What’s a Substitute Teacher To Do?


I’m a substitute teacher at an area continuing education program. In addition to adult trade classes, the school program also provides special education and has a preschool and daycare. My favorite age to substitute teach is in the preschool. I love that age and, since my children are all older, it gives me a chance to act like a kid again. Children at a preschool age are very open and uninhibited. They love to role play and they love to tell you all their family stories.

Recently, I was playing in the kitchen with a preschool girl and she was sitting across the table from me. We were having tea and holding our babies when she told me that playing with the baby dolls is “just like watching the hot girls”. What? Did she just say what I think she said? I asked, “hot girls, what hot girls?” She went on to tell me it’s like the hot girls who take their clothes off in the movies her dad watches at home. Uh-oh. What do I do now? Do I change the subject? Do I run and tell the lead teacher? Obviously this child is being exposed to some type of porn. Doesn’t this border on child abuse? I’m just a substitute afterall. I’m not in this class very much. Is it my place to report this? Does being a substitute teacher make me a state mandated reporter? These were all things they never mentioned when I signed on to be a substitute.

When I worked at Head Start it was very clear what to do if we suspected abuse of any sort. There was a chain of command so to speak. Teachers could automatically take their concerns to a supervisor, who would then go to the administrators and finally a report would be made to social services by a service coordinator. Most times the person who first reported the suspected abuse gave a brief written statement and that would be the end of the issue as far as they were concerned. But in a substitute position I was clueless. So, what did I do? I briefly mentioned it to one of the teacher aides who didn’t seem to be very perturbed. I was satisfied with reporting it to a permanent staff member and felt it was just about all I could do.

4 thoughts on “What’s a Substitute Teacher To Do?

  1. Oh, no. That’s a tough one. What on earth is going on with that poor little girl?? That language: “hot girls”–she certainly wouldn’t come up with that by herself if she just happened to see it on the tv.

    A substitute certainly is in a weird position in these kinds of situations–I can’t believe that the staff member wasn’t more concerned…

  2. It depends on your State. Some states punish people criminally for failing to report child abuse. Then the question becomes–is this child abuse? That will depend soley on the criminal definition of child abuse in the State in which you live. It likely does not fall under that definintion, but might be worth checking out.

    -Murphy (former prosecutor in Texas)

  3. It was so tough when I was teaching to know that although I was bound by that law, there were kids I just knew were in terrible circumstances at home, but didn’t have a bit of proof of it, or that it didn’t fall under the criminal definition of child abuse that you mentioned. Just so heartbreaking to think of how some kids are living…

  4. I know exactly what you mean. Unfortunately these situations are becoming more and more common and society will suffer in the end. When I worked at Head Start some of the children lived in deplorable, filthy conditions with drug-addicted and abusive parents. I’ve seen cigarette burns on children. One child actually lived in a tent during the freezing winter months. When I said to her it must be very cold living like that she just replied, “oh, it’s okay, my mom gives me lots of blankets”. I reported these and other issues to my superiors, but often nothing ever came of it. It’s very disheartening. Teachers can often be the first ones to notice abuse, but if our concerns fall on deaf ears we either become numb to it or give up trying.

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