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'My Kid Had an Awful Substitute Teacher!'

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How should a parent proceed if her kid gets a bad sub?

kid in classroom

momlogic's Vivian: Some of my dearest friends are public-school teachers. That said, I understand from their perspective that substitute teaching can be a rough hang. It's not easy to walk into someone else's territory and govern 20 - 30 kids you don't know. But even so, one would hope that under a substitute teacher's care, your child would spend the day being taught -- not tormented. And that's not always the case.

For example, a few weeks ago, my first grader was noticeably upset when I picked him up from school on a day he'd a sub. After speaking with him and bunch of other parents of kids in his class, it turned out that this sub had yelled at the kids constantly, used inappropriate language and, at the end of the day, gave out toys to just five of the 26 kids in the class. The guy should've just put them in a ring to duke it out. (Mind you, toys in class are against school policy.) When I asked the sub about what had happened, his response was, "Well, your kid's the only kid who cried!"

Anyway, my kid might have been the only one who got his feelings out of his system on the spot, but it turns out that a bunch of other kids in his class went to bed in tears that night -- and had lingering feelings of anger and fear about this sub throughout the weekend.

I wrote an e-mail to my son's regular teacher and copied our principal, in hopes that I could prevent this sub from making an encore appearance. The teacher explained that it was out of her jurisdiction; this kind of thing was the principal's call. And the principal? From what I understand, she's out of town -- so I'm still playing the waiting game.

Was my approach off the mark? How should a parent proceed if her kid gets a bad sub? I reached out to Pamela Wheaton, director of Advocates for Children, a nonprofit New York City-based education-advocacy group. She says that each school handles substitute teachers differently, but many keep a running list of reliable subs they can call on when they need to.

Here are her tips on how to handle it next time your kid suffers from what I now call "bad-sub syndrome":

Be Friendly
Always greeting your child's regular teacher and principal with a smile can go a long way when issues arise later. "Make friends before you need them," says Wheaton. "If your child's teacher knows you, he/she might be more amenable to hearing about problems that crop up during the school year."

Be Gentle

When problems do arise, tread lightly. "Ease them into your concerns," advises Wheaton. "No one wants to feel like they're being attacked. School officials and parents should aim to be active partners in student education."

Respect the Chain of Command
"Rules about substitute teachers can vary greatly from state to state," says Wheaton (who points out that many subs are not union members). Some schools have classes elect a parent to act as a liaison between the teacher and parents. If your child's class has one such liaison, letting her in on the issue might be a good place to start. After you try that, Wheaton advises that you notify your child's teacher, parent coordinator (if your school has one) and a higher-up in your school's administration -- either the vice-principal or the principal. (It's their job to address parent concerns and issues in a timely and respectful manner.) And if none of that garners a response? It might be time to step up to a leader in your area's PTA -- or even contact your school district's chancellor's office.

Organize Amongst Yourselves
Talk to other parents in the class, and encourage those who had similar issues with the sub to speak up. "It's more effective to have as many parents come forward as possible," says Wheaton, "so you aren't dismissed by the administration as a helicopter mom.

Time It Right
Attempting to discuss your kid's experience with his or her teacher at drop-off or pick-up might not garner the best response. Instead, Wheaton suggests that you drop a note or send an e-mail requesting to meet with the teacher or school official at a time when they can be receptive and give you their full attention.

Keep a Record
Wheaton advises that parents keep a clear, running record of all communications with other parents and school officials. You might need that information later on.

Overall, Wheaton feels that situations like mine can usually be resolved at a school level -- but only if parents are willing to speak up. "Parents need to be their kids' best advocates," she says. "Because if they aren't, who will be?"

next: Eating Habits -- Food For Thought
18 comments so far | Post a comment now
just sayin' February 26, 2010, 5:39 AM

No, your approach was right on— unfortunately the teacher was right— it is not her call—- as a former teacher, the principal and vice principal are the ones who make the calls in the mornings/set up the subs— and where I worked, subs were paid $40 a day— not to sound flippant, but what do you expect for $40 a day? As long as they passed their fingerprinting and such, any yahoo was allowed to sub, no degree, no nothing and we had some doozies!!! I certainly had no problem stepping in on a sub’s toes when they weren’t doing their job! I hate your son had a bad experience, but I guess just chalk it up to a life lesson, keep notes and copies of emails you send and keep up the good work of trying to communicate with your school!!

NoSub February 26, 2010, 7:21 AM

Beyond a background check and fingerprinting all they showed subs in my district was a video about blood-born pathogens (in case glass broke in a lab setting or a similar instance). I know this because I looked to sub for a while. They fingerprint you, give you an i.d. badge, make you watch the video and then you can just call in the next day for an assignment. No training, no expectations. They don’t tell you what you should do in an emergency or what happens if kids do something they shouldn’t. I was amazed. I never did sub (I got a job offer soon after) but I can see how you could have big problems!

Brenda February 26, 2010, 9:46 AM

My husband is a substitute teacher and even he said this is RIDICULOUS.
But as the first two women stated most school systems treat sub’s like crap. They are paid next to nothing, and get little to no training.
A lot of sub’s now a days are college students just looking to make a few extra dollars. As long as the kids don’t kill each other or end up in the office there is not much the teachers or the principal can do.
You as the parent, should be allowed to fill out a request form stating that you do not want your child in the room is this sub is present.
I’m sorry this happened and hopefully if he does get another sub soon it’s someone like my husband who actually cares about the kids, because teaching is their passion.

Jessica February 26, 2010, 3:51 PM

Substitute teaching is such a two edge sword because school administrators expect quality substitute teachers, but don’t put any time into teaching them effective classroom management skills. As parents it is good that you are taking interest in your child’s education, a lot of parents are apathetic to what goes on in schools.

Many school administrators think, “Don’t approach me with problems, approach me with solutions.” One solution to poor substitute teachers is to mandate training so substitute teachers have the skills necessary and a day without the permanent teacher isn’t lost.

Anonymous February 27, 2010, 9:18 AM

Boo Hoo cry me a river

Lauren  February 28, 2010, 2:48 PM

I’m a substitute teacher in New York. Here in NY, subs are required to have their teaching certification. Basically we are all teachers that are having a hard time finding a job due to the economy and subject areas we teach. I do have four years of college behind me and I know classroom management and all of that. However, being a sub is like being a babysitter. It can be very difficult because you are treated like a stranger by everyone and are completely disrespected by students, faculty, and administration. This situation with your son was wrong, but some states do require qualified people to work as substitute teachers. Situations like this give people like me a very bad name and it’s very frustrating.

ljgs March 1, 2010, 10:02 AM

What do you make of this? Here in our highly regarded school system, my 4th-grade son came home with the news that the regular music teacher was out and there was a sub who spent several minutes crabbing and yelling at them, put on a video for them to watch (I assume it was music-related, but who knows?), pulled out her knitting, and after a few moments in the darkened classroom, actually fell asleep!!!

Lauren  March 1, 2010, 4:21 PM

It’s really a shame that there are substitute teachers like this. I take pride in my job as a substitute and I take it very seriously. I wish we all did.

Ashley March 15, 2010, 3:44 PM

Spend some time in your students classroom…Do we all forget how WE treated our substitutes? Get real…Kids are horribly behaved to subs…Yours included, I’m sure!

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KC September 30, 2010, 9:59 AM

As someone who has been a substitute teacher for a year, I have seen many things good, bad, and ugly.

The Good: The pay isn’t bad (at least in my area of California, which varies from about $95 to $125 a day for only 6 hours of work). You also can get many experiences working with students of different backgrounds, grade levels, and subjects. Your schedule is that “you can write your own schedule, as long as a teacher needs a sub that day”.

The Bad: With both areas that I sub, we spent about 3 hours in an orientation (mostly to fill out paperwork, explain how to get subbing positions in their district, and watch a 15-minute video about dealing with first aid: In one district we did spend about 45 minutes going over classroom management).

The Ugly: While faculty (fellow teachers) are almost always willing to help subs out, administrators and clerical usually don’t help. I have dealt with many different behavior issues (being cussed out, having items stolen from me, and being physically attacked on two different occasions). The administrators earn the same amount of money whether they deal with the behavior issues or not. Clerical (i.e. some secretaries treat us like we’re nothing, though we all have a bachelor’s degree and credential in my areas that I sub in)

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Ten Tees January 9, 2011, 8:25 AM

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Sub for a Day February 22, 2011, 12:11 PM

I am a substitute teacher at a public school and I personally like the kids that I teach. I however dislike the school secretaries, principals, administration and the other teachers—they all treat the substitutes like garbage and are rude to them. The only reason I keep coming back is because of the kids and because I like teaching them.

Jack Ryan February 25, 2011, 5:49 AM

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaa whaaaaaaaaaa whaaaaaaaaaaa
SOMEbody doesn’t KNOW that my wittle kid is the bestest kid ever. Whaaaaaaa whaaaaaaa whaaaaaaaaa.
I don’t hate you, but I’d bet a million bucks that YOU are right in front of the line when voting AGAINST anything that would/could benefit the teachers in your community.
Deny it, I’ll never believe you.
YOU go down there and sub for a few days; your whaaaaas would turn into screams for help. Please help.

Substitute Teacher March 3, 2011, 9:28 PM

I’m a sub as well and it’s true that no one respects the sub as a teacher. Everyone wants you to do their job and keep them on track with everything, but no one can do all this and you don’t even know all the students names. It’s hard to teach kids when you have principals that don’t even speak to you and teachers that look down on you. It’s crazy, but I still do it until something else comes alone.

Pharmg842 April 19, 2011, 8:44 PM

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