ERIC Identifier: ED412208
Publication Date: 1997-09-00
Author: Abdal-Haqq, Ismat
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Not Just a Warm Body: Changing Images of the Substitute
Teacher. ERIC Digest.
Ask members of the K-12 school community how they regard substitute teachers
and, depending on whether the informant is an educator or a student, you might
get some of the following answers: baby-sitter, fair-game, stop-gap, object of
pity, warm body. The lot of substitute teachers is generally not a happy one
(Nidds & McGerald, 1994). For the most part, they tend to be treated as a
marginal member of the education community (Ostapczuk, 1994; Wyld, 1995). Rarely
do students, teachers, or administrators regard substitutes as full
professionals who meet accepted standards of practice. While often considering
themselves to be effective instructors, substitutes frequently do not see
themselves as professionals (Billman, 1994; Ostapczuk,1994).
Some would say that substitutes should receive combat pay rather than the
modest compensation typically meted out to them. Research and anecdotal reports
cite classroom management as the greatest challenge faced by substitutes (Aceto,
1995; Galvez-Martin, 1997; Nidds & McGerald, 1994; Ostapczuk, 1994).
Children frequently view the substitute's entry as a signal to misbehave. Other
problems include incomplete or missing lesson plans; unfamiliarity with school
or district policies; and the perception by students, parents, and colleagues
that substitutes are merely babysitters or pinch-hitters--the "warm body
stereotype" (Wyld, 1995, p. 302). Lamentation can also be heard from employers
who commonly complain that these replacement teachers are not well-qualified,
lacking both pedagogical and classroom management skills (Ostapczuk, 1994).
Problems typically faced by substitutes or those who hire them are not new. The
same problems were documented 50 years ago (Ostapczuk, 1994), and solutions
appear to be as elusive as ever. Findings from a study by St. Michel (1995)
suggest that problems associated with substitute teacher programs result from
nonmanagement more so than mismanagement. These findings echo a theme found in
Ostapczuk's (1994) review of the literature on substitutes, which noted the low
priority school districts traditionally place on substitute teacher development.
This Digest provides an overview of substitute teaching in K-12 schools. It
looks at why substitutes are needed, factors that attract individuals to the
work, and what school administrators can do to facilitate good substitute
WHY DO SCHOOLS UTILIZE SUBSTITUTES?
American students, over
the course of their K-12 studies, may have replacement teachers for an estimated
5-10% of their classroom time (Billman, 1994; Nidds & McGerald, 1994;
Ostapczuk, 1994). Wyld (1995) notes that on any given school day, up to 10% of
the nation's classrooms have substitute teachers. Obviously, schools employ
substitutes to replace absent teachers, but what may not be equally evident are
some of the contemporary factors that produce teacher absence. Traditionally,
teacher absenteeism has occurred for the same reasons that employees in other
fields are absent e.g., personal or family illness or emergency, jury duty,
professional development activities, short-term military service. Wyld (1995)
indicates that teacher absenteeism, for these and other reasons, is on the rise.
More recently, widespread school restructuring, school-based management, and
redefinitions of teacher work that emerged from the school reform movement of
the mid-1980s have involved classroom teachers in a variety of nontraditional,
noninstructional activities, such as curriculum design, mentoring novice and
preservice teachers, conducting action research, and working on collaborative
teams with peers and college faculty. Employing substitutes is one method of
covering the classes of teachers who participate in such activities during the
school day (Abdal-Haqq, 1996).
Collective bargaining and changes in federal or state labor laws may also
result in teachers being eligible for more personal and sick leave, compelling
schools to find substitutes for more days (Billman, 1994). In discussing the
impact on schools of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), signed into law by
President Clinton in 1993, Wyld (1995) indicates that the most profound
administrative and instructional effects of FMLA will occur in the role of
substitute teachers who replace teachers taking intermittent or block leave.
This legislation may not alter the total amount of leave that teachers take, but
it is likely to affect the increments in which both paid and unpaid intermittent
leave is taken and the length of block leave. FMLA makes it possible for
teachers to take intermittent leave in 1- or 2-hour increments, in contrast to
the traditional pattern of granting leave only in half-day units. Consequently,
principals may be faced with the challenge of finding substitutes willing to
work for 1 or 2 hours. The complex provisions of FMLA may also produce longer
teacher absences at the end of semesters, resulting in more use of long-term
substitutes. For example, if a teacher's block leave occurs 3 to 5 weeks before
a semester ends, under certain circumstances, FMLA allows either the teacher or
the supervising administrator to elect to have the teacher sit out the rest of
that semester even though he or she is able to return earlier. Thus, FMLA has
implications for the ways in which administrators utilize substitutes, the
composition of the substitute pool, recruitment, and compensation.
WHY DO PEOPLE WORK AS SUBSTITUTES?
to earn income (Aceto, 1995; Snyder, 1995), but they are unlikely to do so in
order to become rich. A 1989 study found the average per diem compensation for
substitutes to be $45 to $55, depending upon locale, ranging from a high of $118
to a low of $21 (Wyld, 1995). A primary reason for substituting is to gain
experience and make contacts that may lead to permanent, full-time teaching
positions (Nidds & McGerald, 1994; Wyld, 1995). Some administrators only
hire as permanent teachers those who have substitute experience (Snyder, 1995).
Synder (1995) cites advantages and disadvantages to substituting,
particularly for preservice teacher education students. Advantages include:
gaining experience, comparing and contrasting different schools, networking,
learning about job vacancies, learning about school and district policies, and
having a flexible work schedule. Disadvantages include: pay scales below what
full-time teachers receive; generally, no fringe benefits; no organized advocacy
representation to improve working conditions and compensation; less than cordial
reception in some schools; having to "fly by the seat of your pants" and adapt
quickly to different school conditions and philosophies; and lack of
instructional continuity (e.g., delivering whole language literacy instruction
today and phonics-based instruction tomorrow).
Certified and experienced teachers sometimes opt for substituting because
they prefer the flexibility and lesser time demands (Wyld, 1995). Wyld also
points out that studies have shown that relatively few individuals work as
substitutes more than a year, and even fewer make a career of it. Consequently,
the composition of the substitute pool constantly shifts, necessitating a
continual need to replenish the supply of qualified individuals.
WHAT CAN SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS DO TO STRUCTURE GOOD SUBSTITUTE TEACHER PROGRAMS?
Literature on substitutes is not
particularly abundant (Nidds & McGerald, 1994). According to Ostapczuk
(1994) and Galvez-Martin (1997), little of what has been written has been
subjected to the sort of rigorous statistical evaluation that might inform and
guide substitute teacher development or utilization. Qualifications for
substitutes vary considerably among school districts. Credentials may include
teacher certification, criminal background checks, college transcripts, health
certificates, and evidence of first aid training (Snyder, 1995). Certification
is not required in most states and districts; frequently a high school diploma
is the sole academic credential needed (Wyld, 1995).
Wyld (1995) indicates that school administrators have basically three sources
of experienced substitute teachers. In intermittent or short-term leave
situations, working principals and other administrators can fill in. Advantages
to using such personnel include the esprit de corps and boost to teacher morale
that frequently comes from seeing in the trenches those who are generally
removed from the classroom. A second source of experienced teachers is former or
retired teachers. However, former teachers who have been conditioned to the warm
body stereotype may not find such a "demotion" attractive unless appealing
incentives are offered. The third source cited by Wyld is the current substitute
pool. By employing the better substitutes more frequently, administrators can
provide opportunities for these promising individuals to gain additional
experience and increase their capacity to take on the more critical long-term
Two approaches to creating a dependable cadre of experienced replacement
teachers are hiring permanent, full-time substitutes and instituting a graduated
substitute payscale. With the first approach, the substitute is placed on the
district payroll (Nidds& McGerald, 1994; Wyld, 1995). When not needed to
fill in for absent teachers, these individuals may perform other school work,
such as assisting with curriculum development. Graduated payscale arrangements
offer monetary incentives to encourage substitutes to work more and/or take on
longer-term assignments. After meeting a minimum requirement (e.g., 25 days in a
school year), the base per diem pay increases (Wyld, 1995).
In addition to implementing policies that increase experience among a core
group of substitutes, administrators may also increase substitute expertise by
offering inservice training (Nidds & McGerald, 1994; Ostapczuk, 1994).
Separate activities may be planned, or substitutes may participate in general
staff development. Many schools engaged in restructuring or other reform
initiatives have found that preservice students who have extended on-site field
work or internships can be cost-effective, short-term replacements for teachers
who need time for non-instructional professional work (Abdal-Haqq, 1996).
Ostapczuk (1994) gleaned several recommendations for structuring good
substitute programs: (1) improve collaboration between the substitute teacher
and school district, (2) evaluate and provide feedback to substitutes, (3)
improve recruitment procedures, (4) develop and provide a substitute teacher's
handbook on school rules and policies, (5) clarify the substitute's role and
make expectations clear, (6) provide specific inservice training on classroom
management, (7) improve the lesson plans substitutes receive, and (8) appoint a
district substitute coordinator. Additional recommendations cited by St. Michel
(1995) include: (1) improve employment benefits; (2) treat substitutes as
professionals; and (3) maintain an up-to-date, comprehensive database of all
substitutes in the district.
There are both practical and moral reasons to develop sound substitute
teacher programs. Liability is one practical concern for schools,
administrators, and substitute's themselves. Cotten(1995) points out that case
law holds the substitute, principal, and school district to the same standard of
care as it does regular teachers, and each is liable for acts of negligence. As
stewards of children in their care, teachers, administrators, and districts have
a moral obligation, as well as a statutory and contractual one, to ensure that
the best interests of students guide policy and practice. Thus, it is only
fitting that the current movement to elevate standards of practice in schools
apply to this traditionally neglected sector of the education community.
Abdal-Haqq, I. (1996). Making time for teacher
professional development. ERIC Digest 95-4. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Teaching and Teacher Education. ED400259 Aceto, J. T. (1995). A piece of
cake. Phi Delta Kappan, 76(6), 490-492. EJ 497 527
Billman, L. W. (1994). Keep subs afloat. Executive Educator,16(10), 29-31. EJ
Cotten, D. J. (1995). Liability of educators for the negligence of others
(substitutes, aides, student teachers, and new teachers). The Physical Educator,
52(2), 70-77. EJ 512 839
Galvez-Martin, M. E. (1997, February). What are the needs of substitute
teaching to be effective? Paper presented at the annual meeting of the
Association of Teacher Educators, Washington, DC.
Nidds, J. A., & McGerald, J. (1994). Substitute teachers: Seeking
meaningful instruction in the teacher's absence. Clearing House, 68(1), 25-26.
EJ 494 449
Ostapczuk, E. D. (1994). What makes effective secondary education substitute
teachers? Literature review. ED 374 075
Snyder, J. (1995). The alternative of substitute teaching. 1995 ASCUS Annual,
St. Michel. T. (1995). Effective substitute teachers: Myths, mayhem, or
magic? The practicing administrator's leadership series. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Corwin Press. [CD-ROM]. Abstract from: Dialog File: ERIC: ED 383 091.
Wyld, D. C. (1995). The FMLA and the changing demand for substitute teachers.
Clearing House, 68(5), 301-306. EJ 506 358