WANTED: Substitute Teachers… But Where Are They?


You hear the bell ring, signaling the start of a new class period at Chelsea High School. You’re on time, thank goodness, and you’ve got your books, pencil, and iPad at the ready. The teacher hasn’t shown up yet, which is a little weird, but you think nothing of it at first. You check your phone to see if your friend has replied to your most recent Snap. A couple of minutes pass as you scroll through your Instagram feed, and still no teacher. 

Okay, things are definitely getting weird. Normally your teacher is already sitting at their desk before the start of class, but there’s no sign of them five minutes into the hour. Ten more minutes pass, and still no teacher. Everyone’s either started getting rowdy and hanging out with their friends in unassigned seats or on their phones ignoring each other. 

A student volunteers to run to the office and they come back with the vice principal and confirm that your teacher is out sick, and the substitute called in to cancel at the very last minute. Whether this story sounds familiar to you by first or second-hand information, one thing’s for certain: substitute teachers seem to be disappearing out of nowhere.

“One time, my sub canceled at three-fifteen in the morning,” said Foods and Nutrition teacher Martha Waldo. “Other regular staff members had to fill in for me. I felt bad for my peers that suddenly had to fill in for me because that took away their planning period.”

Many substitute teachers don’t come in simply because they already had plans for the day (such as another job) and were called at seven in the morning by the school admin to ask if they could come in.

“Most subs have a social life or children they need to take care of,” an anonymous student, whose parent is a substitute teacher, said. “They also can get mentally drained after a hard class when students don’t listen to them.”

Sometimes it’s not the subs’ responsibility at all. Oftentimes, teachers cancel at the last minute due to emergencies and leave the substitute scrambling to get to the classroom from another assignment.

“Sometimes they don’t tell me where I’m going until the last minute,” one regular substitute teacher said. “They’ll have me on potential standby and have one less regular sub scheduled for a class when they know the teacher isn’t going to be there, but sometimes they have another more important class they have to take over and I have to run up to fill in for them.”

Many other schools besides Chelsea also are running into substitute teacher shortages for different reasons. Many other schools’ subs are disappearing because of low wages. According to Indeed.com, the average pay for an entry-level substitute teacher at Dexter Community Schools is $111 per day, which is 15% below the national average. At Chelsea School District, the average pay for a substitute teacher is $112 per day, which is nearly the same as Dexter’s. For larger schools like Ann Arbor, however, wages are around $129, which is the national average. 

Perhaps substitutes are tired of being underpaid and going to work for Ann Arbor? Or maybe they’re sick of having to be called in at the last minute forcing them to cancel all their plans? It’s hard to say. One thing’s for certain: it’s a problem that needs to be solved.