When Your Child’s Teacher is a Permanent Sub

Nearly an entire year has passed and my daughter, along with about 100 other 5th grade students are without a permanent Social Studies teacher.

Now, why is this a problem? These students have gone far too long without instruction from a certified teacher. When asking Madison about her day in school, class by class, when she gets to Social Studies, she smirks and replies, “We did a packet.” I ask the same question, “Y’all still don’t have a teacher?” Her response is, “Nope! We have another substitute.”

This is so problematic on so many levels. This hits home the most for me because it speaks to why I desired to teach Social Studies many years ago. That same smirk I see on my child’s face is the same one I saw my classmates make during our years in high school when each year we would be placed in a classroom where one of our coaches would be the teacher. The class that was meant to teach us history, about ours and others’ culture, the foundations of this world and country, along with helping to prepare us to be productive citizens was now flanked with vocabulary tests and fill-in-the blank note-taking worksheets. There was no question about how ill-prepared I was in entering the collegiate level in the area of History but I also got to see the angst my classmates had against History and Social Studies – one I totally refuted considering on my own, I found a love for it. It’s that love that led me into my own classroom teaching Social Studies and History (grades 6-12) and why I refuse to allow another cycle of angst to continue with my own child.

Why hasn’t KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary found a permanent teacher in the area of Social Studies? In talking with one of the Assistant Principals this morning, I learned that they had been looking for a certified teacher and just couldn’t find an adequate match until this morning. How coincidental. However, my issue and concern remains.

It’s the end of March -near the end of the semester. This teacher (whom I feel somewhat sorry for) is coming into a school with about 60 days or less to provide…what type of instruction? It’ll probably take him or her at least 10 of those days (or more) to get acclimated to the school culture, its climate, not to mention sift through the inherited issues of coming into a school 60 days or less before the end of the entire school year? How unfair is that? Not just to that new teacher, but also to those students, my child included.

I did have the opportunity to speak with both Assistant Principals of the middle school and here’s what they shared as their plans of action in the absence of a permanent teacher:

  • The initial Social Studies teacher (Ms. Andrews) transitioned from the team during quarter 1.
  • Mr. Seay-Co principal (who also has Social Studies licensure credentials) planned the lessons for the 5th grade while the team searched for a teacher.
  • Those plans were executed by a long-term sub throughout the 2nd and 3rd quarters while a permanent teacher was hired for the 4th quarter.
  • The long-term sub received behavioral and instructional support from Ms. Frazier (the 5th grade Academy Principal) as well as school-level professional development. Ms. Frazier also serves as Social Studies Coach & Instructional Chair.

I appreciated the information shared by Mr. Seay in regards to what steps the school had taken to ensure that the students still receive some form of quality instruction. In preparing for the standardized test TN ready which will be administered in a few weeks, Ms. Frazier ensured me that students’ Social Studies test scores would not count and that conversations have been had at both the state and district levels.

Even with the assurance and the methods, I stand firm in the belief that this still did not erase the reality of students being without a permanent and effective teacher for the majority of a school year. What was an interesting turn of the conversation was Mr. Seay’s questioning around feedback as to how to respond in matters such as these. My response was simple: communication.

The reality is I know first-hand the significance of having a qualified teacher in every classroom in front of all students daily. But I also know the hardship in finding those qualified individuals in a pool that diminishes quickly and by mid-fall is almost obsolete. So at best, you find a substitute that’s willing to stick around long enough to make something happen. We can’t afford to gamble with our children’s academic success like that, which simply paints an even bigger picture and raises greater levels  of concern that I know KIPP Collegiate Middle can’t answer, and even if they could, they would need more than a few minutes in an office during the morning rush to address.

A few takeaways from the meeting that I think is worth mentioning:

  • Parents still have power and more than they think. It’s vital for each parent to always and be abreast of what’s happening behind school walls.
  • That schools are more intentional around communicating all the many facets of the school climate, its strengths and weaknesses, along with key happenings that are directly related to the overall success of students.
  • Having constant communication with your child’s school could be the determining factor in whether they get the support and services they need to thrive.
  • Don’t ever assume that administration and/or school staff knows everything. As quick as we are to vent, complain, or raise concerns, be as intentional and quick to offer suggestions and solutions.
  • Use your voice. Open your mouth and share your thoughts and concerns with necessary parties.
  • Be careful with your presentation. It’s okay to be passionate without the aggression. You want to be able to have an open and honest conversation with necessary parties without offense, tension, and high emotion.
  • All schools should have a parent liaison on staff. No exceptions! Things can sometimes fall through the cracks. Allow parents to help create a cohesive school culture and climate.

Hopefully, in moving forward, KIPP Memphis will do a better job in communicating voided areas to parents and try to ensure all students are never missing learning moments from those qualified to indeed teach our children.