From a substitute’s perspective: Please stop…you’re not an expert

Have you ever had one of those days that make you question your career choice?

Well, this was one of those days. I love education, but I am afraid I am getting burnt out before I’ve even started my teaching career. Most teachers tell pre-service teachers never to substitute, because it will make them not want to become a teacher anymore. I know I am a responsible person, and I know my value, but that all goes out the window when I substitute. I can confirm, through experience, that as a substitute, you’re pretty much at the bottom of the totem pole. You are treated like crap by students and invisible by faculty members, staff, and administration alike. You’re pretty much on your own island. No benefits, no union, nothing – it’s just you. In November, my phone was stolen by a 7th grader (yes, a 12-yr old), and I never saw it again. The school administration/security did nothing about it, and didn’t even try to find it, despite it being stolen at 10am, and school getting out at 4pm. They had the audacity to call me and ask me to substitute for them again. I told them calmly “I will never return to your school again.”

I substitute grades 4-12. My situation might be unique because of the school district in which I substitute. Although I substitute in Maryland, which is known as #1 in education, the county that I teach in is…no words. Let’s just say that what I’m being taught in my education classes are not matching up with what I’m seeing in the classroom. I keep a log of every day I substitute, and although I’m halfway through the year, I don’t know how much longer I can put myself through this crap. Maybe I’ll eventually make a book out of my experiences, titled True Life: The Reality of Substitute Teaching. I feel that every teacher out there should have to substitute for a week to see what it feels like. Then maybe appropriate changes will be made. At least I know this experience will make me better respect and value substitute teachers when I need them in my own classroom. I will put the fear of God in my students to respect the substitute, or “guest teacher”.

So “experienced” or “seasoned” teachers out there, from a substitute, I have some feedback/advice that I think you should take into consideration. This is for maybe when you have a substitute taking over your class for the day, or maybe if one of your fellow teachers is out with a substitute in his/her class. This is also for all other staff in the schools:

  1. Other teachers and administration, please introduce yourself if you come into the classroom. I am not invisible. It would be nice to know who you are, and it’s especially nice to know which students are leaving before you pull them out without my knowledge.
  2. Please office secretaries, act professionally. The main office is my first impression of a school. It’s easy to see the correlation between a poorly-run school and a disorganized, unprofessional office staff. My experience in the office plays a role in my decision of whether or not I will return to substitute at the school. Turn off the gossip when I enter, and don’t ignore me until you’re done with your gossip.
  3. Please office secretaries, LET ME KNOW IF THERE IS GOING TO BE AN ASSEMBLY, FIRE DRILL, LOCK DOWN DRILL, ETC. Tell me what steps I should take. 
  4. Teachers, please have sub plans for me. Please also have emergency back up plans. I’m tired of getting poor feedback on AESOP when no sub plans/emergency plans were left for me. I did my part and went to the office and your fellow colleagues asking what your class is working on, to which there were no answers, or to which I was “shooed” away and told I’d be helped “shortly”, only to have no one help me. You try dealing with 25-34 students in a classroom who have nothing PRODUCTIVE to do.
  5. Teachers, please have me collect something at the end of the class period. The worst thing a substitute can read on a plan is “Have students finish their classwork for homework.” You might as well just let the students do nothing, because you have held them accountable for nothing in the allotted time of the class period. Along the same line, please let me know what to collect and what not to, instead of getting pissed at me for not being able to read your mind.
  6. Teachers/staff, please do not talk shit to me about the students in my class. It makes me uncomfortable and it’s unprofessional.
  7. Teachers, please include your class policies in your plan. This includes classroom rules and procedures, policies on bathroom breaks, dropping/picking up students from lunch, policies on cell phones (I can’t even believe that I have to say this), and consequences for not honoring these policies.  Students will and do try me. Students will and do attempt to take advantage of me. I need to show them that although I am a substitute, I understand how class is normally run. That is impossible to do without you letting me know.
  8. Administration and teachers, please stop coming in and yelling at the class. You are not helping. In fact, you’re hurting me, and the students think it’s hilarious when they get a rise out of adults. You undermine my authority each and every time you enter my classroom and act as if I don’t exist, or yell at my class. I am not a yeller, and although I am a new teacher who understands classroom management, I do not have the same rapport with the students as their actual teacher, so of course it’s harder to manage them.
  9. Co-teachers, student teachers, and paraprofessionals, please just let me do my job. I am more than just a warm body. I can do everything that you’re doing, but you need to give me a chance. There is nothing that you’re teaching, that I wasn’t taught in my K-12 experience. For goodness sake, I have an engineering background, do you really think I don’t understand 7th grade math?! Please don’t tell me “Oh, just have a seat, I’ll take care of it.” I’m looking out for my own back, since no one else will.

If you’ve read all of this, congratulations.
TL;DR: just because you’ve been teaching for a long time doesn’t give you the right to disrespect or mistreat substitutes.

And to end this post on a positive note, here’s a photo of appreciation from a 5th grade class I substitute taught yesterday:



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