Editor’s Note: A critical shortage of substitute teachers in Michigan is severely straining school districts across Michigan. Here is one teacher’s detailed accounting of the one-day impact of a missing “guest teacher” in a general education first grade classroom.
By Amy Denys
First grade teacher
Birmingham Public Schools
Prologue: First Grade Classroom Teacher spends two and a half hours preparing intricate lesson plans and setting out supplies to ensure her class of 18 small people will run relatively smoothly while she is away for one prearranged day.
7:30 Sub shortage discovered when school secretary arrives at work.
7:31-8:44 School Secretary spends the next 73 minutes trying to puzzle piece a schedule together so that young children are not left alone to fend for themselves over the next seven hours.
8:44-9:15 School Principal steps in and gets the kids settled until Secretary can finish the schedule for the day. Principal has a 9:30 meeting and must leave at 9:15. Hopefully, Superhero Secretary can pull off this master plan to save the day in first grade.
9:15-9:30 School Instructional Specialist postpones meeting with parent to fill in 15-minute gap before the next changing of the guards. IS reads a story to fill time warp.
9:30-10:00 Third Grade Teacher offers to take First Grade Class for buddy reading. Although a great activity for both classes, Third Graders give up half of their math lesson time to accommodate haphazard schedule.
10:00-10:30 Instructional Specialist comes back and teaches the math lesson the Classroom Teacher left for the Guest Teacher that never was. This could very well be the only planned academic instruction these First Graders receive today.
10:30-11:00 Thank goodness for snack time and recess. First Grade class joins Kindergartners for a 30-minute outside snack and play break. This plan only works because it is not raining, sleeting, or snowing. I am sure we can all agree snow is very exciting; however, getting 18 First Graders and their Kindergarten friends ready with snow pants and boots would make even the most experienced of teachers pass out.
11:00-11:40 Second Grade Teacher offers to take First Graders into her room to play board/card games. Although fun for all, as who does not like Candyland and Uno, Second Graders compromise their Readers Workshop time to visit and play with their new mini friends.
11:40-12:25 Spanish Teacher has a prep and offers to cover First Graders for the $27 missed prep payment. First Graders do not know Spanish, but Spanish Teacher plans to pick something from Classroom Teacher’s Lesson plans that will hopefully keep them quiet and busy so that she can still prep a few things she needs for later in her teaching day. First Graders complete several pages of independent math.
12:25-1:05 Thank goodness for lunch and the noon helpers that report to take over First Grade for the next 40 minutes.
1:05-1:10 Some warm body will have to watch First Graders while they wait for their next “Band-Aid.”
1:10-1:55 Physical Education Teacher offers to take First Grade orphan class with his Kindergarten Class. Said PE Teacher must have lost his mind to offer to take nearly 40 people, all under the age of seven, into the confines of the gym. He is hoping to play a group game. Trying to get 40 small children to do the same thing, at relatively the same time, is like getting 40 puppies to all sit. At this point, losing someone is not out of the question!
1:55-2:15 Another Time Warp…Instructional Specialist returns to cover and read another story until the next stopgap.
2:15-2:50 Two other First Grade Teachers split the original class in half and host an extra nine students for the science lesson they have planned. Whole group lesson is taught with little time left for hands-on experiment as the classroom is very crowded and there are not enough prepped supplies to go around.
2:50-3:00 Warm body needed (again) so that First Graders can return to their classroom to pack their bags for home. Hopefully someone comes through…First Graders cannot be left alone, even for a minute!
3:00-3:45 Regular music class for First Graders. Well, at least one part of their day was “normal.”
3:45-3:50 Due to Music Teacher’s bus duty, Reading Specialist comes down to dismiss First Grade. Cross your fingers that everyone gets to the right place.
Epilogue: Everyone survived in this scenario and no First Graders were lost throughout the day. However, the Classroom Teacher has tremendous guilt that her colleagues had to rearrange, cancel, and compromise their day in order to take care of her kids. Not to mention the School Secretary who spent most of her day making sure the “plan” was executed down to the minute, literally. In all, 14 adults and 134 students were impacted by the missing Guest Teacher. This equates to a grand total of 148 people who had to be flexible and rework a portion of their day.
So what is the solution to attract and retain quality Guest Teachers? Start by paying them more. Increasing the pay by only a little is not going to make this problem go away. For subbing purposes, make a concerted effort to draw retired educators back into the classroom. Make all Guest Teachers feel appreciated and respected for the work they do for us. We need them, desperately!