Students continue to face repercussions from substitute shortage


Sophia Lalau

AP computer science students spend their class time in the auditorium during E block on Monday, Jan. 9.

Niamh O'Sullivan, Staff Writer

The substitute teacher shortage of the past several years continues to create challenges for students, teachers and substitutes. 

According to a Harbinger survey of 160 students conducted through Google Forms from Dec. 12 to Dec. 15, 98% of respondents say that at least one of their classes has been sent to the cafeteria this school year. Fifty-six percent said they have been sent to the cafeteria more than five times. 

Principal Sean Bevan realizes cafeteria studies in place of classes when teachers are absent can be a challenge for students and teachers. 

“It’s really hard for classroom teachers to leave behind work that requires real direct adult oversight, and ensure that that work gets done,” Bevan said.

Administrative Assistant Diane Egizi, who was previously the substitute coordinator at Algonquin, says that sending students to the cafeteria or auditorium is the last thing they want to do.

“The cafeteria is the last resort,” Egizi said. 

When classes are sent to the cafeteria, students have less individual supervision to make sure they are staying focused on their work. Thirty-eight percent of survey respondents say they get more work done in the classroom with a substitute. 

Substitute teacher Joe Bonczek, who has been a sub at ARHS for years, agrees.

“Definitely in a classroom they’re more focused on doing their work,” Bonczek said. 

Not knowing if their classroom will have coverage causes teachers to rethink or change the work they assign to their students when they are going to miss a day.

“I would probably rethink the type of assignment or activity I would assign or at least ensure it doesn’t necessitate any sort of monitoring by an adult,” English teacher Seth Czarnecki said. 

While Canvas can allow teachers to share work and substitute plans directly with their students, there are still factors that can keep the plans from being effective, such as the teacher’s ability to create and load plans that can be done autonomously, even when the teacher is potentially sick.  

“I think some of the detrimental impacts [of a substitute shortage] are mitigated by the fact that so much is available online,” Bevan said.

When she is able to plan ahead for an absence, English teacher Deborah Saltzman wants to make sure she assigns meaningful work so students can continue learning when she isn’t there.

“When I know that I’m going to be out I try to plan work that students can do that’s not going to be a waste of time, and that will move them along in my goals for the week,” Saltzman said.

When trying to figure out where classes are sent, Administrative Assistant Leah Buescher, who coordinates substitutes and classroom coverage at Algonquin, takes the lesson plan the teachers have left for their students into consideration, so that classes that need to be in a classroom with a substitute are able to continue their work. 

We do try to pay attention to things that are going on in the particular classrooms,” Buescher said. 

The Northborough-Southborough Regional School District has been working consistently to  bring more substitute teachers into the building. Director of Human Resources Heather Richards says the district has many different methods of trying to hire more substitute teachers. 

“We are trying traditional advertising methods and also… we advertise in multiple locations,” Richards said via email. “We have reached out to former employees including retirees to try to generate interest. The most powerful tool for recruitment is networking… and the message goes out weekly on the Superintendent’s memo.” 

According to Richards, some factors are simply out of the district’s control. 

Richards said the main challenge with sourcing substitutes is that the people who may be inclined to substitute typically have more employment options, including working remotely in other industries. In addition, the district often hires college students as substitutes, and declining college enrollment means there are fewer available candidates for the positions.