kitchen table math, the sequel: Absent Teachers

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Absent Teachers

This is getting to be a real big issue with me. What are typical contract rules about this? My son has soooooo many substitute teachers. Nothing happens in those classes. His teachers talk of dire consequences for students who miss school without following protocol and keeping up to date. Some of the rules are draconian. You even have to come after school to make up gym or you will get a zero for that day.

I just got an email from my son (he got it out during advisory) saying that his English teacher is not in today. This is the teacher who doesn't put any explanation on homework or exams and expects students to come in after school to get any sort of feedback or explanation. You have to sign up for this meeting, and if you fail to come, he will add a zero into your grades. I'm not making this up. My son was emailing me because I had to pick him up from school after one of these scheduled meetings. The teacher and school don't care that getting normal feedback on tests requires special transportation. I don't know what they expect from parents who work far away.

And in precalc, they are on their third teacher while the regular teacher is on long-term leave. The latest teacher was complaining that her stay was longer than anticipated and that, in effect, she was not prepared and had no lesson plans. This was in response to students' questions that she couldn't answer or had answered wrong. That was her excuse to the students.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you. I'm a teacher and HATE missing even one day. But other teachers seem to miss a day a week. What kind of example is that giving our students? And then add the nightmare of having subs not show up, which means we have to divide students up between the other teachers on the team, and you have 40+ kids in your class!!!

lgm said...

Sounds par for the course.
The rules here are no extending three day weekends or holidays; there is a financial penalty involved. Other than that, personal days can be used as needed. Most of my sons' teachers that are absent frequently are absent due to IEP meetings or conferences. One is annoyed with gym - the subs are for babysitting and the students have a free period, but no sub will write a pass down to band to make up a lesson or over to the library to actually get some work done. And yes, afterschool makeups are needed for student absences from gym = it's run a mile & the track/CC team can't substitute their workout. Our worst experience was the long term FL sub who couldn't speak a word of the language...she lasted 6 months before she was let go. She had them play word bingo when she wasn't telling stories & gave them Friday off for good behavior. The grades were made up grades. What a country!!

Grace said...

Some teachers have reputations as being absent frequently, but the reasons may be perfectly "legitimate" (IEP meetings, curriculum or other types of meetings, illness). One time I actually asked the principal and he explained the teacher had some health problems.

Nevertheless, it becomes a concern when I hear reports of frequent subs, especially if the subs either don't follow the regular teachers' lesson plans or if there is no lesson plan.

"Mrs. X wasn't in class today."
"What did you do during class?"
"Basically nothing."

I think sometimes the lesson plan is an assignment that the substitute doesn't really oversee and probably cannot answer questions about, so the students end up not doing much - basically a wasted day.

Anonymous said...

We have 3 personal days and about 10 sick days a year. I use as few as possible. We also miss class for things like textbook training, committee meetings, IEP meetings, etc.

As a math teacher, I have learned to leave assignments that the students can complete independently (e.g., extra practice and review assignments). When I leave plans that involve actual teaching, there is a good chance that the sub will teach things his/her own way no matter how detailed my instructions are. When the teaching is mathematically incorrect, not only do I lose the day I was out, I also lose the next day, which I spend undoing the damage.

Anonymous said...

Things happen and some people have to be absent. So why not a super sub program.....the teacher does not have to worry about lesson plans(when your kid is running 104 temp,you throw whatever together or have a sub folder ready to make it easy on the sub) When districts hire subs...have a emergency planned agenda that blows the students away. I am talking lower grades because that is all I know. Super subs!!

Anonymous said...

Rules for HS teachers are: 10 sick days + 4 personal day (must be arranged in advance). It is impossible to rely on the sub to teach anything - we are taking specific subject areas, so we leave assignments such as practice worksheets or something of that kind that could be also given as HW and reviewed the next day.
I don't know why so strict, StevenH - making up gym? I personally recommend the students to get the early assignments/ email me for notes if they know they are going to be absent or absent for whatever reason. I think life can happen, and if the student is absent there must be a reason. The point is to get what's missed from a classmate/myself and learn the material. I don't even ask why the student was absent and let them plan/prioritize themselves. I don't require to make up quizzes missed - only the tests. Labs are often impossible to make up (I teach science: college-level Bio and Anatomy&Physiology due to the material preparation and lab room availability, so the students are advised not to miss it.

I myself cannot see how can I afford to miss a day: it disrupts the continuity. So unless there is an emergency I come in. And accumulate the sick days...


SteveH said...

"Mrs. X wasn't in class today."
"What did you do during class?"
"Basically nothing."

This basically covers it, and it's happening far too often. It should never happen for things like textbook training, committee meetings, IEP meetings, etc. That is unacceptable.

How many teachers actually let sick days go once they hit the limit for carryover?

Anonymous said...

So far we don't have the limit... But they are planning on limiting/completely eliminating pay-out when you retire (if anything is left, because sick days are banked instead of disability insurance, I think...)

I agree, being absent is not acceptable for a teacher. We squeeze a lot into a limited time frame we see our students. But I assume everybody has a different sense of responsibility. Sometimes I think that I am too responsible (and hurting my own family by being unavailable during the school year... My husband attends the PT conferences, is on-call to pick up our son if anything happens since my phone is off, and generally leaves for ten months with weekends and evenings watching me working away).

Don't know what to say... One of our teachers is going on maternity leave after the Christmas -leaving 6 classes behind... She did this 3 years ago, too, with the first child. She will not come back until next year. Is it ok to say that she is not right to do this because 120 students are more important than her own family plans? I commuted from NJ to Brooklyn when we moved in the middle of the year (because my students had to take the exam in June! I suffered terrible tolls and long hours of commute, but it's nothing like giving birth to a child...0

SteveH said...

Don't mix up issues. What I see happening with my son is not acceptable. It's especially annoying with the level of expectations placed on him when it comes to deadlines and missed classes. The work has to get done and it's completely up to the student to make sure it gets done. There are no excuses. He will get a zero on homework or tests, and some teachers take great pleasure in making and enforcing those points.

I don't care if teachers have sick days, but I do care if the resulting class is not productive. THAT is not acceptable. This is especially true as the number of missed days increase. This is happening far too often. Much more than when I was in school.

In the case of my son's precalc class, where the teacher is on long-term leave, it's clear that the school was unprepared to handle special cases. When the long term substitute got a chance for a permanant position, the school thought nothing of filling the class with whatever short-term substitute they could find. They are on their second short term substitute who admits to the class that she is not prepared properly for an honors precalc class.

If she were a student, she would get a zero on her pay check. The school would get a zero. The class is far, far behind. They haven't even covered two chapters since the beginning of the school year. Parents have no recourse.

Parents and students need a union. They need choice.

Crimson Wife said...

Given that substitutes make peanuts (I think my district pays $100 per day, no benefits even to long-term subs), it's no wonder that there is a shortage of subs who can actually teach an honors high school math or science course. The going rate for babysitting is more than $14 per hour in my area!

SteveH said...

There are different issues here. No matter how knowledgable you are on a subject, substituting for a day or two will still set the class back. Unfortunately, contracts seem to encourage teachers to use up their sick days because they are seen as a benefit not to be lost. Allowing teachers to bank 25 years of sick days for a big retirement payout is no solution either. Most schools cap the carry-over, but do teachers take more sick days after they hit that cap? What do other teachers think about this?

As a parent, I shouldn't care about union contracts. Schools need to solve the problem of too many missed and unproductive days. You can't give between 5 and 10 percent of school days for sick and personal days. I don't care what the school is paying substitutes. That's like a whining student excuse. It's not acceptable. Grade of zero.

Anonymous said...

10 sick days in a short school year . . . lots of incentive for the unethical to be sick . .

Grace said...

I just checked our teacher contract -15 days of paid sick leave each year, with unused days accumulating with no maximum. Only 2 paid personal days, plus a few other days, including up to 20 to care for sick family members.

Bostonian said...

National Review had an article on this:

JUNE 20, 2011 4:00 A.M.
Absent Teachers, Untrained Substitutes
The practice of subs babysitting, rather than teaching, students must end.

Michelle Rhee, Chris Christie, and others have recently made great strides reforming education, but the movement has overlooked a problem with substitute teaching. During their K–12 education, public-school students in the U.S. spend about two-thirds of a year with substitute teachers. Given that many subs lack the proper training to teach effectively, students simply lose much of this time. The fix? Cut teacher absenteeism and increase the number of qualified subs.

About 5.2 percent of teachers miss any given school day, many more than in our peer countries. In Australia and Great Britain, for example, the figure is near 3 percent. The rate is also much lower among other professional employees in the U.S., around 1.7 percent. Teachers most often miss Mondays, Fridays, and the days surrounding holidays — a pattern that suggests illness is not the main cause for their absences.


Anonymous said...

"15 days of paid sick leave each year, with unused days accumulating with no maximum."

This type of plush contract can only be negotiated when the hirer (government) is co-opted by the hiree (unions).

palisadesk said...

These situations must vary by district. We do not get personal days, but are entitled to sick days (for which an administrator may require a medical note at any time). Furthermore, we have to hand in 5 days worth of plans that a substitute can reasonably implement, that are keyed to the current curriculum expectations, and that provide all materials needed by the substitute to use. These plans are vetted by an administrator for quality and completeness. Unsatisfactory ones have to be re-done. They have to be updated/replaced every term.

Substitute teachers are hired from a list that each principal compiles, so s/he usually knows the individuals, their strengths (what subjects, grade levels, etc.). Ineffective substitutes are rarely given second chances. Most of the substitutes are excellent.

This is elementary, however, so I don't know how things work at the secondary level. As with many things, good management plays a large role. I have rarely seen sick leave abused by elementary teachers in schools where I have worked; a good administrator is on top of these things.

Policies and regulations at the district level have to be in place too, of course. My district actually did a cost-benefit analysis at one point (or rather, they hired an accounting outfit to do this) and found they saved money by allowing carryover of unused sick days. This encouraged people to "bank" the days instead of using them. It was also much cheaper to pay retiring teachers a bonus (not a huge sum) if they had accumulated a large number of unused sick days; the accountants found this represented a significant saving on substitute teachers and related costs compared to similar districts without such a system.

I have over 15 years of perfect attendance, but still come in virtually every day regardless. Like many other people, I would rather have that day in reserve in case of a serious accident or illness even though I will never get any compensation for it. It's like insurance that you hope you never need to use.

SteveH said...

"... About 5.2 percent of teachers miss any given school day, ..."

Interestingly, that works out to between 9 and 10 days per school year.

"...and found they saved money by allowing carryover of unused sick days. "

Sick days should not be a fixed benefit that requires a career-end bonanza to get people to behave ethically.

SteveH said...

And I suppose that the career-end payout is at the career-end salary level. One could easily get the equivalent of a year's salary if there is no cap on sick day accumulation. With 15 days a year and no cap, ... wow!

palisadesk said...

Can't speak for other districts, but you can't get a year's salary (or half a years salary) in mine. It's a fixed sum, and you need around 350 banked days to collect it. Not many teachers actually end up with that many, because in the first 10 years or so (at least working with small children) you get every virus that comes along and get sick a LOT.

Many people retire who have not worked long enough to bank 350 days, which is about 25 years of perfect attendance. Compared to some of the corporate bonuses we keep reading about, it's very small potatoes.

I guess another difference is that my district pays substitutes quite well, and they get benefits if they are in an assignment for 15 days or longer.

The district where I live (not the one I work in) does not have the sick leave bonus; it doesn't seem to have made any difference one way or the other. What the accountants found in the study my district did (about 15 years ago) was that it was the ability to carry over sick days (not any potential retirement benefit)that was the positive motivator, precisely because it worked like an insurance policy. They found that it saved the district (and the taxpayers) a great deal of money, so I doubt they will propose taking it out of the contract any time soon.

The downside is, of course, that people go to work when they SHOULD stay home, but that happens in all walks of life.

Anonymous said...

Couple of points:
1)As a parent and a teacher I believe that teachers must be extremely mindful of the time limitation of the school year and the material to be taught. The absences should be in emergency situation only. Any absence disrupts the continuity of learning.
From parent's point of view - my son's teacher was absent today. At least she left the lesson plans and worksheets, which I can go over with my son at home.
From teacher's point: my fellow Anatomy teacher was absent today again, for the 8th time this year. (Some family issues). I teach only one section of Anatomy this year, he teaches 6. But I did the whole program last year myself - the lectures, the practice exercises, quizzes, labs, tests, everything. The students taking Anatomy have to take the exam at the University in May, so the time is running out. So what did I do? In addition to my own preparations, I ran to all the rooms in which he teaches (we all travel from room to room through the day) and put the PPt on the computer so the sub could click through the slides - at least students would get all necessary notes. My colleague seems to be grateful but the students still lose. The supervisor who sees me running like a chicken with the head cut off is aware of the situation, but I don't know if anything will be done...

2) Policy of payouts - with everything I said above, I would really mind if they (given Christy's war on teachers) will take away the banking of the sick days and end-of career payouts. Even if I don't use the sick days (and as I usually do, allow myself to collapse only during school breaks), they give me a peace of mind.


Anonymous said...

Huh, I couldn't even spell the name of our governor right... Speaks volume about how much thought I give him...


SteveH said...

Hmmm. Hit a nerve.

Teachers need to be very careful when they compare themselves to presumably comparable professionals out in industry. You won't get a lot of sympathy, especially when the substitute issue is not resolved. How many real days of teaching does my son get a year, 170?

Jen said...

Hit a nerve? LOL, I think anytime you paint a whole profession with a "my son's teacher" (doctor, dentist, coach, bus driver) brush you're likely to get a response!

*Don't mix up issues. What I see happening with my son is not acceptable. It's especially annoying with the level of expectations placed on him when it comes to deadlines and missed classes. *

I'd agree with you here -- and that your issue is with your teacher and your school's administration. I'd address it. It's not fun to do, but it's more effective than a blog post. Go and ask -- why is it that my kid has no leeway, yet the instruction part has all this leeway? What are your school policies? What can you as administrator do to insure that my child is being taught or at least has productive work to do?

Going in with another parent or two is also good -- and if you can stay on message, rather than each parent having their own issues, that's a good sign that you've hit upon a more systemic issue.

Anonymous said...

A few points...

1. In my district, teachers also get 10 sick and 4 personal days. Most teachers try to accumulate days as a form of disability insurance. (Once you have enough days in the bank, you can change to a longer "elimination period" on your disability insurance and thus lower your premium.) But at retirement, the accumulated days are not paid at current salary levels. I think they are paid at $60 each. That's less than what a sub costs,so the district is coming out ahead. And there is talk about capping the maximum payout.

2. At the high school level, you are NEVER going to have subs who will be able to teach the content. I see it as part of my job to design useful productive work for when I am absent so that we continue to march through the curriculum.

3. I don't think you would be as upset if it weren't for the fact that this particular teacher is an arrogant jerk. I can't believe his administrators allow him to require after-school meetings to get the normal ordinary feedback that is part of any rational description of a teacher's job.

SteveH said...

"I think anytime you paint a whole profession with a "my son's teacher""

That wasn't my only data point. Yes, it IS a problem with the whole profession that nobody argues doesn't exist. I was surprised that some teachers immediately got defensive. This is a systemic problem. Schools apparently don't think the problem is that bad.

"It's not fun to do, but it's more effective than a blog post."

I've done both on various issues. That should be clear from my posts over the years. The school just points to the policy and contract. It doesn't mean that they provide an effective solution. I'm tired of people putting the onus on parents for what are obviously systemic problems. What is it that Catherine used to say when she would complain? The school would say that she was the only one to complain. It's divide and conquer.

Schools know that this is a problem, but they seem more responsive to the union than parents. What leverage do parents have? ... especially when schools and teachers can take it out on the kids. Our high school has a very specific and formal complaint process, and if that complaint involves a particular teacher, it's a BIG deal. Don't tell me that there isn't a big risk of retaliation against my son. If I make a general complaint about substitutes, how on earth would that be news to them? "Oh, gosh, I didn't realize that it was such a problem!" "We better fix the contract because parents are complaining."

This isn't just about his English teacher. I can't tell you how many times he told me he had a substitute. They do nothing in those classes.

"I can't believe his administrators allow him to require after-school meetings to get the normal ordinary feedback that is part of any rational description of a teacher's job."

He's been getting away with this for ages. I wrote an email to the head of curriculum on this specific issue and got no response. This is not just about this teacher. This is just another example of how schools are not responsive to parents.

In middle school, I complained about how work gets put into portfolios never to come home. I was told that I could make appointments with each teacher to come in after school to view the portfolio. They expect parents to do this with 5 different teachers on a regular basis. The lack of response to issues raised by parents is a huge systemic problem.

Don't place the onus on parents and don't tell me that I'm just whining. I'm really, really tired of schools trying to put parents and kids on the defensive when they have no choice.