Community | Opinion

Outsourcing and The Michigan Substitute Teacher Shortage: Part 4 of 6

Like many teachers, I substitute taught before I found a full time teaching position. I was a substitute teacher for about five years, two of which were as a building sub. When I graduated from college in 2008, the outsourcing of substitute teachers was in its early stages. This was in part to save schools money and from pressure from Lansing. At the same time, budgets decreased and there were many out of work teachers either through layoffs or not finding full employment out of college.

The outsourcing coincided with ever decreasing daily pay, a trend that went on for decades. I personally knew teachers who subbed in the 1970’s and were receiving $100 or more a day, and even contract pay for long term positions. Today, a certified teacher is lucky to make more than $80 a day in Macomb County and a sub with only a permit will most likely make less. These numbers are not modified for inflation. It is not a surprise to see a substitute teacher shortage across the state and nationally.

Schools though cannot just accept vacancies. Students must have a state permitted adult in the room, what is called coverage. With teachers being pulled out more and more for professional development, the need for substitutes seem to grow by the year. When a substitute teacher is not available, the school will most likely pull a teacher from her or his prep time or, in more extreme cases, split up classes and combine them with other classes crowding rooms even more.

Before the outsourcing of substitutes to vendors, substitute teachers were employees of the school district. As an employee of the district, the substitute was expected to work when called upon. This meant the school could have a smaller pool to call on as compared to today and made vacancies less of a problem. Subs today tend to sign up with one vendor that serves many districts. I, at one time, was working at 13 different high schools to keep my week somewhat full. It was very difficult to feel part of the school community and every school had slightly different procedures and rules.

It may not seem like much of a difference where the person is employed, but the idea of entrusting a person with students for a full day should be held with the highest importance. This should be solely entrusted to the school district, where the education community exists. When there is a classroom full of kids without their teacher, there should be a well respected, highly trained, and justly paid professional to continue the learning experience. The shortage creates a day to day stress of never knowing what adjustments have to be made for coverage. It is a stress specifically created by budget constraints and a shortsighted policy of outsourcing.

Paul Ruth
Paul obtained a M.A. in English from Marygrove College and is a high school English teacher at East Detroit High School and adjunct college English instructor. He has been published in various places around the web, and seeks to write on topics that impact the greater community.