Teachers deserve better compensation for subbing


Photo by Austin Vinner.

Maps like these are posted outside the auditorium each day, telling teacherless students where to sit.

By Austin Vinner, News Editor

$15 an hour. This is the minimum wage in more than 20 states including parts of Maryland, like Montgomery County. Sadly, $15 is also the amount being offered to MCPS teachers who choose to give up free periods, usually used for lesson planning, to cover classes that don’t have subs.

The past year of transitioning back to in-person learning has presented new problems in addition to the predictable public health issues. More teachers are being forced into quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure, and substitutes are understandably hesitant to expose themselves to the crowded hallways of school buildings, causing an understaffing crisis.

To make up for this lack of substitutes, MCPS administration is offering teachers $15 to sub for other classes during their off periods. Many of the teachers who have opted to do this do not know much about the subject they are going to be teaching, and only find out they are needed as a substitute a few minutes before the period begins.

Predictably, this lack of preparation doesn’t contribute to a good learning environment, for the class with the substitute, or for the other classes that the teachers normally teach. This stems from the teacher’s practice of using off periods as planning time to prepare for their classes. When teachers are called away at the last minute to sub for random classes, they are robbed of the time that they usually use to prepare strong lessons for their students later in the day.

Sometimes, there are even miscommunications about who will be subbing for a class next, if the teacher currently subbing has their own class next period. This puts teachers in an uncomfortable position, having to decide whether to go to their own next class or wait for the next substitute to arrive, leaving their own class unattended.

Even more staggering than the haphazard organization of this system is the compensation that teachers are receiving for giving up their designated free time. They are being paid minimum wage to teach a class that they have never taught before, and then have to continue through the rest of their day without any breaks. 

Teachers have been quick to point out that while $15 is minimum wage, after taxes, they only receive about $9.25, barely enough to buy a sandwich. This has led many teachers to conclude that taking this “opportunity” isn’t worth it.

Substitute teachers are paid $18-$20 an hour to sub in MCPS and their job is arguably easier than what regular teachers are being asked to do. Substitutes are notified in advance of when they are working and are still given off periods to prepare. Despite all of this, substitutes are still refusing to work.

It doesn’t make sense that MCPS is expecting teachers to work with fewer breaks, for less money than they are offering substitutes. Teachers should at least be offered the same compensation, if not more when it’s taken into account that these teachers are essentially replacing substitutes, meaning MCPS has the money to pay them the same.

Furthermore, some teachers aren’t simply being asked to teach one class, they are asked to watch 100s of students. At WCHS many classes without teachers still are not able to get an adult to substitute for them and are asked to report to the auditorium instead of their usual classroom. This is so they can sit in a room with four or five other classes of students and be overseen by only a few teachers.

In this situation, the teachers aren’t even trying to teach students, they are acting as overqualified babysitters. This is demeaning to teachers, who are doing a job that is often trusted to teenagers, the very people they are watching, but also wastes the time of students. Students come to school to learn, not to sit in a room while adults buy time before students can go to the next period, which hopefully has a teacher who can actually teach them.

While there is no perfect solution to the understaffing crisis in MCPS, it’s clear that the 161 vacant teaching positions in the county need to be filled, and teachers who are already stretched thin shouldn’t be expected to pick up the slack.