A Substitute Teacher is not a “Substitute” for a Teacher
Boluo School | 2022-06-06 | 5 min read

When I order my groceries to be delivered, there is almost always a “substitute” for one or more of my items.  An 18 pack of Coke in place of a 12 pack? Great! Sunbeam bread instead of Mrs. Bairds? Well, OK, I guess.  Kale salad instead of Caesar? Abso-freaking-lutely not, sir. I’m here to tell you, your kid is getting kale salad in the classroom.  A substitute can’t do what a teacher can do in nearly any educational metric.  

One of the most important aspects of the student-teacher relationship is just that, a relationship. In order for students to successfully learn, a relationship must be built of mutual trust and understanding.  A substitute simply cannot achieve that in the limited time and authority that they are given.  Certified teachers go through a tremendous amount of training on dealing with their students’ socio-emotional needs.  They learn how to recognize students in crisis, abuse patterns and suicidal ideations.  Substitutes get a crash-course on school rules…and that’s about it.  

Substitute teachers are rarely familiar with the content that they are required to “teach.” At the elementary level, most substitutes can probably cover at least SOME of the content that they’re being asked to teach. At the secondary level (middle and high school) it is almost a certainty that they cannot. When I was teaching (business, finance and marketing) my kids would often ask me for help in their other subjects.  

“Ms. G, can you help me with my astronomy project?”
“If it requires more than differentiating between an airplane and a star, no.  And probably not even then.”

High school subjects are highly specialized and require an expert understanding of the content that substitutes simply don’t have. 

In most cases, it is not required that a sub take or enter grades. The permanent teacher will grade the papers and enter the grades when they return.  In the case of a long-term sub or a permanent vacancy, a student is required to be graded during that time. But how and by whom?  What is most likely happening is this: the sub is assigning multiple choice worksheets recommended by the department chair (who may or may not know the content themselves) and grading it using a key. The sub then writes down the grades and gives them to a secretary or the department chair who enters them into the system.  Are these grades accurate? Who knows. Are these grades a meaningful reflection of the students’ learning? Almost assuredly not. 

Substitutes serve a vital role in our educational system but they are not viable “substitutes” for qualified educators. 

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