Teacher Shortages: Too Many Subs, Not Enough Learning

Whenever there’s a substitute in class, kids either get excited because they won’t have to do much work or sad because they won’t have their usual teacher. This is a common trend with classes, and while some kids might be excited to have a simple day where they don’t learn anything, having a substitute may be harming their education more than helping it.

Teachers vs. Substitutes

With teachers, there is always a lesson plan. They always have what they’re going to teach their students planned out ahead of time, and as the school year goes on, they get to know their students better, allowing them to adapt their lesson plans to fit the needs of their class.

However, everyone gets sick from time to time and needs to take off work once in a while, even teachers. So, this is usually when substitutes come in. They are either replacing a teacher for a day or for a longer period of time, such as a vacation or maternity leave.

The Problems with Substitutes

Substitutes are oftentimes just a last-minute replacement. This means that they usually don’t know the content as well as they should and sometimes, not at all. For example, there could be a substitute for a Spanish class that doesn’t even know a word of Spanish because they were the only one available. When this happens, the substitutes generally just hand out worksheets and show videos instead of actually teaching the students new information. This also often happens because not all schools have strict requirements for their substitutes.

If a student doesn’t learn anything from a substitute though, then what’s the point of it? Every day in class, a teacher is supposed to provide them with new content and new ways of learning. But if the substitute is not knowledgeable about the content assigned, then students really are not benefiting from school that day.

Plus, large classes of students are hard enough to control and get the attention of as is. It is difficult for a substitute that is unfamiliar with the class to just step in and be able to be the authority right away. Because of this, it is also easy for students to get distracted and goof off while a new teacher is in the classroom. They feel like they can get away with more things because their teacher isn’t around.

How Do We Fix This?

There are lots of simple ways that teachers can help make an absent day go more smoothly, but it may not always be as effective as they’d hoped.

One of the best ways to go about this issue is to have more assistant teachers or even second teachers in some classrooms. This would allow everything to stay more organized, and if the primary teacher is sick, then there is still someone around that is familiar with the class and the content. Even if it is just an assistant teacher, they can help a substitute out to be able to actually teach the class something valuable that day. Plus, having additional help would allow for a more personalized experience for students. They would get more one-on-one interactions if there was more than one teacher helping out in the classroom.

Also, there should be more substitutes that are knowledgeable in a variety of classes and topics. Therefore, even if there is no teacher in the class to help them, they will still be able to better assist with the learning of the students.


Substitutes are needed to cover for teachers when they are sick, but the way that schools handle this could be done differently. By having more qualified subs or more assistant teachers, students will still benefit on the days that their teacher is unable to come in.

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