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There's No Sub for a Good Sub Plan!

Is there a substitute shortage or not? Do substitutes require special training? How do teachers arrange for sub coverage? What if a teacher doesnt leave behind plans? Are substitute teachers evaluated? Education Worlds "Principal Files" principals responded to those questions. In this article, they paint a picture of how school districts manage finding, training, and retaining substitute teachers. Included: Elements of a truly helpful "sub folder."

It used to be that substitute teachers were considered hired babysitters. The substitute reached into his or her bag of tricks and kept students occupied and out of trouble, but little learning took place. For all intents, a day with a substitute teacher was a "lost day."

Not anymore, principal Laura Guggino, told Education World. "We expect our substitute teachers to completely continue instruction if the regular classroom teacher is not available," she said.

Guggino considers her staff at Rhame Avenue Elementary School in East Rockaway, New York, among the lucky ones. "We have a permanent substitute at the gate in our building," she said. "Traditionally, our permanent subs have the opportunity to be trained in our curriculum, standards, and assessments. They have developed a deep understanding of the standards and procedures almost as well as our 'regular' teachers have."

The best part of the system, Guggino added, is that by taking time to train the substitute teachers the school district is creating a pool of candidates who are often well qualified for future classroom openings.

Having a qualified, efficient, permanent sub helps the school day go seamlessly for students -- almost as if the regular classroom teacher is there, added Guggino. Teachers minds are at ease if they have to be out for a day.


Many schools have no problem finding substitute teachers. Others are not nearly that fortunate.

"We have a terrible teacher shortage," principal Teri Stokes told Education World. Often classes are doubled up, and Stokes even takes the helm of a classroom from time to time. "Some schools in our district have offered to pay the fee for parents of students in those schools to become substitutes," added Stokes, who is principal at Weatherly Heights Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama. That fee, which is usually paid by the substitute teacher, covers the required background-security check.

Jim Clark, principal at T.R. Simmons Elementary School in Jasper, Alabama, told Education World that "in the past our system has been blessed with a lot of certified substitute teachers," but the situation is changing. "Now we are experiencing a shortage of certified teachers and substitute teachers."

The faculty at Doctors Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida, is a young one, said principal Larry Davis. "With many young teachers, the baby boom seems to hit us hard each year," he told Education World. "Substitute teachers are needed on a long-term basis to cover maternity leaves. That creates a shortage for our daily needs."

Principal Chris Rose wonders what the year ahead holds for teachers at Plymouth School in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia (Canada). "Last year there was normally no shortage of substitutes, although there were times when the stable was emptied," he said. "But I have a feeling it will be different this year."

A shortage of substitute teachers also exists in the schools of Hineston, Louisiana. "But I feel lucky," principal Marguerite McNeely told Education World, "because I have five retired teachers who sub for me on a regular basis."

McNeely meets with all substitutes before they work at Hinestons Oak Hill High School. She goes over general school rules and policies. "That way they know what we expect," she said, "and they can ask any questions they might have."

"It appears we will have an adequate number of substitutes this year, " said Addie Gaines, principal at Kirbyville (Missouri) Elementary School. "Our district pays well for substitute teachers compared to other area schools.

"We even have badges for the subs to wear," said Gaines. "The badges say Teacher for the Day, and they have a cute graphic on them.

"I like the badges because they reflect our feeling that the students should respect the substitutes as they respect any other teacher," added Gaines.


In Franklin County, Kentucky, qualified substitute teachers are scarce. It used to be that when a teacher was out and a sub was unavailable to cover the class for the day, the students in the absent teacher's classroom had to be split among the remaining classrooms in the grade level, principal Jeff Castle told Education World. "The idea of more than 35 students in a classroom was nearly criminal, so our district took action," said Castle, who is principal at Collins Lane Elementary School in Frankfort. "Our district developed an emergency substitute program that has reduced the number of unsupervised classrooms by nearly 80 percent."

Among the remedies initiated by the countys superintendent was a policy that directed all principals to deny personal or professional leave if more than 10 percent of a schools staff wanted a particular day off. "The Kentucky Oaks run the day before the Kentucky Derby is one of the more popular days off," said Castle.

The district also implemented the "School-Specific Substitute" program. Each principal selected three to five parents he or she knew well and would trust with a group of students. Those individuals were notified by the district's central office about the availability of substitute work. "If the parents were interested, the district provided a 12-hour professional development training that included instruction in classroom management, lesson delivery, and other information that might help make a day in the classroom run smoothly," explained Castle. "After that training, each of the parent subs were required to shadow a certified teacher for two full days.

"The program has been very beneficial to our school," Castle added.


So who arranges for sub coverage when a teacher is to be out for a day? Responsibility for tracking down subs might fall to the secretary, the principal, or even the individual teacher. For some other teachers, a computer does the calling!

"Our system pays a non-certified staff member at each school to handle getting coverage for absent teachers," said Teri Stokes. "Usually the secretary or an office aide is the person who does it, but about half of the teachers prefer to call their own subs when they know they will be out."

At Plymouth School, the administrative assistant usually will do the calling, said Chris Rose. "If the call comes after school, then it is the vice principals responsibility."

The teachers at Kirbyville Elementary are responsible for contacting their own substitute teachers. "I really like the system, and so do the teachers," said Addie Gaines. "Teachers like it because they call the substitute they want, the one that does a good job in their particular classroom."

In the event of an emergency, the teacher calls Gaines, and she is the one to call for the sub.

At Collins Lane Elementary, teachers contact the principal when a day away from school is needed. "I arrange with our district's sub caller, which is a paid position in the county," said Jeff Castle. "All subs are listed on a morning sub sheet that is e-mailed to all schools."

In Brevard County, Florida, it is very possible that teachers and substitutes will never need to talk to a human to arrange coverage or accept an assignment. "An automated system does that job for more than 5,000 teachers in our district," principal Michael D. Miller told Education World. "The teacher calls the automated AESOP System. Each teacher has an ID number. He or she uses the telephone keypad to enter that number, their school ID number, and the date they will be out. Then the system calls available substitutes until it finds one." Substitutes use the keypad to accept or reject assignments that are offered.

"Last year, more than 98 percent of the substitute positions were filled in this way," added Miller, who is principal at Saturn Elementary School in Cocoa. "The biggest problem with the system is that you sometimes end up with people who are unfamiliar with your building."

Education World looks at automated sub-calling systems in an in-depth article next week. Watch for that article!
Dont miss an in-depth Education World article about automated sub-calling systems. See the article, Sub-Searching Made Easier.


Substituting doesn't begin and end when a warm body stands at the front of each classroom each day. In many school systems, substitute teachers undergo training before they ever step foot in a classroom. The day does not end when they walk out the door either; many schools have evaluation instruments in place to evaluate plans left behind by teachers and the performance of substitutes.

"Our county [Brevard County, Florida] provides a short course for substitute teachers if they want to take advantage of it," Michael Miller told Education World. To the north, in Chapin, South Carolina, all substitutes attend a training session each year that familiarizes them with school and district policies and procedures, said Jim Jordan.

At Hoover High School in North Canton, Ohio, substitutes fill out a sheet at the end of the day, reporting how things went. The substitute leaves that sheet behind for the teacher. "Then the teacher fills out a sheet about the substitute's performance and delivers it to the office," said principal Tony Pallija. "If any substitute is having a problem, the principal will talk to that person the next time they come into the building. If we continue to have concerns with a sub, we will tell them they have been dropped from the sub list."

Teachers at Rhame Avenue Elementary complete a "feedback form" when they return to their classrooms. "The form asks teachers to comment briefly on the substitute teacher's rapport with the students, the condition of the room, and the work accomplished," Laura Guggino said. "If there are any issues, a follow-up dialogue will be conducted with the sub before reassignment."

A similar procedure is in place at Doctor's Inlet Elementary School. "The substitute is required to leave behind a list of concerns, behavior problems, things that could not be covered in the lesson plans, and a general overview of how the class went," explained Larry Davis. When the teacher returns, he or she submits an evaluation form to convey how things went while they were out.

"Of course," Davis added, "the students will let us know how things really went!'