Marked as absent

I’ve been home with a nasty cold for two days now. It hit me on Saturday morning, then I rallied a bit for Sunday and Monday, then I succumbed to fits of coughing, wads of tissues, an inability to breath through my nose despite the constant blowing of said nose, a voice like Lauren Bacall’s, and various aches and pains.

So I’ve called in sick yesterday and today. Because I can. I am not provided with a substitute teacher in my particular job until I have been absent for three days, (something to do with teacher shortages and budget cuts, I believe), so I don’t have to plan for someone else to teach my classes. That, as any teacher out there will tell you, is sometimes worse than going in to work when you’re feeling like crap. Yes, it’s part of our jobs to always leave a plan and materials ready for the next day when we leave the school every night, but when you KNOW that someone else will be doing the job for you that day, you plan things differently.

For example, I teach French Immersion, so I do everything in French, including all my planning. There is ALWAYS a shortage of French Immersion substitute teachers in my district, so many times, even if we request someone who is French-speaking, the district sends someone who is not. So, most French Immersion teachers will try to write their dayplan in English if they know they will be absent the next day, because chances are very good that their replacement teacher will only speak English.

Also, you need to be more precise and detailed when writing a plan for someone else to follow. Normally, a teacher would write something like “1:30 – 2, buddy class, Karen has book”. Huh??? So, when planning for a substitute, you would change that to “1:30 – 2, buddy class – grade 1s from Karen Jones’ class come to our class. My students all have a Grade 1 partner (see attached list). The partners from Group A (see attached list) go back to Karen’s class, those in Group B (see attached list) stay with me. Read book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” (Karen will bring it) to Group B. My students then help the Grade 1s to write a sentence and illustrate their favourite part of the story. If time, each partner can share their work with the whole group.”

See what I mean? And you have to do this for every single lesson that day – all while feeling lousy and just wanting to go home, take some aspirin, and sleep for a week.

Of course, there are certainly times where you cannot plan ahead like that, when illness strikes in the middle of the night with a rather abrupt trip to the toilet or perhaps the plaintive cry of a child at 3am: “Mommeeeeeee! I feel siiiiiiick!” swiftly followed by the hiccuping and crying that signal that the child has just vomited in their bed. In that case, as soon as you can, you book your absence on the school district website and hope for the best, because you are NOT going to work in the morning. Some very conscientious teachers will, at that point, create an entirely new plan for the day and email it to the school secretary who will then pass it on to the substitute teacher who arrives to teach the class in the morning. But if you’re writhing in pain from a migraine, you’re obviously not going to do that, so whoever teaches your class is just going to have to figure out your cryptic notes on their own.

And that’s if someone arrives at all! Because, again, due to budget cuts and lack of hiring, it’s not unheard of for there to be no one at all to teach your class, particularly if you book your absence later than, say, 10pm the night before. Substitute teachers browse the available absences in the evening and can choose which job they would like to do the next day. Few of them check the website at 5 or 6am in the morning, so those absences that are unfilled at that time, often stay unfilled. Oh, there are people in the district office who make a token phone call or two in the morning to a few substitute teachers who haven’t yet picked up a job for the day, but I don’t think they try too hard, quite honestly. This has been an issue in my school district for many years now, and the superintendents keep saying that it’s the teachers’ faults for taking so much time off, that the system can’t keep up with the demand. I say, if the demand is there, then hire more substitutes! It’s a growing school district, after all! But then there’s the chronic underfunding of our public school system, and I won’t go into my regular rant about THAT today.

So what happens when there’s no substitute to teach a class? Well, in an elementary school such as mine, non-enrolling teachers are put into those classrooms: learning support teachers (like me), music teachers, librarians, vice-principals, principals. Which means that we don’t get to do our own jobs that day, and the kids lose out. And since out of all those non-enrolling teachers at my school, I am the only one who speaks French, pretty much every single time that we are missing a substitute teacher in a French class, I am asked to cover the class. Fortunately, my principal and vice-principal are a couple of the “good” ones, so we usually work out a sharing arrangement: I teach till recess, for example, and we switch the plan around so that everything that absolutely must be in French (like reading or writing lessons), I will do during that time. Then my principal will teach between recess and lunch, and the VP will teach in the afternoon, both of them in English. It’s not perfect, but at least it’s not an entire day lost for any of us or for the kids.

Then, of course, regardless of how detailed your dayplan was or who actually taught your class that day, when you come back to work, there’s all that “catch-up” to do. The kids are usually all over you: “Where WERE you, Madame?” “We never got to go to the library yesterday, so can we go today?” “It was hot lunch and I didn’t get my doughnut!” You probably don’t have an actual dayplan for the day, because you were absent the day before (though you probably have a pretty good idea of where you were going next with each lesson), so you first have to determine what was actually completed from the day before. Then you have to very quickly decide what to do next – and get the materials organized even quicker, because your students are waiting. And hopefully, you didn’t come back to work too soon, while you’re still a bit ill and lacking energy – but hey, you’re a teacher and you probably did, because you know how things go when you’re absent.

So yeah, sometimes it really IS easier to go in to work and teach when you’re not feeling great.

Been there, done that. But not this time. I’m sick and I’m at home. eb3bef92bc4d187296ecc01369d06e0b


5 responses to “Marked as absent

  1. I hope you feel better soon!

  2. First dear, condolence on your unwellness. I hate that stuffed up thing and that’s always where it hits me. As for the sub thing, I found in my teaching years there was no easy answer and for your kids it often amounts to a lot of time wasted.

    • Thanks, Ian. I am feeling better this afternoon, so I’ll be back at work tomorrow, I’m sure.

      And hasn’t it always been like that with substitute teachers, when you and I were kids (and likely well before that too)? Weren’t we always happy to have pretty much a free day where we really weren’t expected to do much? Some things never change …