What’s It Like To Be A Sub?

Being a substitute teacher at Pulaski County Special School District boils down to one thing – you are a per-diem employee that can be dismissed at any time for any reason.  However, given that there are so few substitutes available, most schools simply ban bad substitutes – it’s rare that you hear of one get totally dismissed from the entire system.


The system is simple enough.  Of the five-dozen schools in Pulaski County Special School District, one chooses where one wants to work, and can schedule it through an online system.  After I started in January and had worked almost every day for a month, I started to get calls from schools/teachers asking me to specifically come there and work.  Once that happens, one can be particular about where they work, and it’s no secret that the only four places I worked since February were Robinson/Maumelle Middle/High Schools.


That having been said, substitutes are at the lowest rung of the ladder.  The absolute bottom of the totem pole.  The part sticking into the ground that no one really notices or cares about, but would collapse without.  A substitute makes, at most, $105/day, if they have a teaching certificate and are substituting every day for an extended period of time (Pulaski County Special School District hates the words “long term sub”).  Most subs make what boils down to between $7.85-10.71 per hour to watch up to fifty kids in a class period, depending on the day.


That portion of the substituting system, the administration/teachers know and understand.  Subs aren’t paid jack, and they are often profoundly under-qualified to teach, which basically means most of them do the bare minimum to not get dismissed from a school.  The one’s I’ve seen get asked to leave are ones who left work an hour or two early and then lied about it, or sat in the back of class on their phones and wrote up kids for getting up and sharpening their pencil without asking (I’ve seen kids in high school get written up for eating a breath mint) until, after a few weeks, the school blacklisted them and they became someone else’s problem.


The kids are simply aware of virtually every substitute teacher’s lack of qualifications, and students do everything they can to test the little qualifications substitutes have.  For most, this results in calls for security and referrals to the office.  I doubt there are more than a half-dozen students in the whole district that have a referral with my name on it.  No one whines to me about writing them up – they whine to me about me getting them written up – because I practice a time-honored tradition: writing notes to teachers.


I am a believer, despite my getting paid around the same as a gas station attendant, to do a professional job at whatever it is I’m doing.  So, I leave as detailed of notes as I can, especially if they leave detailed instructions on how to keep their classroom.  I don’t always follow the entire plan they have set, but if I deviate significantly, I let them know.  For example, if they note that no one can leave the room, and I have a student doing “the pee-pee dance,” what do I do?  I let them go.  And I mark their name and times in/out of the door in with the rest of my classroom notes.


There is a good reason for this.  Remember what I said about most subs just writing referrals?  Well, the office gets sick of seeing those.  Referrals from substitutes almost always result in warnings.  Because of this, I just stopped writing them – I haven’t written a kid up in months.  I much prefer detailing it in more detail than I can on a referral and making the kid’s life miserable when the teacher gets back.  When all a sub does is write referrals (which is all most of them do), they don’t get taken seriously by anyone, because there’s no proof they did any work beyond writing tickets all day based in judgment no one can assess.


The obvious benefit for me is that, by leaving my number at the bottom, I work as much as I want.  Outside of a select few faculty who have a clear dislike of me (don’t worry – I’ll get to you in another blog), I have a pretty good reputation among students, teachers, and administrators.  I make it obvious I care by doing things other subs don’t do.  Like showing up on time for work.  Or just how my name “gets around” without The Office having ever seen it on a referral (as opposed to those whose names do not get around and are never on referrals – those are the ones letting kids just run amok).


At the end of the day, any day could be your last.  I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous stuff this last semester, and I’ve had to hold off in sharing it for the simple reason that I don’t know what might get me dismissed from this job.  There are no real criteria.  There is no union protection.  Pay $75 for the privilege of teaching as Pulaski County Special School District and do your best to not quit or get fired: that is the long-and-short of the job.

One thought on “What’s It Like To Be A Sub?

  1. I understand, but I only get $55 per day, except when I sub for a para!! The kids really get over on me because I am a sub and not a teacher! If it wasn’t for the retirement that they put in for us it would not be worth it. I subbed 2009/2010 and I’m back this year, but only elementary, not middle school which I did last time! Some people can really get students to mind, but I have to take names and tell them they will get a bad report, and sometimes I don’t even know there names unless they sit where they are suppose to sit. They lie about there name and dare their classmates not to tell! What a group of kids our society has raised!

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