Substitutes cause more harm than good


Noura Abukhadra

Subs interfere with student’s learning more often than they think.

As students who have been attending school for a long time, we have all had substitutes by now. We all cross our fingers that we will just watch a movie, fill out a worksheet, anything that will minimize interaction with the sub. But could the reason that we do not want to interact with the subs be simply because we don’t know them?

South junior Olivia Kipling-Brownlow, finds that the best interactions with subs that she has had were with those who were welcoming and trusting of their students. In the past, she has noticed that a lot of distrust comes into play when substitutes refuse to give passes to students without any explanation. “I think it’s because they don’t know the school environment and they’re worried about getting in trouble themselves but, they don’t really think about the fact that we need passes sometimes,” she stated.

This may be true, but subs are still very inquisitive about students intentions. Instead of simply allowing students to go fill up their water bottles or use the bathroom, a series of interrogative questions follow such a basic request. Kipling-Brownlow agrees and describes substitutes attitudes as defensive. “I feel like they’re in this position where they’re constantly questioned so I feel like they have this automatic response to defend their position and what they’re doing in class that day. A lot of the time, it’s unnecessary or unwarranted,” she said.

Many subs have the option of writing someone up if a situation spirals out of control. However, writing someone up for a sub still feels unnecessary to me as a student. First, writing someone up can ruin their otherwise clean record. Second, writing a referral will not solve a pressing problem of distrust and tension, but only make it worse.  In a high school environment, adults may be surprised to find mature students capable of following directions when told respectfully to do something. Instead of writing a student up, there should be communication between the two to solve the dilemma.

A lot of the time, solving these issues gets lost in communication and preceding expectations that substitutes have of teachers and vice versa. Being respectful and communicating well is an expectation that Kipling-Brownlow shares with me. “I expect that they [the substitutes] are respectful and I feel like a lot of the time that doesn’t happen. They come into classrooms assuming that people are gonna argue with them. It creates an environment where everyone is on edge and not comfortable or confident with what they can or can’t say around this person, which is understandable because we have never met them before,” she explained.

Another issue that is very apparent is many subs try and have conversations with students that are irrelevant to the subject at hand. Some subs may feel like they are engaging students in furthering their academic enrichment, however, it can be quite distracting. For many students who are eager to make a good impression, it can be hard to say ‘remember that worksheet you gave me 5 minutes ago? I need to work on that instead of talking to you.’ However difficult it may be putting your foot down, it is important to note a clear distinction between academic conversations and ones that have nothing to do with the class subject so as to stay focused.

This is not to say that subs shouldn’t be warm or welcoming, it just means that there is a balance between extreme disrespect and being socially outgoing. South French teacher Melissa Davis had previous complaints from students about over interaction with substitutes. “The thing that students have told me that bothers them a bit is if the sub is talking with them about things that have nothing to do with their French assignment that I left,” she shared.

One thing that helps change the narrative of misunderstanding and disrespect is building relationships with students. Substitutes should greet them, introduce themselves, and make it clear that if students need anything, they can ask them for help.

This is exactly what frequent substitute Greg Strong does. “I almost always begin class by introducing myself, interacting with the students and trying to learn their names. Learning names as a sub is tricky because you’re always in different classrooms but I spend enough time at South that with students especially who are big personalities. I try to interact with them personally, practice saying names as I take attendance and then introduce the course material,” described Strong.

This sounds as though it would create the ideal sub, but there is still the subconscious idea for many students that having a sub in class means having a vacation day. Some don’t bother to come to class, and some try to sneak out if they don’t feel obligated to do the given assignment. Strong feels that this is because classes with subs are viewed as a chance to be laid back.

“Students look forward to the opportunity of having a relaxed day, and if a sub is there, many feel entitled to take a break from their normal routine,” He explained.  This does not mean that students deserve to be disrespected as a whole. If a sub has a bad experience early in the day that does not make it okay for them to take it out on students later on.

Davis sees that emotions can affect the atmosphere of students and subs as well. “I think that can be true of any human being. If someone is really tired, or they don’t feel well, or feel sick, there is such a range of things that can affect how someone acts,” she added. With that in mind, as long as subs are welcoming and treat students like the mature teen agers they are, students should do the same. Follow reasonable instructions, do the class work or watch the movie. Both subs and students could do a better job at being conscious of human emotions and communicating respectfully.