Effective Practices : Substitution
Pedagogical Operations Section 7
1. Does your school have a single person who is responsible for coordinating substitutes for the school? How was this person selected for this task?
2. What guidelines or expectations does your school have with regard to substitution? For example, are teachers expected to sign up in advance for available substitution periods?
3. Does your school have an individual who is designated as the primary substitute for all absences? Or does the school utilize a program of rotating substitutes? If a rotation system is used, how does the school ensure that some teachers are not called upon too often while others are under-scheduled as a substitute?
4. Does your school provide any special sort of training for substitutes? For example, are subject teachers given any training in the rhythm of a lower school main lesson? How does your school ensure the best possible substitution experience for your students?
5. What are your school’s key philosophies with regard to the use of substitute teachers?
6. What is working particularly well with regard to your school’s use of substitute teachers?
7. If there were something you could change with regard to your school’s use or training of substitute teachers, what would it be and why?
Does your school have a single person who is responsible for coordinating substitutes for the school? How was this person selected for this task?
Waldorf schools all have one or more people named to coordinate substitution for the school. In most schools one person handles the coordination of substitution for the grades while another person handles substitution for the early childhood program. Occasionally substitution coordination for the grades is handled by two people, one for the high school and one for the lower school. This separation is found most commonly when there is very little overlap in teaching responsibilities between the lower school and high school, and the two schools operate as very separate entities.
Typically the substitute coordinator is selected based on the confidence the faculty has in a person’s ability to handle the substitution work well and the individual’s willingness to take up this task. In some cases the substitute coordinator does this work in lieu of committee work. In other schools it is considered to be part of someone’s job, and this task is part of a teacher’s workload.
What guidelines or expectations does your school have with regard to substitution? For example, are teachers expected to sign up in advance for available substitution periods?
The approaches used to fill substitution needs vary from school to school. One very mature school described their approach this way:
The school uses different approaches to substitution in each of the three faculty bodies. In the Lower School the first step is to ask a part time teacher to cover substitution needs. The school has a well developed roster of prescreened outside substitutes and turns to this resource next if a part time teacher cannot be found to substitute. Full time teachers are asked to cover substitution needs only when neither a part time teacher nor an outside substitute can serve.
In the Early Childhood Center all personnel work the same general hours, so there is not a possibility of turning to part time personnel to fill substitution needs. The Early Childhood Center has a well developed roster of prescreened substitutes and turns to this to fill substitution needs. In cases where the teacher is absent it is typical for the assistant to serve as the lead teacher for the day, and for the substitute to step into the assistant’s role.
In the High School the teachers have a very fluid way of stepping in for each other in a collegial way, and reliance on an outside roster is minimal.
Another mature school describes a slightly different process:
The school expects all teachers to work cooperatively to fill substitution openings. The substitute coordinator has a copy of all teachers’ schedules so she can easily fill openings. In addition to the class schedules for each teacher the substitute coordinator allows teachers to mark off periods when they are not available for substitution due to regularly recurring meetings, one on one time with students, etc. The substitute coordinator works to get the best person for the class so that the students have a quality experience, not just a period of babysitting.
The school has a list of people who are already fingerprinted and familiar with Waldorf education that are available substitutes. The substitute coordinator observes these outside teachers at first to ensure that the experience for the students is what the school expects. One of these outsiders is often hired if a full time teacher is going to be out for the entire day so that the substitution load will not be too onerous. When teachers are out just for a few periods the substitute coordinator will try to cover the substitution with available teaching staff. Smaller openings such as yards and lunches are usually filled by the substitute coordinator herself.
Teachers fill in a form whenever they know in advance that they will be absent. The form requires them to list all of their various responsibilities during the day and the reason for the absence. There is a space for the substitute coordinator to list who subs for each opening.
All substitutions are listed on the faculty board showing who is out and who is subbing so that if for any reason there is a problem any teacher can look at the board and see who is supposed to be in the classroom.
Another school studied indicates that it asks every lower school and high school teacher to sign up at the beginning of the year for two periods of substitution availability each week (one period for part time teachers). Teachers do not schedule any meetings or other work during these periods, and the substitute coordinator knows that she can call on these colleagues to substitute if needed. While this approach does not emphasize trying to find the very best match between a class and the substitute, it does recognize that most subject teachers teach in most grades and already have established relationships with the majority of students in the school and can teach them effectively, and lets teachers have a sense of predictability as to when they may be asked to substitute.
Several schools indicated that when an absence is planned in advance it is the responsibility of the absent teacher to find the right substitution for the class. Once the substitution is arranged the teacher notifies the substitute coordinator about who will be filling each class, yard and lunch duty. This policy is included in the faculty handbook.
Does your school have an individual who is designated as the primary substitute for all absences? Or does the school utilize a program of rotating substitutes? If a rotation system is used, how does the school ensure that some teachers are not called upon too often while others are under-scheduled as a substitute?
None of the schools studied have an individual who is designated as the primary substitute for all absences. Schools use a combination of outside personnel from a pre-approved list, in-house hourly teachers, and full time teachers when necessary to fill their substitution needs. It is the responsibility of the substitute coordinator to track who does each substitution, and to make sure that no one person is unfairly burdened with substitution duties. The substitute coordinator is also the person who approves hourly pay requests for substitution duties, and works closely with he school business office to ensure that payments are properly made and that the school operates within its budget for substitution.
Does your school provide any special sort of training for substitutes? For example, are subject teachers given any training in the rhythm of a lower school main lesson? How does your school ensure the best possible substitution experience for your students?
Most schools provide very little training for their substitutes, expecting them to already be trained teachers prior to being called on for this responsibility. Teachers with main lesson experience are called on first for those substitution duties, and in the rare instance when a subject teacher without main lesson experience is called on to teach during this period the teacher would fill the period with some other activity or type of instruction. In all cases the student and the subject being taught is the number one priority.
One school studied noted that all teachers, including those on their substitution roster, are trained in basic first aid.
What are your school’s key philosophies with regard to the use of substitute teachers?
It is important that the school have a system for substitution in place before the school year starts. All teachers must understand that they share responsibility for the children in our care, and be wiling to support the substitution system the school has established.
Substitution for planned absences should be coordinated as early as possible. There is no reason for these absences to cause stress for the teachers or the students.
Every teacher must have a folder of material prepared for her students just in case of an emergency absence.
We all know that we will substitute at some time. Subject teachers in particular should visit every main lesson during the year.
The school does not expect full time teachers to substitute in addition to their full time jobs.
We place qualified, Waldorf teachers in front of the children.
The students’ needs are the center of whatever problem we are trying to solve.
We work consciously to build our substitute roster. We check substitutes out in advance, and observe a practice lesson before placing someone on our substitute roster.
The person who arranges the substitution must be someone who is actively involved with the individual faculty meetings (Early Childhood, Lower School, High School) so they are fully aware of the implications of asking someone to cover a particular class. Substitution cannot be done by a member of the administrative staff who does not attend the meetings of the faculty body for which they are coordinating substitutes.
The student and the subject that is being taught is the first consideration in filling substitution openings.
When absences are planned the teacher is expected to prepare a worksheet (especially for the older students) or some other material that can be done in the class. This is especially helpful when substituting specialized classes such as foreign language.
Substitution is a shared responsibility and teachers are expected to work collegially to fill openings.
What is working particularly well with regard to your school’s use of substitute teachers?
Having one person arrange all substitution works well. It allows things to be well organized and helps people feel that things are being handled fairly because the coordinator is holding the whole picture.
The substitute coordinator in the lower school is not a full time teacher. She has been able to fulfill the substitution responsibility for the lower school without experiencing the burnout that has occurred in the past when a full time teacher has attempted this work as a committee assignment. The size of the lower school and the number of substitutions that can be required make this a difficult task for someone who is a full time teacher.
We have qualified substitutes on the roster. We anticipate the need and are ready to fill the openings with qualified personnel.
We protect our full time teachers from the work of serving as substitutes.
Everyone is responsible for coordinating planned absence substitution.
Teachers know that they can call the substitute coordinator at any time when an emergency comes up. She is always accessible to other teachers.
Everyone is willing to help, and an effort is made to put people in classes that they are happy to substitute for.
Main lesson block schedules are published at the beginning of the year for each grade. This is a help to the substitute coordinator in finding the best person for a particular class.
If there were something you could change with regard to your school’s use or training of substitute teachers, what would it be and why?
It occurs too frequently that the class teacher is asked to substitute when a foreign language teacher or other subject teacher is absent.
We have not developed a strong pool of outside substitutes, nor do we have an adequate budget for this. We count on class teachers never being sick, which is true most of the time but this approach can lead to cases where the class teacher is overburdened.
We can always use more people on the roster, but we have been able to fill most needs well.
More could be done in the area of procedural training for all substitutes. Areas that should be covered include such things as our playground rules, how to get paid, and so on. We could also be more diligent with safety training for subs. Although we already require that everyone knows how to use an epi-pen, more could be done in this area.