What About the Substitute Educators?

The outlook for substitute teachers in the face of school closures is grim at best.

It goes without saying that it is very hard for schools to find substitute educators this year. I personally know of several attempts to procure subs at a school I recently worked that have been unsuccessful. Full-time teachers are losing their preps in a never-ending game of teacher Tetris, in which school administrators scramble to arrange coverages for different classes. COVID cases are sharply rising in New York City, and Mulgrew confirmed that the city is currently closing a school per week. I don’t know if a school closure is imminent (definitely impossible under de Blasio, not sure off the top of my head how Adams will respond), but I do find myself wondering about the uncertain future for subs during a time of possible remote learning.

I’m not one to perpetuate the rumor mill (there are currently hushed whispers and fears of schools going fully remote again), but there is good reason to keep an eye on the current citywide numbers. There is a DOE memo being circulated advising schools to make sure that digital classrooms are ready to be rolled out, but the Office of the Deputy First Chancellor has advised that this guidance is not in regards to an expected citywide closure. The email seems legit to me, but it is just a screenshot being circulated amongst UFT members. I have zero trust in the DOE’s Situation Room at this point, as we stare down the barrel of increasing numbers and classroom/school closures.

What happens to substitute teachers and substitute paraprofessionals when their schools shut down? Unfortunately it seems that the majority of us are left out in the cold. The only exception I can think of are 1:1 paras or substitute teachers assigned to be a course instructor rather than providing a temporary coverage. School closures are absolutely detrimental to per diem subs who faithfully serve their schools in a number of ways, including lunch duty, lunch period coverages, and more.

A per diem sub in New York City makes $199.27 for each day of service, and receives no benefits. If a school transitions to remote learning for two full school weeks, that substitute loses out on $1992.70 in income. School closures force subs to turn to other sources of money, and possibly not coming back to a school upon reopening as they seek assignments in classrooms and schools that remain open.

I’m not proposing that subs are paid to sit on their tuchuses during a school closure, but rather that the DOE and individual schools become more thoughtful and creative with how subs could be used in the event of a school closure. Assigning subs to help with tasks such as grading multiple choice/short answer assignments or helping to create learning materials for other educators would go a long way towards keeping subs employed and lessening the stress on full-time teachers. Furthermore, subs come from a rich variety of backgrounds, including business, technology, and many other areas. I myself have a background administering student programs on a college campus. It’s a tremendous loss for schools when subs are out of work due to a closure. I’m fairly certain that schools can still offer remote assignments, and I hope that others consider advocating for such an option in the event of a school closure.

Every day I log onto the NYC UFT members Facebook group and see my fellow educators bemoaning the difficulty of finding and retaining substitute teachers and paras. When will we take a good hard look at ourselves in the mirror and so something to support the most needed and most vulnerable members of our union and school system?

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