Being a Substitute Teacher During COVID

Sandra Burns
Sandra Burns
Elementary school principal; M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
Class of students wearing masks with a masked teacher at the front.

I am sure within the last year the saying “teachers are superheroes” has been overheard hundreds of times. While day in and day out we navigate throughout our school systems encountering circumstances like never before, we must not overlook our substitutes who often at times are the ones who have helped support our education system, and schools have been able to keep their doors open because of their commitment to be in our classrooms.

Challenges Substitute Teachers have Faced this Year

Let’s face it, without healthy teachers our schools are forced to shut down. When substitutes walk through our school buildings they do not go unnoticed and often are the reason why we can continue to provide a solid instructional format while teachers are not always able to be present due the current times that we are facing.

Let’s think of the big picture. In a small school of five hundred students, if three teachers are forced to quarantine due to contact with a positive COVID case, regardless if it is school related or contact during their outside of school activities, they still have to quarantine. This leaves a small school with three less teachers for 14 days. This is two solid weeks of instruction that must be covered by three different substitutes. The three teachers that must quarantine are in addition to the routine daily call-offs of appointments that teachers may have already had scheduled or possibly a sick child, or for some it could be something so needed such as a mental health day.

Whatever the reason, life happens, and we cannot control the number of call-offs that there is each day. What we must truly tend to are our substitutes who are so highly thought of as they are deep in the trenches with our schools and help provide the instruction to our students when their teacher is not able to do so.

It is important to also be mindful of the fear the goes along with entering into a school that has hundreds, sometimes thousands of students and staff within the walls of the building. This in itself can be unsettling as we face the pandemic. Thanks to our substitutes, they are right alongside our teachers, safely doing their best and following the district’s health and safety plans.

Helpful Support and Resources

Just as educators have never faced any of the guidelines that have been placed on schools this year, our substitutes are new to this too. To ensure that our substitutes are provided with the best information to help keep our schools safe, a COVID checklist should be provided to them just as each teacher is aware of the guidelines and health requirements. Substitutes should also be aware of how to speak to the students about COVID.

This often is a checklist of possible symptoms, as well as having students’ temperatures checked every morning before they enter their classroom. It also can give a detailed outline of what to do if you are feeling ill. While this seems like something so minor, it actually is a true concern as staying healthy is the focus for everyone that enters the school.

An additional resource that should be provided to our substitute teachers is the layout of the classroom. This would include a seating chart, as well as reminders of face coverings being worn, when and how to take mask breaks, where the sanitizer is located and what the schedule will look like with all of the COVID safety precautions and guidelines being followed.

Recess and lunch at most schools often look different than in the past, and this is something schools will want to provide the substitutes with a protocol of how this is handled this year. Dismissal also looks very different, and even something as basic as walking in the hallways is completely different than in years past, and substitutes will need a clear description of how all of this “looks” throughout the course of the day.

Naturally, detailed lesson plans should be available for the substitutes, but this is a standard requirement that all teachers and substitutes are familiar with. Overall, much of the day is dedicated to following new and updated guidelines, monitoring safety, being mindful of the challenges students are facing, as well as delivering instruction.

Often, substitutes are facing the obstacle of delivering instruction in a completely different format than ever before. With so many models in each district, a substitute teacher must be familiar with what platform of instruction is being used. This can at times be challenging, as there are some districts that use different platforms even within their own schools. One can only imagine just how confusing, and at times overwhelming, this may be for a substitute teacher who is in multiple schools.

By providing a solid training of the platform that is being used within the building for the substitute who works in the schools daily, this will best prepare them for a platform that they may not be familiar with. Asynchronous, synchronous, blended, hybrid, 100% virtual, or while you may be sitting in a completely empty classroom in front of a computer, these are all challenges and differences that come along with each substitute assignment that is filled.

At the end of each day, we must not forget that your substitute teachers are heroes too! Not only are they heroes, but they are human as well. They deserve the same grace that all teachers deserve during this very challenging and uncertain time. Our students need them more now than ever, just as our school systems rely on them to show up each day, help conquer another day that we are able to provide instruction to our students, and make it a success. Without our substitutes, schools that are able to stay open would not be able to do so. They truly are our forgotten heroes that need the most support during these challenging times.

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