Most school administrators have been there: arriving early in the morning only to learn that there is no substitute available to cover a teacher’s absence. The ensuing scramble may involve dividing the class into small groups and assigning them to other teachers’ classrooms for the day. Or it might mean scheduling all available staff, including your counselor, instructional coaches, and even administrators to teach for an hour.
A third option might involve asking other teachers to forgo their preparation periods in order to cover the orphaned class for an hour. Though all of these emergency measures will work in a pinch, having to implement them guarantees a stressful start to the day. What is the fallout to your school community on a day such as this, and what happens when this occurs more than once in a while?
The Costly Alternatives When A Teacher Doesn’t Show Up
In order to cover an absent teacher’s schedule when there is no substitute teacher available, school administrators typically implement an emergency plan. Though circumstances differ according to who is absent, there are a few alternatives that are typically employed to bridge the gap.
Sending small groups to other classrooms
This strategy is often used to accommodate an absence in a self-contained classroom. These students, used to staying with their teacher all day and armed with photocopied packets of work, will instead spend the day in their alternate placement.
At a minimum, their learning will be impacted for the day, but their presence may also affect the lessons planned for the hosting class. If this is an infrequent imposition, the hosts will soon rebound. But if it is a frequent occurrence, there may be significant effects to all involved, including the displaced students and the teachers and classes that welcome them in.
Having non-classroom educators cover
A second alternative involves scheduling certified educators who do not have classroom responsibilities to provide coverage. This typically includes the guidance counselor, academic coaches, and administrators.
Though it may just involve one hour of their day, the sudden, unexpected schedule change can be pretty disruptive. The unfilled teacher absence may force the cancellation or postponement of scheduled meetings, classroom observations and walkthroughs, counseling sessions, and other important events.
Canceling preparation periods
Another strategy for covering a teacher absence involves canceling teachers’ prep periods and having them cover for their absent colleague. At the elementary level, this could mean canceling special subject classes and having the physical education, art, and music teachers take turns hosting the teacher-less class.
At the secondary level, teachers often step in to cover a class during their scheduled prep period. Though students are well-supervised, it is likely a lost day of learning for the class as they must adjust to different teachers and possibly new classrooms each hour. For the district, there is the expense of paying teachers their contractual rate for teaching through their prep periods, which may, in fact, exceed the rate that would have been paid to a daily substitute.
The greatest loss, however, will be to the teachers forced to forego their planning periods, that critical hour each day when they make parent contacts, prepare lesson resources, collaborate with departmental or grade-level colleagues, and grade student work. Unfortunately, the hourly stipend gained rarely compensates for the opportunities lost, the tasks uncompleted, and the contacts unmade. Teachers often wind up completing these tasks on their own time.
Avoiding the Negative Effects of Unfilled Absences
When fill rates are low, many things suffer at the building level. First and foremost, student learning takes a hit as students are shuffled from room to room or teacher stand-in to teacher stand-in. With the scramble to cover teacher absences, building efficiency and organization is also affected. And when unfilled job assignments become a regular occurrence and multiple preparation periods are lost, work-life balance is disrupted and teacher morale plummets.
To avoid this cascade of negative effects that begins when unfilled absences occur, why not take preemptive action? By partnering with a substitute teacher staffing agency, you can address fill rates proactively and insulate your schools from the problems that occur when a teacher doesn’t show up. With experienced recruiters dedicated to customizing staffing solutions to meet districts’ needs, they can help you to minimize, if not eliminate entirely, these negative circumstances before they impact both student learning and staff morale.
A full-service staffing agency will not only hire and train a pool of quality substitute teachers, but they will also partner with building and district staff to ensure that your absence management solution is functioning efficiently for the long-term. Through streamlined scheduling and working incentives, they will improve fill rates and relieve you of your worries about what happens when a teacher doesn’t show up.
For help improving your substitute teacher fill rates, contact ESS. With decades of experience and a wealth of dedicated resources, we can eliminate the uncertainty and negative consequences of unfilled teacher absences.
Phil has been supporting school districts across the country for more than 12 years. He works hands-on with districts implementing customized solutions to improve their substitute teacher and support staff programs. When he’s not increasing districts’ fill rates, Phil can be found swinging his clubs on a golf course.