Subs Deserve Respect, Too

According to Carolyn Bucior, who is writing a memoir about substitute teaching, 5.2 percent of teachers nationwide are absent on any given day, a rate three times as high as that of other professionals and one and a half times higher than teachers in Britain. Regular full-time teachers receive 10 sick days per year, by collective bargaining agreement.

By the time a student completes 12th grade he has had substitute teachers for almost one year of his 13 years of schooling.  According to a 2008 Harvard study, schools in poorer areas have higher incidences of teacher absenteeism. The study concludes that absences can have a deleterious effect on student achievement scores, especially in math.

Congress has a bill, on the docket, the Substitute Teaching and Improvement Act (HR 2011), to deal with this perennial problem. It was re-introduced in April 2009 and will authorize the Secretary of Education to issue grants to local educational agencies to train substitutes, train principals and permanent teachers in effectively integrating substitutes into regular classroom operations, and collect data.

Why is teacher absenteeism so high and what are the data here in Santa Clara County by district? There is no doubt teaching is a very difficult profession that takes an enormous amount of energy, time, and planning to do well. Teachers are mostly female and are often the ones who stay home with their own sick children. Also teachers are exposed to a multitude of illnesses from their students.

Yet, teachers working in schools with a productive school culture are more likely to come to work each day prepared to teach, even though they may not feel 100 percent. I think we should tabulate the information on teacher absenteeism for all of the county’s 32 districts. Perhaps that can be something SJ2020 attempts to accomplish. These data may lead us to innovative solutions.

I would like to begin a new campaign to increase the public relations on behalf of all teachers throughout Santa Clara County. Several decades ago we had reverential respect for our teachers. No doubt, it is a very critical profession to the health of the republic. As one wise person said, “teachers are the brain surgeons for our children.”

One of the reasons I became a teacher was my dad’s high level of regard for those who taught. This feeling of value should still be the predominant attitude today, but things in America have changed. One way to increase the respect for what teachers do each day is for us to walk in their shoes. You can do so by becoming a Santa Clara County substitute teacher. The minimum requirements ( to become a substitute teacher are:

A Bachelor’s Degree in any major; Passage of the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST); Clearance for your fingerprints with the Department of Justice for school employment.

The rate of pay varies from district to district. San Jose Unified pays $125 per day. Most SCC districts are in the same ballpark with compensation for substitutes, unfortunately all districts are forced to pay a paltry amount. If you put in seven hours on your assignment for the day at $125 per day your hourly rate of pay is under $18. If you subbed all 180 days of a school year, never for a long-term assignment (long term assignments pay goes up 10-20 percent), your annualized pay would be $22,500.  Not a rate of pay that begs for respect. But the work sure does.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. I could not agree more, although even as a sub you won’t see some of the extra-duty stuff, intensive planning and personal pressure over test scores every 6 weeks (or sooner) that contributes to the exhaustion of teachers.  Throw in a bunch of germs, and it’s a recipe for…  still if more people subbed, they might realize how physically demanding it is, at least. 

    But this is not a good time to be a sub, and next year isn’t either.  With so many laid-off teachers plus retired teachers trying to earn their #s to get their health benefits paid, there aren’t a lot of sub jobs for the people already on the lists.  More teachers in SCC are getting laid off next year, so this is not going to get better. Several districts are turning away potential subs with credentials now.

    But it’d be nice to send politicians and those who think they are so sure they know better than teachers into a 2-day assignment with minimum plans and a TE they’ve never seen and see how they do!

  2. A lot of the teachers I know feel guilty leaving their class in the hands of a sub.  They don’t like to break the continuity of their lesson plans. 
      I have also heard from teachers who say they receive additional scrutiny for taking wrap-around days off (Monday, Friday and days before holidays). 
      Professor DiSalvo, you have broken a golden rule when discussing teacher’s salaries.  Never, ever calculate their true hourly pay rate!  It is hard enough to keep them in the profession past three years as it is.  smile

  3. I’m a substitute in two different districts in Santa Clara County, and I absolutely love it. Subbing has taught me both flexibility and adaptability—qualities that will undoubtedly serve me well as a teacher.  It has also exposed me to a variety of age levels, children, teaching styles, and lessons. I love being in the classroom and working with an array of students. That being said, I understand why teacher absenteeism is problematic. I have actually been surprised with how frequently I am asked to sub. In fact, I just finished subbing in a special education class today, and while I was writing this response, I got called to work in another classroom tomorrow. I firmly believe that substitute training would be quite beneficial and well worth the money. Sub training would make the day run more smoothly, and would also likely make the transition between substitute and permanent teacher much more seamless.

    • I am a sub teacher and am looking to add additional school districts for this upcoming year. Do you know any that may be hiring subs in Santa Clara County?

  4. I’m back!! I have been out of town and super busy.

    I have to say this is a very interesting article for me to read. Why? Well… because I am a substitute teacher. I substitute in 5 school districts. Subbing really helps me to feel what teaching is like. Some classrooms I walk in and I go wow! This room is a disaster. Very few do I walk in and go this is a really nice learning environment set up for the students. I understand that everyone may not be creative but I think it is important for teachers to try to make the very best learning environment for the students. 
    Subbing really does put everything in perspective. It gives you an outlook that you might not have had. I do recommend subbing. A friend of mine who is also in the credential program told me that she wants to start subbing and only one district is hiring at the current moment in time. It is a very tough district to sub for. I know this because of the area and because they are offering to pay more. My friend said “Oh, it will be easy.” I laughed at her and told her please…. sub first and then come back to me and tell me that. I know I have a more quiet personality when I talk which may give me more of a disadvantage, but for the most part I have been asked to come back to every school and have been recommended by other teachers and principals. Some days it can be frustrating and some days it can be fun! I guess the point I am trying to make is don’t go into thinking teaching is a piece of cake. You constantly learn and if you think you know it all and not open to learn, you’re not going to be a good teacher. Subbing alone teaches me something new every day.

    Has there ever been an incentive for teachers who do not miss days? Or who miss the fewer days?

  5. I have done a lot of substitute teaching and was amazed at the lack of training offered to me when I started. I basically just submitted my application with the required TB test, 30 day emergency credential and proof that I had passed my CBEST and was instantly hired. Now I’m not complaining since I’ve been lucky enough to substitute at the high school I graduated from, but it would have been great to have been given some understanding of what was expected from me as well as what I should expect when entering the classroom. Unfortunately I had to learn by trial and error which I think was to the disadvantage of students. Sometimes I felt like a glorified babysitter rather than an active participant in the learning process.

    More than just training the substitutes however I think there is a need to train the teachers on the most effective way to prepare substitutes for leading classes in their absence. Even though my major in college was political science I’ve found that teachers who have provided me a detailed lesson plan for subjects that I typically am not strong in have been the most fun to teach. I understand that sometimes an absence isn’t always known ahead of time, but a general plan that can be implemented anytime during the year would be an effective alternative to just watching a movie.
    Substitute teaching has definitely triggered an interest in me to teach full time and I think is a great way for people to test the waters if they are interested in making teaching a career. 

    On a side note:  While the overall pay of a teacher may not be very high, they only work 9 months out of the year.  Were this salary calculated on a 12 month basis pay would be very generous.  Sure it’s not the type of money you would make in other industries, but those who are in the business to make money aren’t the type of people who should be teaching.

  6. CHRIS—Teachers are not paid as bad as you think. The pensions are extremely generous.

    The job is a part time job, with more vacation days, and shorter work days, than any other profession.

    One of my friends works from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm, in Socal, teaching hs math, and makes over 100k, plus gets summers/spring/xmas/presidents day or week/ etc

    Plus you can be sick as much as you like (can’t be fired)

    It is an excellent part time job.

    • Very true, and no one ever wants to admit this.  If you looked at total pay packages across all professions on an equivalent hourly rate, education professionals would be one of the highest paid.

    • Ask your friend how many hours he/she spends outside actual classroom hours working on curriculum planning, grading papers, generating assessments, meeting with parents, attending seminars et al.  You’ll find the hourly rate of pay goes way down.

      • There’s no doubt teachers work many hours outside the standard school times, and we should all be thankful.

        But those of you who continue to make this ridiculous argument always forget that so do engineers, marketing professionals, finance professionals, accountants, project managers, framers, electricians, plumbers, doctors, lawyers, gardeners, housekeepers, sales people, and every other hard working person you can think of.

      • Teachers (not subs) work on salary.  And everyone that works on salary puts in extra “unpaid” hours.  That’s the deal.  Teachers deserve no more sympathy for spending time grading papers than someone who has to work late at the office.

        In fact, they deserve less sympathy, since whether they put in extra time or not their jobs are safe.  Teachers are evaluated solely on years of experience and education, not performance.  If they want more money, they just have sit and wait or if they’re ambitious take a few more units at the local college.

        And please drop the “they really work hard all summer” argument.  I don’t care if they re-plan their lessons six times.  They’re not working anything close to full days for three months of the year (and that’s not counting winter break, ski week, spring break, plus anything close to a holiday on the calendar).

        The problem with today’s teachers is not the pay.  It’s the lack of accountability.  The only way to lose your job as a teacher is to either be a rookie when there are budget cuts (the newest teachers get laid off regardless of performance) or do something illegal.  Bad teachers are rewarded the same as good ones, and there’s zero incentive to try to improve.

        We can all thank the teachers unions for this wonderful situation.

  7. Class sizes to ballon?

    “When San Jose Unified took the unpopular step of increasing K-3 class sizes to 30 for this school year, it had little company in abandoning one of California’s most cherished education reforms.

    Now, faced with cutting budgets yet again, districts throughout Santa Clara County are targeting once fiercely protected student-teacher ratios of 20:1 in kindergarten to third grade. The Oak Grove School District in San Jose plans to go to 23 students next year, Campbell has targeted 24, Alum Rock and Mountain View are considering 25.

    And in the Cupertino Union School District, classes may balloon to 30 students in the fall, outraging parents in a community proud of its schools and high test scores.

    The mass move toward bigger classes illustrates the depth of the state’s school funding crisis.”

  8. Classes in Catholic School are routinely over 30 if not 35. I had a friend who taught at St Frances Cabrini and at that time (ten years ago) her class had 38 in it. And people are paying to go there. Class size has no relation to academic achievement. It just makes work easier for the staff.

  9. “Class size has no relation to academic achievement.”

    Not true.  Would be true if any kid whose behavior was getting in the way of other kid’s learning was not allowed to stay in the classroom/stay in the school.  Public schools must educate any child, regardless of the extremes of behavior (intentional or as a result of problems that child may have) and removing a child for behavior is rare AND something that teachers can get in trouble with principals for, even if the behavior is extreme and profoundly affecting other students ability to learn and concentrate on their learning.