Walking into a classroom to find that a guest teacher is in charge of the class for the day can be both exciting or disappointing. For some students, having a substitute is a relief, allowing them a much-needed break from their usual, often stressful, curriculum. However, for other students having a substitute means a class period wasted. When a teacher is absent and a substitute who might not know his or her way around the classroom is called in, the flow of the class can be disrupted and, as a result, students might not get the full potential out of the day.

In a survey done in April, only 6.4% of students said they disliked having substitutes, but 66% said that it depends on the guest teacher’s personality. We can imagine that having a stern, uncompromising substitute would not result in a fun class period. And a confused or disorganized sub or one who is afraid of taking charge of a chaotic classroom would probably not get anything done nor be able to figure out the workings of the class and students might feel that the class period was not worth their time.

Andy Calvin smiles down at his feet. Calvin is a student at PRHS who thinks that students don’t get any work done when teachers are absent.

“Usually I don’t like substitutes because when I have a substitute in my class, we don’t get anything done, because the kids don’t respect the subs at all. They don’t respect them enough to be on task and listen for instructions,” Sophomore Andy Calvin said.

When the usual teacher isn’t there, students sometimes use that as an excuse to act up. To the anonymous students from the survey, it’s important for their substitutes to be caring, funny, and knowledgeable about the the subject being taught.

“I would like a sub that knows what they are doing and is a very kind supportive teacher,” a freshman surveyed said.

Other anonymous students said they like substitutes who are “understanding of how hard it is to be a student in high school” and “understanding of the topic they are teaching,” are “nice and funny,” and “kind but know what to do.” Some also said they want a substitute who has “a good personality” and “follows the substitute plans and is not unnecessarily strict.” In other words, substitutes who are able to inspire the students’ productivity are often admired.

Some of the 25% of students surveyed who said they liked having substitutes seem to only like ones who let them not do any work. Some said they only like having subs when…

“We don’t learn anything.”

“We don’t have to do anything.”

“We just do an easy worksheet.”

It sounds like these students enjoy doing nothing. So are they just lazy? Or maybe school is too monotonous and having a substitute is something new.

Laughing, Rita Chase stands in front of a truck. Chase believes that if substitutes and students both make an effort to communicate and cooperate, then the class will run smoothly.

“I look forward to having substitutes teach because it brings a new perspective to the classroom.” Sophomore Rita Chase said.

Some substitutes have contagiously motivating, animated, and creative personalities that encourage students to do be more interested in their studies. But too many substitutes could. be disruptive of the routine of a classroom.

On average, about 11 substitutes are called in for each teacher per school year(Allie Bidwell). If each student has six periods, that means they get 66 substitutes each school year, which is around a third of the entire school year.

This could have a negative impact on students’ learning. Substitutes don’t usually know how the normal teacher has the clasroom laid out, so it’s hard for them to evolve in and keep it running smoothly.

Having a sub who doesn’t “know the material,” speak the language being taught, or have the same familiar teaching style of the normal teacher can cause the class to fall behind.

“We end up doing worksheets instead of the work we’re supposed to be doing, so the work gets postponed and we have to do more at a later date. Either that or we get taught differently than our typical teacher, which can throw us off in later lessons, or we just get taught the wrong thing,” an anonymous freshman said about having substitutes in her Math class.

“They have a different take on teaching, and it may conflict with what we’ve been learning for the course so far,” another freshman said about Math class.

However, looking at this from a guest teacher’s perspective, we can imagine it being hard to come into a completely unfamiliar classroom and be expected to know the needs of each student, sense the classroom atmosphere and meld into it easily, follow the teacher’s plan for the day, and not slow down the class while trying to figure out the classroom. And, on top of that, substitutes have to put up with disrespectful students who have no idea what substituting is like.

“Sometimes teachers don’t leave lesson plans, or the kids are really disruptive even with the teachers so things can get out of control. They think they can get away with more, because they don’t know you; you don’t know them…chances are you aren’t going to write their name down or anything. They’re just going to try to get away with more. You have to kind of stay on them. But I’ve been doing it so long I can pretty much redirect them,” substitute and teacher Diana Boswell said.

Boswell has been substituting since 2004. After raising her kids, she went to college to get a Bachelor degree in Social Science, a Minor in Geography and in Anthropology, and her teaching credential. She has taught history to both high school and junior high classes and she then independent studies.

“I taught independent studies which was my favorite. That was really fun,” Boswell said. Now as a substitute, Boswell experiences students’ trying to misbehave, but she can  “usually get them to calm down and do what they’re supposed to do.” She said she really enjoys substituting:

“I learn a lot. Everyday it’s something new: a different subject, a different teacher’s way of teaching it, I meet new students and I’m never bored. I don’t get paid enough! But I’m never bored,” Boswell said.

Whatever we think of substitutes (or students), treating them well is key to a great school. Let’s be kind and caring people and make an effort to be respectful and considerate to substitutes and students alike so that our school is a welcoming and friendly place.

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