Let's Recognize Substitute Teachers As The Rockstars That They Really Are

by Holly Garcia
Originally Published: 

The holidays are upon us, so while you’re preparing to take time with your loved ones and reflect on the past year, don’t forget to add your kids’ teachers to the list. The pandemic highlighted some hard truths, but never before has it been more obvious how incredibly undervalued teachers, especially our substitute teachers, are.

In the past, subs were called in for the occasional sick day, maternity leave, or maybe to fill a longer gap here or there. There has been a mass exodus in teaching over the last two years, sped up in part by the pandemic. In fact, according to research shared by CNBC, 1 in 6 teachers were considering giving it up pre-pandemic; now that number is 1 in 4. And that’s only teachers who are considering making a move.

So it’s no surprise that schools are relying on substitute teachers, even though they’re in short supply as well. But why? Like other service-based jobs, it comes down to risk, reward, and resources that are simply stretched too thin.

Why the Substitute Teacher Shortage?

We already know that teachers are overworked and underpaid. But substitutes? Well, they assume all the same risks as full-time teachers without the same benefits. Many substitutes are retired educators, which means they’re probably older adults, making them likely to fall into a different COVID risk category than their younger students.

Just like in other service positions, masking expectations vary, and you don’t know if your students have been vaxxed. Substitute teachers have to weigh the risk associated with being exposed to the virus in a classroom environment and coming to work. Will the money they earn be enough to pay any hospital bills should they catch COVID on the job?

The data says not likely.

According to ZipRecruiter, $14 an hour is the national average for substitute teachers. They’re being paid about $100 a day to teach our kids, help them at lunch, and monitor all their shenanigans at recess.

The substitute teacher shortage is causing problems for teachers, which ultimately impacts our kids’ educational experience. For instance, the shortage is so dire in my daughter’s school district that teachers were pulled from their schools and reassigned to different schools because there just weren’t enough warm bodies. And their students? Well, they were divided up and separated into other classrooms. Classroom sizes already have been driven up, but this move increased those numbers even more.

How The Shortage Is Impacting Classrooms

Scary Mommy spoke to an elementary school teacher who has been teaching for over a decade about how the substitute shortage has directly impacted her classroom.

“Honestly, it’s a nightmare. We (teachers) have no time to prep. On top of that, I am subbing two to three times a week and have a hard time keeping up with my own workload,” she said. When our littles are at recess or lunch or going to another special class (like music, gym, or art) — instead of our kids’ teachers getting a 20-minute break, or preparing for their next class, they’re making a mad dash to another classroom.

“We (teachers) just can’t continue to give more. In my ten-plus years, I’ve never seen morale so low and teachers openly talking about switching professions,” she said. “Teachers, permanent and substitute alike, feel unseen. It’s hard to lose your prep time and also not have anything taken off your plate. It feels impossible to keep doing more and more without any support. We’ve come to the place where everything that should be done at school is getting pushed to our own time at home.”

Teachers Are Superheroes and We’re Thankful for Them

Teachers, all teachers, are frickin’ superheroes.

Even though this substitute teacher shortage has climbed to an all-time high, it shouldn’t come as a shock or surprise.

Yes, there have been reports that the shortage puts substitute teachers in a sweet spot financially, but taking everything else into consideration, is it really worth it?

As a person, and a parent with littles in school, I applaud and support all of our educational staff, including substitute teachers. So during this holiday season don’t forget to be thankful for educators. Their job isn’t an easy one. And they don’t do it because it will make them rich. It’s because they’re passionate about education and preparing the next generation.

How could we not be grateful for that?

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