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Teachers and substitutes often taken for granted
Guest Column
Davenport Kendley

The first week of May marks the National Education Association’s National Teacher Appreciation Week, which exists, in part, because teachers are too often thankless heroes.

Each day, teachers play a critical role in shaping our future by helping the next generation grow up happy, healthy and prepared to become productive members of society when they reach the next stage in their lives. Yet for those of us who may not have school-aged children at home or perhaps don’t have regular interaction with teachers, it can be easy to forget how hard they work on our behalf — spending countless hours trying to create a better future for all of us, one child at a time. It can be even easier to forget the more anonymous, yet critically important, among them: substitutes.

By the time a student in the United States graduates from high school, they will have spent an estimated one full school year with substitute teachers. Although substitutes’ interaction with children is naturally more sporadic than full-time teachers’, the reality is that their impact is similar. On very short notice, they are asked to step into a classroom full of new faces and seamlessly pick up where the absent teacher left off — delivering lessons while simultaneously recognizing and adapting to the students’ various learning styles on the fly. Talk to any substitute teacher and they will tell you it’s no easy task, but we need people to do it.

Teacher absences have been on the rise across the country in recent years for a variety of reasons, with some estimates showing that an average teacher misses between six and 13 days per school year. Nationwide, the average daily absentee rate is 6 percent, meaning each day 186,546 teachers require a substitute. So without a doubt, the need to have qualified, trained substitutes readily available is increasing. That’s where Source4Teachers comes in, the Long County School System’s partner in filling daily absences.

Last year, we were able to provide Long County School System classrooms with 2,322 trained, qualified substitutes. We’re proud to have covered an average 100 percent of daily absences because we know how problematic a low substitute fill rate can be, causing severe administrative problems for schools and negatively impacting student achievement.

When a teacher’s absence cannot be filled by an available substitute, school officials must choose from less-than-desirable options to address the situation. Teachers, who do not have scheduled classes during certain times are redirected to the vacant classroom, taking away critical opportunities for planning and preparation. When teachers are not available, classes are often combined with others, making it difficult for teachers to be effective. And some instances, principals and other administrative staff are forced to serve as substitute teachers, pulling them away from their essential non-classroom duties.

These reasons, and a host of others, serve as motivation at Source4Teachers each and every day. In addition to helping students learn better and schools run more efficiently, it’s truly an honor to open doors for those who want to get involved - young people looking to gain valuable experience in the field while they look for full-time jobs, retirees who want a more flexible schedule as they wind down their careers, and many others.

So as we celebrate our teachers this week, please remember to keep all of our thankless heroes in your thoughts, including the more anonymous among them — the substitutes. And if you really want to make someone’s day, say “thank you” to a substitute so they know that their efforts are not unnoticed.  

Davenport is the chief executive officer at Source4Teachers. 

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