Why Teachers are Spending Their Prep Time With You

Kristen Catterson, Editor of Global

The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected yet another aspect of the currently evolving school year. Due to teachers calling in sick because of exposure or quarantining, there is a higher demand for substitute teachers. 

According to Education Week, the “filling rate,” or the rate at which substitutes can fill in for teachers, was previously 80%. However, that number has decreased to 60% or sometimes even 50%. 

Additionally, the national 2021 to 2022 school year started with many unfilled teaching positions, usually covered by long-term substitutes. Since many substitutes are filling in for the unfilled teaching positions, who covers the teachers who are gone for a day or two? Other teachers.

Specifically, in high school, teachers have been using their preparatory periods to act as substitutes for their fellow teachers. However, by trading in this time to support other classrooms, educators lose planning time for their own classes. In addition, the lack of substitutes is unfair for staff members because they lose valuable time to complete tasks such as planning lessons, grading assignments, prepping, and other essential activities.

“I teach French 1, French 2, French 3, Spanish 1, and then next year I’ll have AP French, too,” said language teacher Mrs. Perez. “So, my prep period goes by really fast. Spending that time on other things is always a really big setback because it’s not like other jobs where you can just show up. It takes a lot of preparation beforehand.”

Teachers, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, have been swamped with an overwhelming amount of necessary preparation due to a sudden change in learning formats.

“Theater takes up a huge amount of time because it isn’t just classroom-based,” said Mrs. Mistry, an English and drama teacher who faces the issue of having to plan for two drastically different subjects. “I also try to check in with other colleagues. At the moment, we’re so isolated, so sometimes I’ll stick my head in someones’ classroom or reach out to someone I haven’t talked to in a while.” Therefore, teachers are not only planning but also collaborating during this time.

Most schools will pay or provide benefits for teachers who spend their prep time with students. For example, in the William S. Hart District, educators can either choose to be compensated for the time as either pay or additional leave hours. However, receiving extra time off from campus will be more time away from students—this means teachers would spend even more time planning for the time they’re out, and the demand for substitutes could increase further.

According to the Times Herald, Michigan has seen a decrease in the number of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs. Approximately a decade ago, 23,372 teaching students were enrolled, but by 2015 that number had fallen 66 percent.

The nation is expected to reach an even worse teacher shortage in the next ten years due to a lack of benefits and low salaries. According to CNBC, “teachers make about 20% less than other college-educated workers with similar experience.” So, if substitute filling rates are already at an all-time low, and the number of educators is expected to decrease, who will be teaching incoming students in the upcoming years?