Students discuss impact of substitutes in classes


Jacob Sykuta

Substitute teachers, commonly referred to as subs, either teach or monitor a school class when the regular teacher is unavailable. Teachers take days off for various reasons, but ultimately, students such as junior Don Osborn continue to believe they are missing a full class of information in which they won’t be able to make up by being taught by their true teacher. Osborn feels that whether the reason behind a teacher missing school is an emergency or not, in the end, students have to struggle to learn the content on their own without the instruction of a teacher.
“It really doesn’t matter to me if the teacher is gone for an emergency or for a vacation because either way the teacher is gone and students are the ones who suffer for it,” Osborn said. “The sub will never have the same amount of knowledge as the teacher, unless it is another teacher standing in, so you never really learn. Even if the teacher leaves videos or activities, it’s always harder to learn.”
While Osborn sees substitutes in a negative way, teachers like Extended Educational Experiences (EEE) supervisor Gwen Struchtemeyer are thankful for substitute teachers. Being a substitute teacher herself for three years before landing a permanent teaching job, Struchtemeyer sees the level of expertise that many substitutes possess. In addition, Struchtemeyer feels that while some students find it more challenging to learn the material when a substitute is teaching, in most situations it doesn’t have a large impact on students’ learning.
“I’m grateful for substitute teachers,” Struchtemeyer said. “Ideally [substitute teachers] don’t [affect learning]. If it’s a day here or a day there, it probably doesn’t make a big difference. Teachers go out of their way to find a teacher who is competent in their area, who’s either certified for it or has done it, like a retired teacher.”
RBHS’s system has teachers log into Columbia Public Schools (CPS) substitute teaching website, Kelly Services. Once logged in, teachers can either request a random substitute teacher, or more commonly, teachers select specific substitutes they know are responsible and have background knowledge on the course subject. Teachers who choose specific substitutes are expected to contact that person and ensure they are available and will come in to substitute on the needed day.
On the typical school day, substitute teachers arrive at RBHS and go to the main office where Denise McGonigle, Dr. Rukstad’s secretary, sets them on their way. Occasionally, however, Kelly Services is unable to fill all teacher absences, putting McGonigle in a rush to find a new substitute. CPS hired two permanent substitutes for RBHS, so if there are unfilled absences, students will still have a substitute to monitor and teach their class.
“There are days where all the jobs don’t fill, so when that happens we have two permanent subs in our building that the district has hired for me to use in those cases,” McGonigle said. “One of them is doing a long-term maternity leave right now, so she’s in a classroom, and the other one I will put in that classroom if that happens.”
Much like normal substitute teachers, long-term substitutes who teach for many consecutive weeks are chosen similarly. Frequently, long-term substitutes are retired teachers and oftentimes volunteer to teach a course they understand so they can help benefit students as best as they can. Although long-term substitutes aren’t always retired teachers, every long-term substitute has some background of the course. Struchtemeyer believes many retired teachers and student teachers jump at the opportunity to teach a class for a few weeks while the teacher is unavailable.
“Often [Kelly Services and administration] arrange for a teacher who is retired but who is a specialist in that area,” Struchtemeyer said. “There’s usually a student teacher in every department who is eager to sub because that is a line item on their resume. They were deemed confident enough to continue teaching the class.”
Another option for substitutes is having a different RBHS teacher that teaches the course or a similar course cover for the actual teacher. Osborn, who has had many substitute teachers this semester in his Precalculus class, prefers other math teachers guiding the class rather than random and different substitutes each class period. Occasionally Travis Martin, who teaches both Precalculus and AP Calculus AB, comes to teach Osborn’s class, ensuring students learn the lesson with someone more experienced than a substitute, while leaving his class in the hands of his student teacher.
“You’ll never get the same value from a sub teaching you as you would if your real teacher were; they just don’t know the subject, or they don’t have the same teaching style or skills,” Osborn said. “I really enjoy both Mr. [Travis] Martin and Mr. [Jordan] Showalter’s teaching styles, and so when Martin stood in for Showalter I felt like I actually learned something compared to just a regular substitute teacher.”
Steven Craze, who has been a CPS substitute teacher since August 2017, feels that since he just graduated from college as an engineering major, he is able to help teach students in various courses, specifically math. He thinks that many substitute teachers have the ability to enhance students’ understanding of the content even when their teacher is unavailable.
“I enjoy math, and it is one of the subjects I feel like I can actually teach instead of just sit and play a movie,” Craze said. “I think I am [a good resource for] all levels of math. I taught a Calculus BC class that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, but every other level of math I do feel comfortable with. I know a lot of substitutes do not feel comfortable teaching because they haven’t had to [do the subject] in a long time, but I’m fresh out of college, so I can [teach it].”
Junior HanBin Kim thinks substitutes, while not ideal, are good backup teachers and monitors. Although he doesn’t support having substitutes who lack proficiency, he views retired and talented substitutes in a positive way.
“I like subs depending on the class they are in and who the sub is,” Kim said. “If it’s a sub that’s been in the teaching profession, [who is] qualified and knows how to handle kids, then I like the sub. [Substitute teachers are] just a necessary part of school.”
Ultimately, while students such as Osborn accept long term substitute teachers, random substitutes continue to be opposed. Osborn feels he isn’t getting the most out of the class period and is unable to learn the content efficiently when normal substitute teachers monitor the class.
“I think that the idea of substitute teachers is fundamentally broken,” Osborn said. “The substitute isn’t really a teacher as much as they are a babysitter. In order to properly have a teacher gone but still have students learn, it would be better to have one ‘stand in’ teacher that would always be on standby to teach a class in the given subject, instead of just some random person whose last encounter with the subject was when they took the class in high school.”