Substitute Teachers Are Overlooked Treasures

Substitute teachers are not given the credit they deserve. These educators, yes I said educators, often have the same level of college training as certified teachers. In many places across the nation, substitute teachers are required to have at least an undergraduate degree. In Wisconsin, substitute teachers are not only required to have an undergraduate degree, but they are also encouraged to have obtained or work towards obtaining teacher certification. When certified teachers are unable to make it to school, substitute teachers step up each day and ensure that classroom instruction continues. In many places across the nation, substitute teachers are asked to shoulder a significant amount of responsibility, especially if they are long-term substitutes. The work they do is important to helping our children to ameliorate their academic achievement.

Substitute teachers are professionals. They deserve to be considered as more than “babysitters.” When you think of substitute teachers as “babysitters,” you are being tremendously disrespectful to these professionals. Most substitute teachers have other jobs or careers besides their substitute teaching positions. You should not, therefore, assume that these professionals don’t have professional lives outside of the classroom. Most substitute teachers could become certified teachers if they desired, but they elect not to because their work outside of the classroom does not allow them to be full-time teachers. Being a certified teacher is a full-time job. When one commits to being a certified teacher, he or she has committed to a full-time career. This is one of the dominant reasons why substitute teachers don’t become certified teachers—their schedules simply will not allow them.

Students should not view having substitute teachers in the classroom as an opportunity to abandon their responsibilities in the classroom. They should work just as hard as they do when their regular teachers are in the classroom. When I was in middle and high school, I took substitute teachers for granted. I thought that they were just people who needed a job that didn’t require them to have much skill and education. My lack of respect for the position and them led me to perceive substitute teachers in the classroom as opportunities to misbehave and just play around for the entire duration of class.

When I graduated from high school and learned the important role of substitute teachers, I deeply regretted my views about them and how I disrespected them. My undergraduate experience taught me just how vital they are to our children’s education. Substitute teachers are not placeholders—they are valuable contributing members to our children’s future. I had good substitute teachers but I didn’t give myself an opportunity to benefit from their true value.

Parents can play a stronger role in helping substitute teachers to have a better experience with doing their jobs by teaching their children to give substitute teachers just as much respect as they do their regular teachers. When a student sees a substitute teacher in the classroom, this should not signal for him or her that it’s time to play. A substitute teacher should signal that it’s business as usual in the classroom.

I want to thank all substitute teachers for the often thankless work you do. The work that you all do makes a difference in advancing the academic achievement of our children. Thank you!

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

14 comments

  1. I was thinking about doing a quick substitute teaching stint. I think I might like it too much though. We know what happens when substitutes come to class. “Do your work and I’ll do mine.” It’s always been like that since growing up. I never knew people really devalued them as you described either. I just don’t see the work…

    1. I think you should become a substitute teacher, even for just a little while. I think you will really enjoy it. It’s the type of job that you can do and make pretty good money while going to school and/or doing work for/in your career field(s). That notion of “do your work and I’ll do mine” does happen with many substitute teachers, but many others are hardworking professionals who make the normal operations of the classroom environment happen without much of the regular classroom teacher being missed. Yes, some people do look down on substitute teachers because they think they are babysitters. What do you mean by “I just don’t see the work”?

        1. Because in many places across many states they have to actually teach the material to the classes. They have to pick up exactly where the regular classroom teachers left off. Long-term substitutes actually have to become the regular teachers for a certain period of time, so they actually assume the full roles of the teachers, which includes, of course, teaching everything that is already established by the lesson plans and then they have to create their own too.

      1. Hello Mr. Daniels. I really enjoyed reading this article and it’s necessary. Substitute Teacher’s are TOUGH TEACHER’S! Many so called permanent teacher’s COULD NOT BE SUBSTITUTES because they would not have the experience, or patience, or expertise gained from subbing in different subjects and grades daily because once they sign a contract, they are STUCK at they same school every day and are at the mercy of a substitute teacher to relieve them of their absence. I do believe that some so called permanent teacher’s get jealous of a substitute Teacher’s flexibility power in being able to teach different subjects which is why they try to look down on substitute teacher’s however this could back fire on the so called certified teacher because many substitute teacher’s are retired teacher’s, retired administrator’s, or veteran substitute teacher’s who have been teaching a number of years years as subs, and know people in HIGH places such as area superintendents etc. I have known several regular certified Teacher’s that have not had their contracts renewed for talking about substitute teacher’s and it got back to the principal’s and some of those teacher’s had to transfer, or were outright FIRED!!! Some were even tenured teacher’s! Yes Substitute Teacher’s are overlooked treasures, but some good substitute Teacher’s can be a mediocre permanent certified Teacher’s WORST NIGHTMARE!!!

  2. This one is definitely true! But many subs get ished on too!! I coached bball and subbed at a middle school for a bit right out of undergrad and it was bad the way they treated subs. No matter if you were dependable or not

    1. Educational leaders, certified teachers, students, parents, and community members have to gain a greater appreciation for what substitute teachers offer to K-12 students. No one really considers what would happen if there were not any people willing to be substitute teachers. Thanks for reading and your response!

    1. You’re welcome. It’s unfortunate that the students did not give you the respect you deserve. I know how frustrating it can be when students are disobedient and disrespectful.

    1. Hello Mr Daniels. I enjoyed your article. Substitute Teacher’s are TOUGH TEACHER’S and many so called permanent teacher’s COULD NOT BE SUBSTITUTES because they would not have the experience or expertise gained from subbing in different subjects and grades daily. Many so called permanent certified Teacher’s are jealous of the flexibility power of substitute teacher’s.

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