Substitutes, not study halls


Nell Jaskowiak and Dani Fischer

Students see substitutes as an excuse to not work as hard or as thoroughly as they would for their normal teacher; is this really what we are willing to settle for?

To some, the most well-loved part of school; to others, the most dreaded. The day that a teacher is out sick and a substitute from Kelly Educational Staffing comes to take their place, students respond with either surprised glee or a suppressed groan.

A substitute is practically synonymous with a study hall, and while some students may relish the chance to take a break, it does a disservice to our education. Kelly’s training program for substitutes is insufficient; if Parkway truly wants to be a leading school district at a national level, this must be addressed.

To be hired as a substitute with Kelly there is a mandatory training, which is described as “two substantive online modules,” designed to prepare substitutes to succeed in the classroom. However, based on the interview questions that come after a candidate has successfully passed this online test, it prepares substitutes to do little more in the classroom than make sure the students remain orderly. That simply isn’t enough. While some substitutes are prepared from prior work experience to actually facilitate some amount of student learning, if someone only has Kelly’s training they will be woefully underprepared to serve our children.

Should there be higher standards of training for substitute teachers?

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Having a substitute that can begin a student-driven English discussion when the teacher leaves questions to use is not too much to ask; having a substitute that knows basic lab safety and cleanup, a substitute that previews a reading a teacher leaves for their students to know if they are on track—none of this is too much to ask. Our substitutes will never fully be able to step into the shoes of our teachers, and that is never the expectation, but having a substitute that does not impede work or allow academic dishonesty should be the bare minimum, and we cannot say we have even met that standard here.

Parkway needs to mandate additional training for Kelly employees coming to our district, so that our teachers can leave lesson plans for their substitutes and trust that they can be carried out. The training can even continue to be online: a module on how to proctor a timed write or other assessments, such as calling out time warnings or monitoring for cheating, a module on how to ask students comprehension questions to ensure that if a teacher leaves a reading that students are on task or a module on the support resources that Parkway offers at its high schools so that if a student is struggling they can be sent to a place that can help them.

Furthermore, adding training modules such as these would prepare and equip substitutes to be able to leave more detailed and useful comments for the teacher when they return, beyond a simple “They were great!” Every teacher likes to hear that their students behaved well for a substitute teacher, but imagine if a substitute was able to report on whether a student could answer a surface level question about their assignment, on how long a discussion lasted, on how many students in a CTE or fine arts class could explain what they were working on. The teacher would suddenly have the kind of information that they need to pick up instruction more immediately; if a substitute and a teacher could communicate on an instructional as well as a behavioral level, the transition between the two could be exponentially more smooth.

Kelly Educational Staffing may be cost-effective and simple for the district to utilize, but the training that Kelly provides their staff is not up to the standards that Parkway should set for anyone trusted to be in the classroom leading our students. Parkway has to step up and help our substitutes at least keep students on track to learn—settling for study halls is not enough. Our students deserve adults that can guide them further in their education, and the only way to get there is by training our substitutes in basic instructional as well as behavioral skills.