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Shortage of substitute teachers hits hard

Chicago principals say they are struggling with a severe lack of substitute teachers, spending hours a day finding substitutes or teaching themselves – even having to leave aides in charge of classes.

Several principals contacted by Catalyst Chicago say the district’s substitute center rarely, if ever, provides them with substitutes, even when requests are sent in several days in advance. The problems started in spring 2012, principals say, but got worse during this winter’s massive flu outbreak.

In November, Catalyst filed an open records law request with CPS for data including teacher absences, substitute teacher spending by school, and the steps the district is taking to reduce teacher absences. Last Thursday, the district said it could not fulfill the request because it was “unduly burdensome” and would require more than 40 hours of work to collect the data.

Another factor contributing to the shortage could be new restrictions on teachers’ ability to get paid for unused sick days. That could mean more teachers who are sick are staying home, rather than coming to work in hopes of getting money for unused sick days later.

“Every day we are without subs and we are plugging the holes [by] pulling people off schedules,” said another principal, Tamara Witzl of Telpochcalli Elementary. When the special education teacher must cover classes, students do not get their mandated services. When the world language teacher gets sub duty, students skip that class.

Witzl says she tries to book substitutes she knows in advance, but that it’s hard because they are in such great demand.

“The amount of time I am spending either plugging the holes or tag-teaming can be between an hour and two hours, almost every single day,” Witzl says. “It is extremely stressful. Day-to-day operations are being disrupted. We don’t have any subs coming out to the schools, and we don’t know why.”

One issue could be a district rule that, starting in 2010, required substitute teachers to have teaching certificates “to alleviate concerns from principals regarding sub quality,” says CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler. But, she says, existing subs were grandfathered in.

The district has roughly 3,000 substitutes, Ziegler says, including 600 that were hired in August – but CPS is trying to find “several hundred more” through job fairs and outreach to retirees.

Chicago’s substitutes are spread more thinly than those in Los Angeles, another large urban district. According to state teacher service records, Chicago has roughly 17,500 classroom teachers, or about 5.8 teachers for every substitute. Los Angeles, by comparison, has 4.6 classroom teachers per sub.

Several studies done in the 1990s and early 2000s suggest that nationally, about 5 percent of teachers are absent each school day. This would suggest CPS would need at least 1,260 substitutes each day, but that number doesn’t include substitutes who are used when teachers are released from class due to professional development and testing.

Also, teacher absenteeism can be higher in high-poverty schools like many of those in CPS. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, 15.5 percent of CPS teachers missed 10 or more school days in 2008-09, the most recent year for which data was available.

“We hope that as the flu outbreak diminishes, absenteeism due to illness will also diminish,” Ziegler says.

Head teacher Marta Moya-Leang, the only administrator at Belmont Cragin Early Childhood Center, said the shortage has been particularly hard on her school.

“There was one time we had four teachers out. I can only go into one classroom [at a time],” she points out. “We have relied on the teacher assistants and the parents to help, and that’s not good.”

But Peck Elementary Principal Okab Hassan, a veteran, says that he has learned he has to fend for himself as far as substitutes are concerned.

“If I waited for the district, they would never do anything,” Hassan says. “When we have a sub that is good, we keep them in the file. I am not going to depend on anybody to make my school run.”


Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago


The substitute problem will only get worse in the next few years as teachers max out on the 40 sick days they can accumulate, and begin taking those 10 per year they will lose if not used. What incentive is there NOT to take them? Why should teachers give them up for free to CPS in June?
This also affects retiring teachers , who also cannot cash out the sick days earned after July 2012 and must use them before retirement.
DId CPS think of any of this ahead of time before insisting on these new rules from CTU ?

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

No subs interferes with REACH teacher evaluations

Because of the lack of subs, principals are doing recess and covering classes and NOT getting into the classrooms to evaluate teachers.

FormerPAL wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

I agree with Mr. Hassan. Any

I agree with Mr. Hassan. Any principal worth his salt develops a list if reliable subs on his own that he can call on short notice. This is a challenge, to be sure, with larger buildings. Perhaps CPS should consider raising the rate of pay for subs by $10 or $15 a day. Could attract more consistent participation.

Grandma wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

No Substitute Teacher Available

My normal practice when my son was in kindergarten was to stand on the schoolyard until the teacher came to the door and asked the children to line up to go in. However, on one particular day, the teacher was obviously not at school yet. The Principal saw me with the students as I walked them into the class. This was a very diverse student population of students and I'm African American. The Principal could clearly see that the teacher was missing and it didn't seem to phase her that I was in control of her class, not a sub.. She even came in and watched me instruct the children to hang up their coats and sit down as I stood in front of the class. The children never asked where their teacher was. They were too busy smiling at me. The Principal never told me if the teacher was absent or just late. When the Principal noticed that the students were obeying me, she quickly left the room. The other kindergarten teacher new me and stuck her head in to say good morning and left to start her day with her class. Funny, everybody new I was not a teacher and didn't seem to mind my filling in. After I had the students take their seats I began to talk to the class and they seemed to enjoy the conversation. Then finally the teacher arrived and was in no hurry to take over ther class. She actually treated me like I was a substitue teacher and went to get coffee to get coffee. Pretty funny right.?? I had the feeling that the Principal would have allowed me to babysit the class for the entire day, if the teacher was actually absent for the day. She obviously could see that I was enjoying the the experience and the teachers, staff and parents already new me. Parents would referr to me as the mom who watched everyone's kids every morning before school. Interesting story isn't it. It was also funny that everyone assumed that I had nothing else to do as I work from home!

Northside wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

principal got you coffee?

OMG that is a miracle!!!

Northside wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago


I don't agree what you say about principals. why do want to create more dog eat dog tactics in the schools? subs should be a available without the "intrigue"....and this is the system that is making evaluations for teeachers more restricitve? They want perfection from teachers....but it's ok if they let everything else go to heck! Closing schools, reach evalauations, its insane they are the ones that judge us!

John Ross wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Parent Meetings

Principals should not degrade teachers they have caused to lose their jobs in front of parents by telling them that they got ride of old lazy teachers. Especially when their schools are on probation max. Especially when their school has been on probation under their watch. A smart Principal would realize that 1 or 2 teachers did not take the school down. When schools were going on probation maybe some Principals got rid of the wrong teachers. A lot of them kept their family and friends and that is how a lot of schools are going down. Going down for low performance and poor Principal performance and poor relations with the parents. So parents be smart and realize the real reason your school is on probation. And now you even have certain LSCs trying to save disfunctional Principals.

Mark123 wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Opportunity for more parent involvement

If CPS would just relax the restrictions on parent volunteers, there could be more opportunities for parents to help cover some of the substitute shortfall. Even today it is too burdensome for most parents to obtain all the clearance paperwork and TB testing to meaningfully contribute time. Most parents I know would volunteer on an unpaid basis if only they were more welcomed in schools and treated with more respect.

Arthur Rich wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Principal Evaluation

Hopefully these Principal evaluations will shore up the need for new Principals and Assistant Principals at a lot of these school. The schools cannot continue too be low performing and on probation Level3. Where does this prove that the children are learning at that school? All of the students in Chicago deserve the best. High performing Principals and their assistant

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago


Principals can develop a list and still not get who they want. Subs are controlled by central office.

helenkeller wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

I am laughing at yet another

I am laughing at yet another CPS lie, because I know retirees who signed up to sub a year ago and still have not been processed by sub center/HR. The principals of these retirees have asked them to come back and sub but cannot get CO to move off their butts to get them processed. CPS is telling recent retirees that they will have to pay for drug testing, a TB test and a background check in order to sub-very insulting to people who dedicated 20, 30, or 40 years to CPS.

I can't help but wonder if this is on purpose.....I am wondering this because it is so easily remedied....

Sarah wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

sick days

When talking about unused sick days, the first commenter above asked "What incentive is there NOT to take them?" The incentive is: you're not sick and you want to teach your kids. This is true for most teachers I know. They don't just take sick days because they are there - they take them when they really need them. Anyone who cares about teaching knows that a day away from your students is very disruptive; we don't want to take sick days if we don't have to.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Background tests

If someone gave 20, 30, or 40 years to CPS when do you think was the last time they had a background check? NOBODY should be hired to work with children without a background check regardless of their previous experience. In addition, there are plenty of retirees who should not be placed back into a classroom and had they not been protected by the CTU would have been fired. As a parent I'm glad CPS is putting safety measures in place and not just hiring people to be warm bodies in a classroom.

helenkeller wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Reading the News

Jeez, I just read the newspaper and I didn't see any retired teachers who have been accused of rape, murder or thuggin'-so you think that teachers convicted of felonies were somehow allowed to stay in CPS and then retired?

The privatized janitorial system DOES NOT have the same background checks as CPS employees. We are taking the word of the company that they have been checked-how? with or without fingerprinting?-checked in Illinois or nationwide? (Remember the bus driver scandal-supposedly they all had background checks .....)You don't know and neither do I but they're watching your child during lunch-yes in some schools the janitors are supervising the children. But CPS is not worried about this even though the teachers have brought it up instead they are worried about their retirees! BTW poor teachers are kept by principals who do not evaluate competently not CTU....

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

We welcome parents, but I must disagree with Mark123 on the

background check--this must be done for the safety of the students as well as for the staff, for those who wish to volunteer at the school. In this day and age, the check and the test must be done. Any employee at a CPS schools or vendor, who works in a school, goes through the same. As for being more welcomed and respected, that takes no test or check. If you are not treated appropriately, reach out to the assistant or principal. However, please, be sure your behavior was appropriate in the school or with the students or teachers, before you make a complaint.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago


Vendors and volunteers are not screened, nor are "visiting artists". I know of a very good tier 1 school that has all 3 of the above "teaching" full clasrooms with no education degrees or background checks. Don't be nieve, the sub crisis was planned all along. Make the teachers look bad if they have to take a day off. It's all out of central office. What this mayor and his posse is doing to good families is a sin!!!

Grandma wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Teahers Please have a career talk with the high school Students

Not to change the subject, but educators need to share with high school students who do not intend to pursue college, the peasant lifestyle that may be in store for them.
"According to a New York Times article on February 19, 2013 by Catherine Rampbell, a job as a file clerk requires a college degree now. “This prerequisite applies to everyone, including the receptionist, paralegals, administrative assistants and file clerks. Even the office “runner” — the in-house courier who, for $10 an hour, ferries documents back and forth between the courthouse and the office — went to a four-year school. “
“This up-credentialing is pushing the less educated even further down the food chain.”
“College graduates are just more career-oriented… They’re not just looking for a paycheck.”"

Where kind of live will non-college grads live in the future??? Will fast-foods restaurants also require a degree too? Maybe!

Grandma wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Teachers please have a career talk with the high school students

Correction: What kind of life will non-college grads live in the future???

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

college degree

They are important ......but i know some successful people without them too

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago


THey used to say mama dont let your son grow up to be a cowboy...i say mama dont let your sons and daughters grow up to be a teacher

Rod Estvan wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Amazing comment by Telpochcalli Elementary principal

While many of us know that schools have required special education resource teachers to cover regular education classrooms or self contained sped classrooms in certain situations it has rarely been admitted publicly by a CPS administrator. It was amazing to read the principal admitting this.

Rod Estvan

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Subbing Sucks!!

If they would offer subs a chance to get health care, more people would sign up. I spent the last 2 years subbing and my days had no breaks except for lunch. I was covering 6 classes a day and lunchroom duty. Rarely was there a lesson plan or any indication of what the kids were working on. I got no help whatsoever from my fellow teachers. At some schools the situations became dangerous for me and the kids. Subs get no help and no respect. I had an old and I mean old principal screaming at me because my room was noisy. Instead of helping she wrote a nasty letter to sub center. Rita at sub center is a doll and told me those letters dod'nt mean a thing. Another school I had 8 th grade girls giving gang signals and wearing gang colors. When I told the office I was told there were no gangs at their school... Yeah right, your in North Lawndale and you have no gangs... That's a laugh. There are no subs cause Subbing Sucks!!!

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Agreed Ron--esecially admitting it on the record

She is a caring and dedicated principal--I am a colleague. CPS has a way of punishing one for honesty; practicing no good deed going unpunished.

Mark123 wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

RE: comment #15

Well in my case the disrespect comes from the AP and P! I am not suggesting doing away with a background check. But we all know CPS takes months to approve these. And if I understand correctly the real issue why a parent cannot sub is because they are not A) a CPS employee and B) don't have teaching credentials. If you keep the background check in place (but get rid of the TB test, which is onerous) and simply relax the latter two criteria in cases of emergency / lack of regular subs, it may at least be a stopgap measure.

northside wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago


I agree ...i am a regular teacher, but i seen this arrogant attitude and superior attitude towards subs, aids etc. Usually from the supposedly superior teachers...the lack of humanity from teachers and principals at cps makes me sad. Honestly, can you really love children if you disrespect other adults you consider below you.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

I think you're absolutely

I think you're absolutely right about having everyone that's going to be around children get a background. Sadly, though,some CPS schools are so poorly managed that they don't even bother to ask volunteers to go and sign in at the office. I'm speaking from experience from when I volunteered at a Chicago elementary school on the southwest area. Before the school year began, I spoke to both the principal and teacher from the classroom I intended to volunteer in and both told me that I didn't need to worry about anything (at the time I wasn't aware of any volunteer packet that I needed to complete all I thought I had to do was sign in and report to someone). Well, one day in October, I show up to the school close to 2:00 in the afternoon. I thought to myself, well, I should go to the office to let them know which classroom I was going to and why was I there. When I told one of the assistants at the main office that I was there to volunteer and asked if I needed to sign in somewhere, she just gave me a dumbfounded stare. The woman acted like she didn't know what a volunteer was and both her and her gal pal never mentioned anything about a visitor's pass, volunteer packet, or anything. The only "bright" thing one of them said was that I needed a tb test in order to volunteer which, by that time, I'd already received my results. To wrap things up, yes, I approve of background checks, but, CPS #1 make sure everyone gets them. No one should be the exception and #2 make sure you train your employees about volunteer passes and packets because, sometimes, they can't even figure out where the sign-in log is at

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

volunteer mess

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the disorganization that is CPS. Yes the same ones that somehow think they are able to judge others in the nitpicking new evaluation system better known as REACH. It's really a joke. All the change and disorganization, and they want perfection from their teachers. Can't even produce a Common Core Guide on the CPS website, yet we are being judged to the smallest detail....Its madness at that place. Luckily I have nice students and mostly nice teachers. Otherwise, I wouldn't make it through a day at CPS.....It's like a mental institution....honestly.....and always has been. However, now it is run by arrogant charlatans....and this makes it all the harder

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Sick Days

I agree that most teachers do not want to use sick days for no reason at all. But the point of the 1st comment was that the new policy is USE them or LOSE them. It is not fair to ask people to show their dedication to children by having good attendance, then giving them no compensation for that good attendance and on top of it, taking their sick days away. 10 sick days is the equivalent of a full paycheck - this is not small change we are talking about.

Danny wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Sick Days are for When you are Sick

Insurance policies give one peace of mind in the event that some covered loss occurs, still people hope they never have to *use* their insurance. It is better not to need it.

In the same way, sick days are there for us when we really need them and would otherwise lose pay for missing a day of work. Likewise, one hopes one does not *need* to use the sick days.

I understand that teachers have gotten used to the benefit of accruing unused sick days to be paid out at the time they retire. But that's not how the rest of the workforce is treated, and this is a losing PR battle.

OTOH, personal benefit days are indeed "Use or Lose." I will certainly be taking all three days each and every year and CPS will just have to find a substitute teacher for those days.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

One Small Difference, Danny

I was in total agreement with Danny until he mentioned we are going to lose the PR battle unless our sick day benefits look like those of the rest of the workforce. In reality, there are few professionals in the larger workforce who absolutely have to be replaced by a substitute worker on a given day. In that sense, teaching is quite different from most professions where staying home for a day due to illness would not dictate the necessity of bringing in a substitute. It makes sense that a unique sick day plan be implemented.

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