Too Sick to Teach? Kindergarten Teachers Must Find Own Substitutes

Problem sparks mini-war as Education Ministry and Union of Local Authorities blame each other.

Many kindergarten teachers are forced to find their own substitute when they're ill, a problem that has sparked a mini-war as the Education Ministry and Union of Local Authorities blame each other.

Despite Education Ministry regulations requiring that lists of possible substitutes be ready, thousands of kindergarten teachers are forced to show up to work ill, or recruit a friend or neighbor to stand in for them.

kindergarten teacher
Abdallah Shama

"It's a nationwide epidemic and happens at all Israel's local authorities," said one teacher who declined to be named. "The sick teacher dials 30 phone numbers from a fictitious list, and nobody cares. The supervisors say: 'We don't have personnel, no people.' And there's nothing we can do."

Lili Pokamonski, head of the kindergarten department at the Histadrut labor federation, cites "chutzpah that exists nowhere else, which puts the employee in a situation where she has to find her own substitute."

"The kindergarten teacher simply can't be responsible for who is replacing her. That's a serious risk. We've already had cases where the teacher was later sued. It could be a neighbor called in to replace her, or a friend. The lists they get are completely fictitious. Nobody checks who the substitutes are," she says.

"Anyone can enter the kindergarten, which is terrible. 'Find someone to replace you,' the teacher is told, whether she's ill, in mourning, or on her way to the hospital with her child. 'Get up and go to work,' she's told."

According the Education Ministry's regulations, "every authority that employs kindergarten teachers should put a worker in charge of replacing teachers unable to work." The rules stipulate that "a list of possible substitutes should be ready," with clear criteria determining who may fill in.

The Education Ministry says "the local authorities have the lists of substitute kindergarten teachers, not the ministry," but the Union of Local Authorities says the responsibility is the ministry's, and that such lists simply don't exist.

"There were cases where the teachers couldn't find a replacement and the supervisor insisted that it was the teacher's responsibility," Pokamonski wrote this month to the head of the Education Ministry's preschool unit.

"The responsibility to replace a teacher lies either with the supervisor or the head of the local authority's kindergarten department .... If a substitute isn't found, the kindergarten should be closed for the day."

Still, kindergarten teacher Orna Hadar, who recently retired from the Histadrut kindergarten teachers' association to create a new organization, says the Histadrut is partly responsible.

"We've been disappointed for a very long time now. The Histadrut is aware of the situation but hasn't represented us," she says.

The Education Ministry says the regulations state that the "responsibility is the employers," meaning the ministry or the local authority. The ministry adds that a sick teacher should stay at home and not come to work sick. "The supervisors and local authorities cooperate so that a substitute is found and the children's educational routine isn't harmed," it says. "The local authorities have lists of replacements, not the ministry."

The Union of Local Authorities says: "The local authorities find replacements for the kindergarten teachers' helpers, who are employed by the local authority. The kindergarten teachers, similar to schoolteachers, are employed by the Education Ministry, and it's the ministry's responsibility to find a replacement when necessary. After many inquiries by parents, the Union of Local Authorities has called on the Education Ministry to hold an urgent meeting to solve the problem."