If you went to school in Indianapolis between the ages of 30-38, you remember the most popular Indianapolis substitute teacher, Mr. Blair. He was the cool white substitute teacher who rapped and recited poetry. He is arguably the most famous substitute teacher in Indiana. Whether you went to school on the west or east, Mr. Blair was a school staple. When you knew your teacher would be out, you just hoped that you had Mr. Blair because it would be a good time. I remember as a kid having Mr. Blair sub for my class, and I also remember, as a teacher, being in the classroom next door to a class he was subbing in. It made me remember the rapping of the poetry and the beats on the table, but most importantly, the sound of children happy to have someone they could connect with. I am not sure if Mr. Blair is still subbing as he did, but now and again on Facebook, someone posts his picture and everyone comments with their favorite Mr. Blair story. As schools struggle to find substitute teachers, it may be time to think outside the box and get creative. Here are three ways schools can be creative with substitute teachers.
Full-time doctoral students
When I was a principal, I had a substitute teacher (who I eventually hired) come in 3 days a week. He was a doctoral student and only taught a class at the university twice a week. On the remaining days, he would sub in our building. When I tell you it was the biggest relief knowing that Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, we would have him in the building available if we needed a teacher, I mean it. The fact he was there on Friday during our professional development allowed us to work with him on the lesson plans and make him feel part of the school team. Eventually, when we got in a teaching bind, we hired him to teach math for a class, and on the other two days when he wasn’t there, our admin filled in. It got me thinking: what if schools could find other doctoral students who are full-time students to do the same thing? The money they make can help offset some bills including their tuition. I asked our sub that question, and he said yes, the money was worth the time and investment. I would tell school leaders to focus on doctoral students in education as they may find value and support in their research topic.
Connect with different stakeholders
All schools should be creative about a broad list of stakeholders and partners they can call on for support. Schools, especially high schools, should be connecting their students with professionals from other industries. What if schools developed a partnership with a local business where their employees could work a few days out the month as substitute teachers? In the same way that students get their internship hours at the business, the business could offer volunteer hours at a local school for their employees. I think about companies like Lilly, Salesforce, and Roche here in Indianapolis. I believe another creative and bold partnership could be with local firefighters and police officers. I feel a much-needed collaboration is with our local politicians. Imagine if they spent more time in the schools and how that could guide their decisions on education policy. I even think about some of our organizations that focus on education. I think about organizations like The Mind Trust, RISE Indy, and CLD. I would love to see a partnership with the church to help provide members to substitute at the school.
Create a parent sub program
I have always said the best and most important relationship I fostered as a principal was with the parents in my building. I could call on them for anything, and they were right there. I believe schools should call on their parents during this time of need. I know a few parents who either worked in the evening, worked every other day, or were not working at all who I could have used as substitute teachers in the building. When a teacher is out, sometimes, if they cannot commit a full day, a half day was just as valuable. I also believe the students benefit from having parents in the classroom as substitute teachers. I believe it helps the parents to see what it is like as teachers and learn a few teaching tips they can use at home with their students. Parents are resources that are not tapped into enough, and the parents I speak to want to know how they can do more. Schools have PTO and PTA organizations, and I believe they should poll the parents’ interest at the next meeting.
There is much work to be done on the school leader’s end to make this possible. The first, as I mentioned, is creating a broad stakeholder list to see who you can tap. Additionally, develop and foster these relationships to pitch such an idea. I also believe there must be background checks, compensation, and training for some of the options. While these individuals are place holders while a teacher is out, they still have an important responsibility of educating children.