Niles West Experiences Shortage of Substitute Teachers


By Grace Geraghty, Editor in Chief

In recent weeks, it has become increasingly apparent that Niles West, like the rest of Illinois, is suffering from a shortage of substitute teachers.

The problem has developed to the extent that students have reported having classes where a substitute did not show up. Other students have complained of accomplishing little to nothing during class periods supervised by subs.

“When we have subs in class, we don’t get a lot done, mainly because the sub just lets us do whatever we want. If anything, the whole class is disruptive and any tasks that are given, nobody does them because the teacher isn’t there to actually enforce things,” senior Kristos Wasouf said. “There have been classes where subs don’t even show up, and somebody has to go down to the office to see if a sub is going to come to class at all.”

Since the start of the current school year, there have been multiple days with a discrepancy between the number of substitutes requested and the number of available substitutes. According to district records, one such day was Oct. 27; 5o  staff members at Niles West required a sub, yet only 35 subs worked.

According to substitute coordinator Martha Bermeo, posted absences that aren’t picked up are covered by adding more classes to teachers’ or other substitutes’ schedules. Substitutes can view and sign up for posted positions through an online platform.

“[If the position is unfilled], I go through everybody’s schedule, and I have subs that I can actually use for three different teachers because these are small [sub requests],” Bermeo said. “Subs can [work] up to seven periods, and that includes homeroom. Normally, all teachers have five periods, some teachers have six. No one can go over seven periods.”

This discrepancy between the number of teachers who request a sub and the number of subs who cover classes was not unique to Oct. 27. On Sept. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, Oct. 2 and 6, and Nov. 6, there were also more subs requested than were available to work. However, subs can cover for more than one teacher each day.

“There are days that are very busy days; like Fridays tend to be very busy, where we get near the bottom of our sub pool and we deplete our available sub pool, and then that becomes an issue. It becomes problematic, and then we have teachers sub classes,” assistant principal of operations Mark Rigby said. “The numbers of absent staff are not going to exactly correspond because we use subs, and we mix and match. It will sometimes say like 40 people are out, and we only have 32 subs; it’s because subs can work up to seven periods a day, normal staff only work five.”

Staff can be absent from school due to personal illness, family illness, professional development obligations, attending special education meetings, and bereavement.

“I wish there was one reason for [the sub shortage] where there could be a technical fix, but a lot of times when you see subs, it’s due to sickness for self, sickness for someone in the family, care for someone else. A lot of our staff engages in professional development where they’re at conferences or working with teams,” principal Jason Ness said. “There’s kind of an ebb and flow. There are periods of time in the school year where it’s pretty consistent, and then there are certain days where it spikes.”

Beyond that, the newly-noticeable problem regarding the lack of subs is leading many to question the causes of the shortage. Social Studies teacher Shaun Waldron speculates on the shortage from an economic perspective.

“In economics, usually when the quantity demanded does not equal the quantity supplied, then you have a shortage. And I was curious to know if that was the problem here [with substitutes at Niles West]; if it was a pricing issue or if there was some other market issue that we were facing here,” Waldron explained. “So, is the district not offering enough money so we just don’t have a large enough pool of subs? Or is there something about working here that is less attractive than something else? Usually, when you have distortion in the market, there’s something that’s driving that.”

In the eyes of cadre sub Lisa Silverman, it may just be both those things: lack of benefits and poor pay for daily subs coupled with a less desirable work environment due to growing levels of disrespect by students.

“Subs are day-to-day, and they only get a flat rate, which is then taxed, so it’s not a lot of money,”  Silverman said. “I don’t think subs are paid enough; they’re lowest on the totem pole. If you don’t pay people enough, people won’t want to sub.”

Besides the issue of money, daily subs do not receive health benefits and some find the environment objectionable due to students’ behavior.

“When there’s a clown in the class, I’m not gonna tolerate it. And it gets really hard, it’s getting more and more challenging to manage the students. And a lot of people don’t want to put up with this,” Silverman said. “There’s been an increase in disrespect from the students, and it’s getting harder and harder as society changes. There’s a lot of disrespect. I come in and I think, ‘you’re gonna do that job’; other subs, get walked over. That’s why people don’t come back. Because if that’s how students behave, why should I sit in a classroom with you?”

The disrespect subs often experience is something that can be confirmed by students.

“I’ve seen Snapchat stories of people posting of subs and making fun of them in classes, but personally, [students are not disrespectful] in my classes,” Wasouf said.

The situation for subs is so dire, according to Silverman, that if she was not a salaried cadre sub, she says she would not work as a day-to-day sub for the district.

As a cadre sub, Silverman is a salaried worker with the district who receives benefits; she is the first to fill in for an absent teacher, meaning she works full days, every day. In the past few years, the district has reduced cadre sub positions. Whereas there used to be one cadre per department, there are now only two; Silverman in general education and another cadre sub in the special education department.

In addition, our district faces tough competition from surrounding schools when it comes to attracting subs.

“We have surrounding schools that pay subs more,” Silverman said. “Evanston, they pay higher; Chicago pays higher. So we’ve lost subs that way.”

Mark Rigby confirmed that district 219 is not at the top of the list for highest paying districts when it comes to substitute teachers.

“About two years ago, they raised our sub pay. I will say we’re getting close to being comparable, but we are not there yet. It helps if our sub pay is comparable to other districts, so then people don’t have to make that choice,” Rigby said. “We don’t want to lose subs from our sub pool; we need as many subs as we can get. So, if we’re not comparable, it does make it tougher for us to get more subs here.”

Unfortunately, it is students who are feeling the effects of district’s decisions regarding substitutes. Substitute teachers are responsible for students’ education, however temporarily.

“Some [subs] just don’t want to teach. They just show laziness sometimes, and we fall way behind because they don’t want to do anything,” sophomore Rachel Perez said.