A perfect storm of factors is leading to a worrying decrease in the number of substitute teachers available to schools throughout the Philadelphia region, and to less than ideal solutions for our students.
Multiple classes may meet in the gym with one teacher, regular faculty may be over-extended with coverage periods, and administrators may be pulled from their jobs to perform classroom duty themselves in order not to strand the students.
Unfortunately, the problems we’ve been warning about for years have come home to roost. Fewer individuals are entering the profession for a variety of reasons. These include low pay for substitute teachers, the increased bureaucratic workload, fear of layoffs, increased standardized testing and the stress it creates for students and teachers, continual threats to retirement benefits, and issues with discipline. Additionally, more training days out of the classroom result in the need for more subs.
In just two years, between the school years of 2012-13 and 2014-15, the number of new Pennsylvania certified teachers dropped by more than 10,000 people from 16,361 to 6,215. It makes logical sense that a larger pool of certified teachers in the past resulted in additional people available as subs.
With school budgets squeezed, districts have attempted to save funds by paying substitute teachers less, some as little as $75/day. “Take a look at the math,” says Alan Malachowski, North Penn elementary school teacher and a CAPS representative. “If a sub who is a college graduate works every single day at that rate, he or she will early only $13,500 with no benefits or pension. It’s unreasonable to expect a college graduate to do that.”
“Furthermore, subbing does not guarantee a new graduate a teaching position. Often, daily substitutes are passed over for permanent positions because districts don’t want to lose a competent substitute teacher. Something is wrong with this mindset and we have to acknowledge that the system is broken. Substitute teachers need to be paid a living wage and teachers who prove themselves as substitutes should be hired for permanent positions. This requires both a commitment to these important itinerant professionals and adequate funding.”