Walking into a classroom and finding a substitute instead of your regular teacher tends to have a calming effect on students. Sighs are released and rules are bent as students lean back for what they hope will be an easy day. Substitutes threaten to write disapproving notes to regular teachers, but this doesn’t have the same effect it did in previous years. As a result, students don’t give substitutes the same respect they would their normal teacher. However, when students waste class time with a substitute, they are wasting their own time, the substitute’s time and falling behind.
The learning environment in a classroom is much different when a substitute is teaching.
“Generally, substitutes are at a significant disadvantage compared to regular teachers because they do not understand the dynamics of the classroom,” sophomore Sitara Sriram said. “Therefore, their teaching is much less effective and it is harder for them to get across their points to the students.”
Substitute teacher Seth Tasmin works at the school and at Mountain View High School. This is his first year being a substitute.
“I don’t think students pay as much attention to me as they would their normal teacher,” Tasmin said. “They think that when a substitute is here they can do whatever they want. But mostly the students at this school are able to get their work done. I do think that the students could improve their attitudes a bit.”
This laid-back attitude is fine for an occasional substitute-taught class period. However, when a class is taught by a substitute for a few weeks or longer, it can start to lose precious time. Since students may not take the class as seriously with a substitute in charge, they can fall behind other students being taught by a regular teacher.
Substitute teachers are asked to do a lot. They may have to teach P.E. one day and calculus the next. For various reasons, substitute teachers may be required to teach a class for long periods of time. Yet, the lax mentality that students associate with substitute teachers does not fade with time. Math teacher Matthew Chaffee said this after finding a substitute for his math classes while he was on paternity leave, at the same time as a fellow teacher took a long term leave.
“It was a very unique situation in that another teacher that I work with was taking the semester off and also needed a long-term sub,” Chaffee said. “The person that I recruited was then used to fulfill that position because the priority was more important. With that said, there was kind of a last minute scramble to find a long term sub for me. Half of one week was one person and then the following week was a new person.”
A substitute teacher, to no fault of their own, may not be well versed in a subject area they are asked to teach. This is not in their control. Students, on the other hand, have full control over the attentiveness and focus they deliver during a class period.
“I don’t think there’s enough qualified subs for math,” Chaffee said. “I think that being a substitute is extremely difficult. Since you have to be a substitute for every single subject in high school, and there’s not a huge number of people who aspire to be math teachers, so finding a sub who is able to understand the level of math that we’re asking for is pretty difficult.”
For various reasons, such as Chaffee’s paternity leave, substitute teachers may be required to teach a class for long periods of time. However, even when a substitute is long term, students do not take substitute teachers seriously.
Sophomore Andrea Lucia’s Chemistry class, normally taught by science teacher Darren Dressen, is currently being taught by a long-term substitute. Even considering the length of Dressen’s absence, Andrea’s class, for the most part, does not pay the substitute the same attention it would their normal teacher.
“Whenever a student hears there is a sub for their class, myself included, they look at the period as a free day to not do work and just talk to their friends,” Andrea said.
For classes where multiple teachers follow the same calendar, in an effort t0 increase course alignment, such as Algebra 2 Honors, this can be especially detrimental. As students blow off their work, they fall further behind their peers. When their normal teacher returns, he or she has to catch their students up. This may be inevitable, as a substitute cannot be expected to teach exactly as the normal teacher would have. However, this process can be eased by students cooperating with the substitute.
“I think there’s a culture when there’s a substitute that it’s kind of a day off for the kids,” Chaffee said. “[Students] need some guidance and somebody to facilitate their learning. But I think the mentality when there’s a sub could be better.”
Sophomore Noelani Kawakami is a student in one of Chaffee’s Algebra 2 Honors classes.
“The material [during Chaffee’s absence] was particularly difficult and the test is notorious for being tough,” Noelani said. “But I was able to pass with a decent grade so I feel that if students put in a little more effort than usual they could make up for the learning time lost.”
The relaxed classroom environment that comes with a substitute teacher will always be a part of high school culture. However, when the work ethic during a substitute’s presence causes them to fall behind, students should rethink their demeanor.