I find myself lately in the terrible position of being out of work for an extended period. I want to get back to work as soon as possible, but I'm being told to rest and recover and not push myself too quickly. Meanwhile, I am wracked with guilt and worry about what must be going on with my students.
When I share my concern with others, the obvious reply comes, "Well, they'll have a sub, won't they?"
Now you may not even need to think back to your own high school education to reflect on what you know about substitute teaching. You may know someone who has been a sub for some period of time, or you may have seen subs on TV. Let me tell you: in a classroom run by a sub, very little learning happens. I once left very clear, simple, fool-proof plans for a sub to use while I had to attend an IEP meeting, and returned to the classroom to find strange drawings on the board. I grabbed one of my students from the hallway and demanded an explanation. The students were supposed to spend 20 minutes reading silently. The students weren't being silent, so the sub, instead of making them be silent, decided to entertain them with riddles for the last 15 minutes of the period. (e.g. "If a plane crashed on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, where would they bury the survivors?")
OK, maybe a little bit of learning happens when kids do brain teasers. In my district, what we call "day-to-day" subs come from a centralized pool. They can be assigned to any classroom in the district, any age group, any subject. So you can't just leave your copy of Romeo and Juliet on the desk and ask the sub to pick up at Act 2. Even worse, it can actually be quite difficult to find a short-term leave replacement to cover a classroom for a couple of months in the event of a sabbatical or a maternity leave. (When I was a resident, my mentor went on sabbatical, and I covered her classes for the rest of the year. They didn't hire a short-term replacement. Since I wasn't a certified teacher, they still needed to bring in a sub, so they used subs from the day-to-day pool, who would sit and watch me teach the class, and, if they were good, heckle us. So I had a revolving cast of characters. They should really make a sitcom about substitute teaching. It would be a lot like Extras, but with more "gangsta" jokes.
Anyway, this absence reminded me that I was meaning to post this article that proposes some really excellent solutions to the problem of ineffective substitute teachers. When I taught at a private school, the maximum load for a teacher was 4 classes, and some teachers taught 3 classes. So when someone was absent, we often just covered for each other. But when you only have 2 prep periods, and one of those is your department's team time (so everyone in your department has that period as a prep), then really there is only one period of your day that you might be free to cover someone else in your department's class. Since my district is getting ready to move to a "use them or lose them" policy with our 10 annual sick days, maybe they'd better look into some of these options...