Teacher absences take a toll on South students

By Ilana Sivachenko
Published: May 2009

After last year’s budget cuts, substitute teachers have become scarce at Newton South, causing some students to have free blocks or study hall periods in the lecture hall whenever a teacher is absent.

Substitutes are often available for long-term teacher absences, such as maternity leaves or family emergencies, but even then, classes are disrupted when a teacher is not able to come to school to continue the planned curriculum.

According to Principal Brian Salzer, substitute teachers are generally available for long-term absences, but not for short-term ones.

“Our standard is that if a person is going to be out for four consecutive days or more, then we try to arrange for a substitute teacher, Salzer said. These long-term substitutes are usually retirees or student teachers.

Still, Salzer said that substitute teachers are sometimes not available, even for long-term absences, which leaves students unsure of the material they are covering and often times behind schedule once the teacher either returns or a substitute is found.

“If there is a specific curriculum area and there is nobody available who is licensed to teach it, then it puts us in a really bad spot, Salzer said. “Sometimes classes have to be cancelled for a longer period of time before we can find a replacement.

Finding a substitute is not easy if the absence is unexpected.

“Sometimes [teacher absences] are unpredictable, and sometimes it’s a little more predictable, Salzer said. “Obviously, absences interrupt the lesson, the curriculum, and the activities.

This is especially difficult for students who are preparing for a test or struggling with a particularly challenging part of the curriculum.

Even if a substitute teacher is specialized in that subject, it can interrupt the flow of the class when the regular teacher is absent.

“Some students feel that they are being shortchanged, Salzer said. “They are trying to prepare for an SAT or an AP exam, and a change in teacher is a change in teaching style and expectations, and it really throws them off.
English teacher Joseph Scozzaro, who teaches junior and sophomore classes, plans to go on paternity leave in the beginning of June, right around the time that his class would be beginning to review for final exams.

The impending leave is stressful for Scozzaro’s students, but is also quite stressful for Scozzaro. He intends to “plan a way to fairly end the year for all his classes. Even so, Scozzaro is not discouraged and promises that all of his students will be in good hands to finish off the year.

“I have great colleagues who I can depend on in my absence, Scozzaro said.

Alex Orrick, a junior in Scozzaro’s class, is unsure whether her class will have a final in June. “I think it would be unfair to have the substitute review with us during review week and then take a final, she said.

Julia Mandehr, also in one of Scozzaro’s junior English classes, says that she doesn’t want to have a substitute, but says that if that is the situation, she hopes to be graded the same by the new teacher, whoever it may be.

“I think it will be an unfulfilling end to the year, Mandehr said, “I just don’t want to be rushed to do my final project before he leaves.

Because the junior curriculum involved a lot of writing and discussion, Scozzaro plans not to give a final to his junior classes. Instead, he is planning to assign his junior classes a project with a potential accompanying paper.
Scozzaro’s sophomores are still anticipating a final due to their broad and full curriculum.

Teachers are responsible for the education of every student who enters their class, but this should not be at the cost of their own personal lives.

Unfortunately, when teachers are absent, the progress of the class may be halted. Teachers, like everyone, are entitled to time to take care of themselves and their families.

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