don’t get paid, which gives teachers an incentive to come to school. This, of course, will mean that teachers will sometijmes come to school sick. Oh well.

    As it is now, teachers who aren’t sick cost the district less than those who are. Then, when they get paid for their accrued sick leave, ignorant idiots get annoyed. But why should teachers who taught their kids more often get penalized twice?

    • Staff at my school, in all departments, raised a fit. Do you think the French teachers want someone who speaks French? And the biology teachers want someone who can teach biology?

      Teachers are gone for a variety of reasons. While I’m sure Caroline and Cal never miss work for any reason, I was sent to district math meetings last year, twice, to come help determine how math departments will implement the new Common Core standards (that are being shoved down our throats).

      So hey, I’m all for attacking teachers when we do stupid things, but let’s not just kneejerk jump on the bashing bandwagon because some teachers who miss days actually care enough to want their students still to learn. The staff members at my school should be applauded for trying to make this happen, not criticized because it’s convenient for a couple here to criticize.

  9. The staff members at my school should be applauded for trying to make this happen, not criticized because it’s convenient for a couple here to criticize.

    Oh, please. Try not to throw your back out. No, they shouldn’t be applauded and yes, teachers get pulled out for many reasons. Of the 10 days I’ve missed in 3 years of teaching, just two of them were for illness. The rest were for PD that I asked to get out of.

    I said nothing about stupid. I said irrelevant. Your problems are irrelevant. If at any given time, 4 out of 30 subs are actually qualified to a) teach the classes assigned and b) keep the room under control, we’d all be shocked. So who cares? It’s a non-problem. The difference between you picking a qualified teacher and you throwing work to a buddy is, from a functional standpoint, non-existent. So if the union wants to protect previous members and give them some work, fine. If the districts don’t like it, then they can stop pulling teachers out of the classroom for crappy PD. If the teachers don’t like it, who cares?

    I think subs and missed teaching time are a very real problem. I just don’t give a rat’s ass if you can’t pick your own precious sub, becaues you’re one teacher and utterly irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.

    As for applause, spare me. Self-important moralizing is so deeply unattractive.

  10. @J.D. Salinger, I agree that often subs aren’t qualified to teach the material, so I wasn’t clear on that. I don’t agree that subs are out there demanding to cover classes they aren’t qualified to teach when qualified subs are available (in the absence of miscommunication, which I agree is possible), and I don’t believe that a school district has banned teachers from lining up their own subs. I simply think that’s a flat-out lie. It makes the district staff’s work much harder if that’s the case, and they’re not likely to be willing to put such a burden on themselves.

    Did you confirm this, Joanne, and if so, how and with whom? You need to give your readers that information when you print something that appears to be a flaming lie.

    • You “think” this is a “flat-out lie” and that I am a liar. How could you possibly know what information my principal was given by our district, and what he told us in our staff meeting?

      Clearly you don’t “think” at all.

  11. I just googled and found it.

    Once you notify the district that you are interested in being called for substitute positions, you will be placed on a priority list of individuals who will receive the first opportunity for substitute jobs as they become available in preference to other substitutes. Jobs available will be day to day assignments as well as any long term assignments.

    • That was not from my district. Here’s what’s on the pdf posted at my district:
      “As the 2012-2013 school year begins, we will have a priority substitute list. This means
      that any laid off teacher with re-employment rights will be offered substitute assignments
      first. Also, regular employees cannot request or confirm you as a sub for an assignment.”
      Seems pretty clear to me, Caroline, and exactly in line with what we were told in our staff meeting.

  12. The district’s job is to educate students, Joanne? Feel free to explain how that requirement is enforced.

    Once a year, sometimes at longer intervals, a small minority of voters, generally ill-informed, some voting their wallets, get to decide which board members retain their post and which don’t. The considerations that apply in the decision? Sometimes it’s how well the district does educationally but many times it’s who has the most posters up around the district.

    Does that sound like a good recipe for ensuring that board members view every decision they’re required to make through the lens of educational efficacy? It sure doesn’t to me which means the district’s job is to educate students provided more important considerations don’t get in the way.

  13. Mike Curtis says:

    If there was such a thing as a substitute “teacher,” qualification requirement, then there would be either: comparable pay, or a plethora of unfilled positions.

    We who teach, dread having to take time off because we know that “Subs” can never be expected to be more than “babysitters.” The best lesson plans are useless in the hands of people who don’t know how to use them.

    There’s a reason why we professionals would rather collapse in our classrooms rather than take a day or two to manage our Flu. The fact is, it’s more work for us to make up…one day off means two more days to catch up.

  14. Darren is barking up the wrong tree. His District and his union are simply following the law as defined under California Ed Code 44957 (d).

    During the period of his preferred right to reappointment, any
    such employee shall, in the order of original employment, and
    subject to the rights of permanent employees as set forth in Section
    44956, be offered prior opportunity for substitute service during the
    absence of any other employee who has been granted leave of absence
    or who is temporarily absent from duty; provided, that his services
    may be terminated upon a return to duty of such other employee, that
    such substitute service shall not affect the retention of his
    previous classification and rights, and that such an employee shall
    be given a priority over employees whose right to a substitute
    position is derived pursuant to Section 44918.

  15. Curious as to when either Joanne Jacobs or Darren are going to admit the policy noted in this article was not the fault of the union and in fact, the District is just following state law.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Which leads to the interesting question: why did the state legislature pass the law? Since teachers unions monitor all legislative activity, and cultivate good relations with legislators (campaign contributions, volunteers, endorsements, information), I would be very surprised if the unions had not pushed for the law, maybe even originated it.

  16. Roger, we can certainly debate that issue, but it is state law that tells districts to do this, so Darren’s original assertion is wrong.