Science in the Middle

doing 6th grade science – outside the box!

Substitute teacher shortage shortchanging students

on December 13, 2014
In one week, most school kids will be off for the better part of two weeks, as will their exhausted teachers.  What parents may not realize is that the students might have learned just a little bit less, and their teachers might be just a little bit more worn out than they should be.  The reason is a shortage of substitute teachers that has likely messed up a day or two of the semester for children in many counties.  Subs are limited to the number of days they can work per month – a change made about the time the ACA (Obamacare) went into effect. I proposed a solution to this issue, but the more urgent topic of the December board meeting was the potential annexation of part of the Druid Hills area into the City of Atlanta. (On PDS24 archives) The many teachers i have shared this idea with think it is brilliant. In case my voice was drowned out by the annexation controversy, I wanted to share it with a broader audience – blog readers.  Happy Holidays!
Good evening, chairman Johnson and board members. My name is Susan Oltman and I teach 6th grade science at Kittredge Magnet School. A growing problem  in the schools needs to be acknowledged and solved as it impacts student instruction. This problem is the shortage of substitute teachers. Ever since changes were made limiting the number of days  subs could work per month, we have an unacceptable # of unfilled sub jobs , even when a teacher plans it many days in advance. This disrupts the classes of the affected students. I know from colleagues both in DeKalb, Fulton and Henry counties that this is not unique to my school. How does this play out? Sometimes absent teachers’ classes are covered by other teachers who are pulled from their planning period. Or the subject -pair partner has double classes for the day. Or one class is cancelled and the remaining classes are all lengthened. In all cases, the learning is disrupted.  One day last month, with four uncovered teacher absences, our school wide Genius Hour had to be canceled. One of the things students had looked forward to that day included a visit from a pilot with his remote controlled drones to teach aviation concepts. What a let down and missed opportunity! This issue penalizes teachers with good attendance, which affects not only learning but morale. This is a problem that should have been anticipated and fixed (by now) from human resources. I would like to propose a solution which borrows from successful corporations such as Waffle House, Chick Fil A and Home Depot.. AIC or Central Office employees should be on call on a rotating basis to fill in as the substitutes whenever and wherever there is a need. I have four reasons to support this as a solution. First, there are ample people to fill this role.  Two independent audits have revealed that DeKalb’s central office is vastly overstaffed, so you can certainly spare people being sent out to a school. Secondly, many AIC employees are former teachers, and came into their role through a promotion. Therefore, the people taking on these sub jobs would be highly qualified to keep instruction moving along. Third, there is a widespread perception that the central office is out of touch with the schoolhouse. We teachers often feel that we get poor customer service from the central office with no forum for feedback.  Placing these folks in schools will get them back in touch with our most important stakeholders, the students. That is why the companies I mentioned send their corporate employees to work in the retail stores each year.
The final reason why this is a good solution is the cost. There is none! These are salaried employees I propose become our fill-in subs. So instead of paying a sub $80 a day, this would not add to district costs.
I’m not proposing that they replace our entire sub pool, just filling in where a sub job is not picked up. For example, an employee may be assigned week 16 of the school year at Kittredge. If any day that week, there is an absent teacher with no sub, this on-call central office person would be sent to the school and given the classroom for the day. Perhaps you may not know until 6 or 7 that morning that your work day plans are changed. To that I say – Welcome to my world!
Thank you for listening to my proposal.

6 responses to “Substitute teacher shortage shortchanging students

  1. kirklunde says:

    Thank you for your comments to the BOE and for speaking to this important issue. I think your proposal has a lot of merit.

    ACA is not the reason for the substitute shortage. This was identified as a problem in the January 2012 Human Resources Audit which found a substitute vacancy rate, or “Failed to Fill Rate” of 18.5%. In the 2012-2013 school year the “Failed to Fill Rate” in subfinder was 21%. In 2013-2014 the “Failed to Fill Rate” in subfinder was 22%.

    ACA is the excuse given by Dr. Smith, but it is not the truth.

    • Susan says:

      Good to know the stats. I wonder what is being done to recruit more, given that the fail to fill rate is going up? I would ask: what is the purpose of limiting the number of days subs can work per month, if not to keep them under the threshold of “full time?” We have had subs in the building WILLING to work another day, but they could not because they had reached the maximum for that month. What sense does it make to limit the number of days with a known fail to fill rate of more than one in five?

  2. vicki says:

    what on earth does the affordable care act have to do with substitute teachers?

    • Susan says:

      Some subs were told the number of days were limited starting last school year to keep them under the number of hours which might require DCSS to offer them insurance. I am quoting subs who were in my school. This was not the case in years past.

  3. […] BY SUSAN ON DECEMBER 13, 2014 (Reblogged from the WordPress blog, Science in the Middle) […]

  4. R says:

    If there was more pay for qualified retired teachers ( who can work unlimited hours) , the pool would not be exhausted. The pay is just over 10 an hour for all subs. Long term subs only get 95/ day…not nearly worth it for all the additional work.

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