Substitute teacher shortage shortchanging students

BY SUSAN ON DECEMBER 13, 2014
(Reblogged from the WordPress blog, Science in the Middle)

We found this teacher’s idea on how to close the gap in the substitute teacher shortage nothing less than brilliant!

Read on >>

In one week, most school kids will be off for the better part of two weeks, as will their exhausted teachers. What parents may not realize is that the students might have learned just a little bit less, and their teachers might be just a little bit more worn out than they should be. The reason is a shortage of substitute teachers that has likely messed up a day or two of the semester for children in many counties. Subs are limited to the number of days they can work per month – a change made about the time the ACA (Obamacare) went into effect. I proposed a solution to this issue, but the more urgent topic of the December board meeting was the potential annexation of part of the Druid Hills area into the City of Atlanta. (Click here to view on PDS24 archives.) The many teachers I have shared this idea with think it is brilliant. In case my voice was drowned out by the annexation controversy, I wanted to share it with a broader audience – blog readers. Happy Holidays!

Good evening, chairman Johnson and board members. My name is Susan Oltman and I teach 6th grade science at Kittredge Magnet School. A growing problem in the schools needs to be acknowledged and solved as it impacts student instruction. This problem is the shortage of substitute teachers. Ever since changes were made limiting the number of days subs could work per month, we have an unacceptable # of unfilled sub jobs , even when a teacher plans it many days in advance. This disrupts the classes of the affected students. I know from colleagues both in DeKalb, Fulton and Henry counties that this is not unique to my school. How does this play out? Sometimes absent teachers’ classes are covered by other teachers who are pulled from their planning period. Or the subject-pair partner has double classes for the day. Or one class is canceled and the remaining classes are all lengthened. In all cases, the learning is disrupted.

One day last month, with four uncovered teacher absences, our school wide Genius Hour had to be canceled. One of the things students had looked forward to that day included a visit from a pilot with his remote controlled drones to teach aviation concepts. What a let down and missed opportunity! This issue penalizes teachers with good attendance, which affects not only learning but morale. This is a problem that should have been anticipated and fixed (by now) from human resources.

I would like to propose a solution which borrows from successful corporations such as Waffle House, Chick Fil A and Home Depot.. AIC or Central Office employees should be on call on a rotating basis to fill in as the substitutes whenever and wherever there is a need. I have four reasons to support this as a solution. First, there are ample people to fill this role. Two independent audits have revealed that DeKalb’s central office is vastly overstaffed, so you can certainly spare people being sent out to a school. Secondly, many AIC employees are former teachers, and came into their role through a promotion. Therefore, the people taking on these sub jobs would be highly qualified to keep instruction moving along. Third, there is a widespread perception that the central office is out of touch with the schoolhouse. We teachers often feel that we get poor customer service from the central office with no forum for feedback. Placing these folks in schools will get them back in touch with our most important stakeholders, the students. That is why the companies I mentioned send their corporate employees to work in the retail stores each year.

The final reason why this is a good solution is the cost. There is none! These are salaried employees I propose become our fill-in subs. So instead of paying a sub $80 a day, this would not add to district costs.

I’m not proposing that they replace our entire sub pool, just filling in where a sub job is not picked up. For example, an employee may be assigned week 16 of the school year at Kittredge. If any day that week, there is an absent teacher with no sub, this on-call central office person would be sent to the school and given the classroom for the day. Perhaps you may not know until 6 or 7 that morning that your work day plans are changed. To that I say – Welcome to my world!

Thank you for listening to my proposal.

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23 Responses to Substitute teacher shortage shortchanging students

  1. teachermom says:

    I like your idea Susan. You are brave for speaking up. Unfortunately I don’t see this solution happening because those working in the Palace do not seem to understand or care that the schoolhouses are imploding. Why should they? Their world is insulated by money and lunch hours and 1000 dollar chairs.

    We have many in our building who could step in, including instructional coaches and support teacher (not swd). Instead the coaches continue to walk around with clip boards bullying teachers. We have split classes which has worsened over the past few weeks as the flu hits teachers hard. Multiple classes were split on Monday with no one even offering to help us make extra copies or cover our rooms for a minute in order to get materials or supplies for our extras. It’s a shut up and do it mentality and everyone knows it.

  2. Excellent idea. Or they need to bite the bullet and hire full time subs that go into a pool. Many companies have a pool of employees. My child works at BOA, the minute someone turns in a two week notice and says they are going to work for a competitor ( but they refuse to name ) they are escorted out the door. Well all employees have figured out you get two weeks paid by saying I am going to the competitor , so even if they don’t have another job lined up they do say that. So BOA has Pool Branch Managers, Pool asst. managers, pool personal bankers, pool tellers.

  3. concerned citizen says:

    Excellent idea, but we all know that nobody at the Palace would ever subject themselves to being a lowly teacher, again. They are insulated and happy to be so. They want nothing to do with hands-on teaching! It’s simply too hard and too exhausting. We might as well assign principals and assistant principals to sub – it will never, ever happen. They’re all too busy doing nothing but bullying teachers.

  4. Lynn says:

    There is no shortage of applicants (qualified) for substitutes. I know people with Bachelor’s degrees and more that never got called for an interview a year after their application was completed. I believe that the lack of subs is intentional and is being used to balance the budget.

  5. On an average year, we have around 1,200 subs on the list of DCSS employees. There was one substitute teacher approved to be hired at the last school board meeting. Why was that one person so formally brought to the board?

  6. dsw2contributor says:

    “Why was that one person so formally brought to the board?”

    Wrong question! The correct question is “Can anyone tell us about the F&F connections of that one person who was actually hired?”

  7. dsw2contributor says:

    ACTUAL BREAKING NEWS — The GA DOE has released the 2014 CCRPI results. Here’s the link to the GA DOE website:

    http://www.gadoe.org/External-Affairs-and-Policy/communications/Pages/PressReleaseDetails.aspx?PressView=default&pid=254

  8. dsw2contributor says:

    The Augusta newspaper has an article about former DCSS Regional Superintendent Kenneth Bradshaw, who was hired by former DCSS Regional Superintendent Angela Pringle:

    http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/education/2014-12-08/new-richmond-county-schools-deputy-superintendent-kenneth-bradshaw-brings

    A quote: Superintendent Angela Pringle said his experience and work ethic made him the highest ranked candidate for the position.

    “I established a new hiring system when I was hired here … candidates are screened for interviews after their qualifications are examined by a panel of current school employees. Our panel ranked Bradshaw as most desirable candidate,” Pringle said. “We want candidates for this role that are not only efficient and goal oriented, but that also understand the importance of establishing capable classroom environments. Bradshaw fits that completely.”

    Along with Bradshaw’s military experience, Pringle said his record of improving schools as principal and regional superintendent led her to support his hiring.

  9. @contributor: that’s kind of what we were wondering. We’ve never heard of them asking approval for just one substitute teacher. This person must have some kind of board connection that made it necessary to bring the hiring to the public board meeting (although nothing specific was mentioned). Anyone know?

  10. sawyerbrown68 says:

    Teachers who can’t take it or make it in the classroom become administrators. The average administrator would be an unqualified disaster in the classroom.

    There is an administrator who admits to not grading a single paper in an AP English class for an entire year at a former school.

    Will Angela Pringle reach back for the principals she hired? Good idea! My area’s high school principal whom she hired needs experience outside of DeKalb where got all of his experience.

  11. Seems Simple Enough says:

    The reason that I was told that we run low on subs is the new Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) rules that state part time employees can work only a couple days per week or else DeKalb County has to give them healthcare benefits. Therefore, towards the end of the week, all of the subs have maxed out. The County needs to hire “days specific” subs for the end of the week/month reserves. It is extremely rough on teachers to have to continually add kids at the last minute when they split classes or lose the little planning period they have because the specialists are covering classes. With unemployment rates as they are, I do not see any excuses we do not have enough subs…It just shows more incompetance in our administration. Our kids are definitely suffering. We can blame Obama….we can say all counties are going through the same thing. However, this has been going on 2 years now. There is NO excuse that it is still an issue.

  12. Seems Simple Enough says:

    OOPS *typo autocorrect ACA not academy

  13. September says:

    Teachers pay their entire health insurance premium. If a sub works enough hours to qualify, why would this be a problem?

  14. kirklunde says:

    This is the comment I posted on the original blog.


    Thank you for your comments to the BOE and for speaking to this important issue. I think your proposal has a lot of merit.

    ACA is not the reason for the substitute shortage. This was identified as a problem in the January 2012 Human Resources Audit which found a substitute vacancy rate, or “Failed to Fill Rate” of 18.5%. In the 2012-2013 school year the “Failed to Fill Rate” in Subfinder was 21%. In 2013-2014 the “Failed to Fill Rate” in Subfinder was 22%.

    ACA is the excuse given by Dr. Smith, but it is not the truth.


    My data is from information received in response to an Open Records Request. I submitted another Open Records Request for Subfinder data in November. However, this year the clerk wanted to charge me $25 for the same information I got for free last year.

    Please draw your own conclusion about that.

  15. Cathy Buell says:

    Great idea! However, after 40 years in DeKalb, I KNOW the folks filling those thrones in the ‘Palace’ can’t be bothered with the mundain task of educating our students. They, after all, are the ELITE!!! (Just ask them.)

  16. Just Wondering says:

    There is a retired educator who subs at our school almost every day. Since retired educators have insurance, perhaps they are not under the same ACA restrictions? Kirklunde is correct. There were problems getting subs before the ACA. This is true of clerical staff and para educators.

    Ms Oltman is indeed very brave.

    Do we try to openly encourage retired educators to sub?
    Getting help from certain departments at AIC is very difficult. Many times calls and emails are not returned.

    Staff attendance does seem to be worst this year. At our school, we have had more people out than I can ever remember. There has always been a certain group that is going to be absent every year. The difference is that this year people who are never absent have been out a great deal.

    We have a new principal. I think we are following his lead. Whenever there is an Administrator’s Meeting, he never returns to school. . This is the last week of the semester. He left early yesterday.
    He leaves early a great deal. In the afternoon, the Head Custodian tells the teachers to leave so that he can “lock up and go home.’ Sometime it is 4:00 or 4:30. By 5:00 each day our building is chained and locked. This is new this year.

    We are following our principal’s example, which is not a strong work ethic. When he is at school, we rarely see him. When we do, he is sitting in the office or hall talking about sports.

  17. FormerDekalbParent says:

    The high absenteeism rates could be long term employees preparing to retire. Since their reimbursement for built up sick time is not at par, they burn days before they retire…..taking them at full pay before they leave fro good..maybe they are interviewing in Gwinnett or Hall county?

  18. FormerDekalbTeacher says:

    I am a former dekalb county high school teacher. I used to pick up at least 3 periods a week covering for classes that went un filled. It paid $15 a class or $10.25 after taxes. If the jobs went unfilled you were assigned classes to cover. It did suck if you were assigned and didn’t plan on losing your planning period.

  19. sawyerbrown68 says:

    Are there substitute assistant principals?

    Lakeside is serving students with 3 assistant principals instead of the required 4.

    This Friday, there will be one more assistant principal leaving Lakeside. Lakeside will then have 2 out of its 4 assistant principals doing the job of 4.

    So, who is leaving this week? It’s the one lucky assistant principal hire who came from outside of Dekalb during the second semester of the last school year. He is leaving on Friday, in two days, for another county.

    He ran the school for a week and one day while the Principal was under investigation at DCSD Office of Internal Affairs and unavailable to discharge his duties. Teachers tell me that it was their best week by far in a year and a half.

    This assistant principal was responsible for discipline before and after his short principalship. Teachers say he normally acts upon a teacher’s request to take an unruly student out of class without blaming the teacher; he talks to the offending students. The teachers say that even when he returns the student to class he does it in a respectful way. The typical assistant principal usually blames the teacher before gathering the facts.

    No one can attribute his leaving directly to the Principal. This assistant principal liked Lakeside, its students, its families, and its teachers. He is loyal to the principal as well. It is unfortunate that he is leaving (Lakeside’s loss) because of the maelstrom. Who caused the maelstrom? What is the maelstrom?

    Send help!

  20. howdy1942 says:

    This is a very good idea. My preference would be to get the priorities right within the
    Dekalb County School System. And that starts at the top. We need to first audit ALL of the funds spent in the DCSS and understand the purpose for which they are being used. Those facts need to be compared with neighboring school districts. Based on what I have read, our administration/teacher ratio is about twice that of our neighbors.

    Second, we need to reduce many of our expenses, namely, legal expenses. The school board needs to grow up and become functioning adults who will respect each other and put the interests of the school system first. It needs to put the classroom before cars, teachers before administrators, and the people before the palace.

    Third, principals should be at their schools. In industry, we had just about all of our meetings via teleconferencing. That eliminated travel time, saved travel expenses, shortened meetings, accomplished more, and reduced frustration. Documents could readily be shared and, if necessary, printed locally. Given what has occurred at so many schools recently, principals need to be present and prepared to lead.

    Fourth, we need to introduce ethics into our schools from the top-down. If your write a book, self-publish it, approve it to be used in the schools, and pocket $10,000, you should be fired, not promoted. When two principals fight on school property, they should be demoted (at a minimum) and not just transferred. I could go on but I’m sure that you can think of many more examples.

    Fifth, our school system needs to listen to other ideas. That Druid Hills Charter Cluster petition was dead on arrival. It never was really considered. Rather than simply rejecting it outright, the ideas presented should have been discussed and a consensus reached.

    Sixth, we have had human resources issues for years. We are having great difficulty recruiting and staffing our classrooms. We have excessive turnover. We have made no progress toward restoring our teachers’ TRA contributions. We have hired teachers with criminal backgrounds that were not discovered during the hiring process only to be brought to the attention of administrators by students. We have had to hire a staffing company with offices in a little white house in Chamblee to staff classrooms and pay it excessive fees. There is outright hostility between the administration (including HR) and the teachers.

    I fully support the idea of having administrators to substitute but I want to fix the school system and the sooner the better.

  21. Just Wondering says:

    There are subs for AP’s. As with all things HR, only hires certain people to do the subbing for these jobs. It is usually the same people over and over. If they are already subbing,then the job will remain open. Having two AP’s leave in a year is a real loss to any school. . We get no Social Security. The TSA Funds are never discussed. When people can get a better opportunity in another system, then they must take it. We have no voice.

  22. edugator says:

    Thanks, Ms. Oltman!

  23. Pingback: So, exactly how did Michael Thurmond ‘balance’ DeKalb Schools’ budget? | dekalb school watch two

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