Nearly everyday I get to school only to be confronted by the call-off sheets.
Pages and pages of people who aren’t coming in to work – and the substitute teachers assigned to take over their classes.
Yikes, it’s a long list today.
I see Mrs. K is still out. She was sobbing in the faculty room last week. Wonder what that was about.
Rumor has it Mr. C was rushed to the nurse to have his blood pressure taken after his face turned beet red in the middle of his last class yesterday. Not a shock that he’s missing.
And Ms. P’s out again. I can’t blame her. If one of my students attacked me, I’d have trouble coming back, too.
My eyes pour down the names of absent teachers and present substitutes only to find the one I’m dreading – my own.
I’m expected to sub for Mrs. D’s 8th period – again.
Too many kids I barely know stuffed into a tiny room. Last time there was almost a fight. Will they even listen to me this time?
I have my own classes. I shouldn’t have to do this.
But that’s exactly what’s expected of teachers these days.
If your colleagues are absent and there aren’t enough subs, you have no choice. You have to fill in somewhere.
Normally, I wouldn’t mind all that much. After all, I AM being paid for doing the extra work. But day-after-day, week-after-week, for months on end – it’s exhausting.
It’s not my responsibility to make sure every room in the building is covered.
I never applied to fix the district’s supply and demand issues.
It makes it harder to do my own work. Beyond the increased stress of being plopped into a situation you know nothing about, subbing means losing my daily 40-minute planning period.
Grading student work, crafting lessons, reading IEPs, doing paperwork, making copies, filling out behavior sheets, contacting parents, keeping up with Google Classroom and other technologies and multi-media – one period a day is not nearly enough time for it all.
Not to mention it’s my only chance outside of lunch that I can go to the bathroom.
And now I don’t even get that! If I’m going to do even the most basic things to keep my head above water, I have to find the time somewhere – usually by stealing it from my own family.
Even under normal circumstances I routinely have to do that just to get the job done. But now I have to sacrifice even more!
I’ll be honest. I often end up just putting off the most nonessential things until I get around to them.
This month, alone, I’ve only had four days I didn’t have to sub. That’s just four planning periods to get all the groundwork done – about one period a week. Not even enough time to just email parents an update on their children’s grades. So little time that yesterday when I actually had a plan, there was so much to do I nearly fell over.
When I frantically ran to the copier and miraculously found no one using it, I breathed a sigh of relief. But it turned into a cry of pain when the thing ran out of staples and jammed almost immediately.
I didn’t have time for this.
I don’t have time for things to work out perfectly!
So like most teachers after being confronted with the call-off sheet for long enough, that, itself, becomes a reason for me to call off.
I am only human.
I figure that I might be able to do my own work today, but I’m just too beat to take on anyone else’s, too.
Some days I get home from work and I have to spend an hour or two in bed before I can even move.
I’ve had more trips to the emergency room, doctor’s visits, medical procedures and new prescriptions the beginning of this year than any other time I’ve been teaching.
It’s a problem of exploitation and normalization.
Exploitation is when you treat someone unfairly for your own benefit.
Our schools have been doing that to teachers for decades – underpaying them for the high responsibilities they have, expecting each individual to do the work of multiple people and when anything goes wrong, blaming them for it.
The way we mishandle call-offs is a case in point.
When so many educators are absent each day, that’s not an accident. It’s the symptom of a problem – burn out.
We’ve relied on teachers to keep the system running for so many years, it’s about to collapse. And the pandemic has only made things worse.
We piled on so many extra duties – online teaching, hybrid learning, ever changing safety precautions – these became the proverbial straw that broke educators’ backs.
And now we’re screaming in pain and frustration that we can’t go on like this anymore. That’s what the call-off sheet means. It’s a message – a cry for help. But few administrators allow themselves to see it.
They won’t even admit there is a problem.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard principals and administrators talk about the call-off sheet like it’s an act of God or a force of nature like a flood or a tornado.
No! This wasn’t unpredictable! This didn’t just happen! It’s your fault!
If there have been a high number of call-offs nearly every day for the past few weeks, it’s not a freak of nature when it happens again today! Administrators are responsible for anticipating that and finding a solution.
This is not a situation where our school leaders are helpless.
There are things they can do to alleviate this situation – reducing nonessential tasks, eliminating unnecessary paperwork, refraining from excess staff meetings, forgoing new initiatives, letting teachers work from home on professional development days – anything to give us a break and an opportunity to heal from the years of overburdening.
These are just the short term solutions – the things that don’t require money or political will.
However, most administrators refuse to do any of it! They refuse to even admit there is a problem.
They’re happy to just let teachers keep picking up the slack.
That’s what I mean by normalization.
It’s taking a bad situation and redefining it as usual, typical and expected.
It’s like saying “This is the way things are now. This is school. This is our new baseline.”
However, it is not sustainable!
We cannot continue to apply the old model of public schooling to the problems we have today. It didn’t work before the pandemic and now it is frayed to the breaking point.
When the first wave of Covid-19 washed over us and many schools went to online learning, leaders promised we’d rebuild back better when they finally reopened.
This was the perfect chance, they said, to change, to reform the things that weren’t working and do all the positive things we’d wanted to do for years.
Even at the time I thought it was rather optimistic to the point of naivety. Time has proven me correct.
Since schools have reopened, there has been no rebuilding back better. We’ve been forced to accept things worse.
Teachers were already trickling away from the profession before Covid-19 was even discovered. Now they’re running away in droves.
Standardized tests were always poor assessments of student learning. Now we’re encouraged to spend every minute teaching to those tests to overcome the bogeyman of “learning loss.”
Poor and minority students often suffered more traumas and insecurities than their wealthier and more privileged peers. Now after as much as two years of online learning, student trauma is the norm. Kids lack the basic social skills needed to communicate without fighting and they’re taking out their frustration on their teachers.
It’s a raging dumpster fire. And few people in a position to take action have the courage to do so.
Few are even brave enough to admit the dumpster is on fire.
Teachers cannot be exploited forever.
Even we have our limits.
We want to be there for students and their families, but we can’t do that if we’re sick and suffering.
We are a renewable resource but we need renewed.
If society is not willing to do that, there will be none of us left.
The call-off sheet will stretch to the horizon and there will be no one there to take our place.
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