J2 Content – Perspectives

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A Most unScientific Study: Substitute Teacher Movie Days

We conducted an informal survey of 3 children in Grades 1 and 2 from two different school districts. All three of them reported watching a movie in school the last time they had a substitute teacher in class. Further investigation revealed some distressing data, even when taken with a grain of salt in that these “facts” were provided by young children.

  • All three children reported having worked with substitute teachers on 10 or more days this year. This does include substitutes filling in for teachers other than their primary instructors (art, music, physical education, and others).
  • Two of the children each reported at least one instance where part of the day that their permanent teacher returned was spent allowing the class to “finish the movie.”
  • None of the children felt the movies they watched should be described as “educational.” No Donald Duck in Mathland, no Phantom Tollbooth, no movie versions of a book they were reading in class at the time, no old VHS copies of Square One or 3-2-1 Contact, not even Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer were reported as having been watched. The list of movies watched included Horton Hears a Who (the Jim Carrey version), Beauty and the Beast, Cars, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., and two episodes of Sponge Bob Square Pants.
  • All three children each reported that their classrooms contained televisions hooked up to computers and that they had previously watched academic video streamed from the pc to the screen by their permanent teachers.
  • Two of the three students have more than one permanent teacher in their classroom on a daily basis.

We recognize that it is often difficult for a substitute teacher to maintain the flow of the permanent teacher’s instruction. However, we are not talking about asking a retired electrician to fill in for an Advanced Placement Calculus class (which we would contend could still be a productive day for those students).

Our unscientific study reveals an unfortunate waste of fairly limited class time,  and we can see how this sets up expectations on the part of the students for unproductive days with substitute teachers in the future.

What experiences have you or your children had with substitute teachers?  Please share them below.

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One Response to “A Most unScientific Study: Substitute Teacher Movie Days”


  1. Susan
    on Mar 14th, 2011
    @ 5:19 pm

    The other day my daughter (8th grade) informed me that she had a sub but the sub didn’t show up so they were actually left unsupervised during class. A teacher from the adjacent room checked in on them from time to time. And what did they do? Nothing. They were told to read or do study hall.

    My daughter then said she and a friend were dismissed from PE the same day to help out in the “teacher-less” class (now populated with 6th and 7th graders). By then the school had set up a ‘movie’ for the students to watch, which had nothing to do with the subject.

    Apparently the school feels my 8th grader and her friend are able to supervise a class of 6th and 7th graders on their own…

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