Explain It Like I'm Nine: Low Substitute Fill Rates
Can’t find enough substitute teachers to cover teacher absences? Seems...
Spooky things can happen in the office. Your stapler mysteriously disappears into the ether, your lunch vanishes from the fridge — and your colleagues swear it wasn’t them. Or maybe the lights in the old building flicker on and off, on and off — mostly when you’re working alone at night.
Needless to say, these ghostly hauntings can be even scarier than a full inbox after a week-long vacation. And in the spirit of the season, we’ve compiled four chilling tales of terror. Read on — at your own peril.
Another year, another hiring season. Sandy breathed a sigh of relief. She was always glad when the busy recruiting and hiring season died down — not that there wasn’t plenty left to do, but at least the heavy crush of reviewing applications and processing new hire data was over. And even better, it was Friday, and she was on her way home.
Driving through the winding roads, she decided that tonight was the night to treat herself to a relaxing evening. Maybe a nice hot bath, a glass of wine (or a few) and the Jodi Picoult novel waiting for her to find the free time to read. She definitely deserved it: she’d had a very long day. It had turned out that one of the principals had hired a new teacher, but the central office hadn’t budgeted for the position or even been entirely certain why another employee was needed. And of course, the principal had extended the offer without even making sure that the proper background checks were completed. All day, it felt like she was trying to chase down different bits of information from different departments, trying to find the disconnect. She wasn’t really sure where the breakdown had occurred, but, well, it certainly had caused quite a mess.
But that didn’t matter now. It was Friday night and she was going home. Or at least, that’s what she thought.
A ghostly figure appeared in the road before her, faceless, dressed in tattered rags, raising one skeletal finger to point at her. She swerved, narrowly avoiding him, and swore under her breath. What on earth was that? She slammed on her brakes and looked back over her shoulder, but there was no one to be seen. Who would be standing in the road, especially after the sun had set? It must have been an awful prank, dreamed up by someone with nothing better to do with their Friday night.
Either way, she wasn’t about to get out and investigate further. Sandy drove home slowly, nervously, jumping at every shadow. She felt as if she were being watched, but saw no one. By the time she was home and settled, she’d decided that it must have been a figment of her imagination, driven by stress and fatigue. She definitely needed that relaxing bubble bath. Wine in hand, she checked that every door was locked before taking the first few steps up the staircase.
There, at the top of the stairs, was the figure, silently watching her. She did what any self-respecting human would do: she screamed. She threw her wine glass at it and turned to run back down the stairs, away from the faceless monster. But it was there, too, motionless, dark and skeletal. Although it had a human shape, it seemed to flicker and ebb as if struggling to maintain its form.
“What are you?!” she cried.
It looked at her, head cocked to the side, and said, “I am the phantom of positions past. Every position that fell through the cracks in your district — every one that was unfunded by Finance, unfilled by HR or simply forgotten about — never ceases to exist. That is where I come from. I exist from all of these fragments, and I hate being forgotten!”
The spectre closed in on her, and she found herself frozen in place as it leaned in ever closer. “My existence is composed entirely of inconsistencies. A pay grade here, a set of responsibilities there, and all the stipends that you’ve paid through the years — I’m doomed to never truly live, but float around, utterly forgotten and lost in the gaps.”
“It’s a terrible, unfulfilling existence… and I’m tired of it,” it whispered in Sandy’s ear. It gripped her shoulder and leaned even closer. “If only someone even tried to create some form of position management, I wouldn’t be here suffering. You think it’s bad enough when your colleagues don’t communicate? You think it’s tough that everyone has their own set of records to refer back to? You hate having to assign pay structures by hand? It’s harder having nothing. I’d know — I came from nothing. I have nothing. And now, you’ll know exactly what I mean.”
Just like that, the phantom faded away. Sandy breathed a sigh of relief and reached for the phone that had fallen from her pocket. She wasn’t sure who to call, but she had to tell someone what had just happened.
But her hand went right through the phone. She tried to call out, but made no noise. She’d lost all form — she merely floated through the world, incorporeal and disconnected.
Jenn had just had one of those days — long, exhausting and full of utterly unnecessary scrambling. She supposed that she should expect disaster to unfold whenever it was time to run payroll. After all, trying to gather timesheets from across such a large school district was a chore in and of itself. Needless to say, it was with a feeling of relief she flicked off the lights and climbed into bed that evening.
Just before falling asleep, she thought to herself how odd it was that somehow, every month, staff members managed to misplace their timesheets… or, as one employee seemed intent on believing, timesheets magically disappeared of their own accord. Still, she wondered where all those missing timesheets were. It’s not like they could get up and wander away.
She woke in the middle of the night, heart racing. “Hello?” she called out, to no response. She heard a muffled, rustling sound outside of her window, and rushed to turn the lights on only to see a piece of paper slapped across her bedroom window. She breathed a sigh of relief — she was three stories up, the wind must have carried it through the air.
But it didn’t fall gently to the ground as expected, and as a second piece of paper plastered itself against her window, she noticed that the night was still and calm — not a gust of wind to be found. She craned her neck to look outside, straining against the darkness to see what was happening. She heard a faint and insubstantial voice whisper right in her ear, “Ours.”
Thwack. A third piece of paper appeared on yet another window. She noticed with revulsion that it seemed to be moving, as if the parchment itself was alive and laboring to reach her. Then, as if at once, reams of paper appeared, thrashing against the window panes.
“Ours,” the paper breathed, struggling to enter the house. She ran from her bedroom, slamming the door shut just as one sheet wriggled its way through a crack in the window and shot through the air straight at her. She dashed down the hallway and found, to her horror, that her kitchen was already filling with quivering heaps of paperwork, crinkling quietly to her, “Ours.” She reached for the phone — who could she call? — but froze as the mass of paper streamed toward her, the rustling and whispering reaching a fever pitch. As more and more paper squirmed into her home, burying her under a literal mountain of paperwork, she saw the familiar format of an employee timesheet imprinted on each piece.
She had finally found the lost timesheets. Or rather, they had found and overwhelmed her. As she disappeared underneath them, she had a sudden revelation.
“Hours,” she whispered.
Trying to pull data together into something usable for the school board meeting was hard enough without his manager anxiously breathing down his neck. And repeated calls of, “Arthur! I really need that report for the meeting with the school board now!” certainly didn’t make the process any easier.
Not that it was ever easy in the first place. Unsurprisingly, Excel files were not the best way to manage the school district’s data, although Arthur supposed they were somewhat better than doing everything with pen and paper. And as one might expect, trying to wrangle spreadsheets under tight deadlines wasn’t conducive to the most accurate reporting.
Arthur wasn’t the type of person who thrived under pressure, and he began to sweat as the deadline loomed closer and closer. He was so nervous, so intent on finishing his work that he disregarded the pop-up warning him that an unexpected error had occurred. It didn’t matter if “Autorecover has been disabled for this session of Excel” —he would just save the file manually. Finally, feeling as though the stress would crush him completely, he added the finishing touches and hit “save.”
“Done!” he shouted, feeling triumphant that the report was completed with enough time to review and discuss before the meeting.
Ding. He looked at his screen, seeing a notice that Microsoft Office had crashed. Not a problem, he thought — luckily, he’d remembered to save the report. He went to reopen the file just as his manager approached.
He felt his heart skip a beat and cried out, “No, Microsoft! This information was not helpful!”
Desperate for a solution, he raced against time, frantically searching through Google and darting through troubleshooting tips. He found one promising article and rushed through the steps, feeling as though he were conducting some ancient ritual to coax Microsoft back to his side.
But instead of working, he found his screen frozen, faded out and unresponsive to his frenzied clicking and mouse movements. Unable to accept Excel-induced failure, he continued to fruitlessly click and bang on the keyboard.
There’s no way his computer could be frozen, not now when he needed it most!
He just needed more time, he thought hopelessly. He was so caught up in trying to find a solution, desperately hitting CTRL-ALT-DELETE over and over that he failed to notice as his computer itself began to freeze. Even as he felt the frigid air emanating from the computer, he convinced himself it was a symptom of panic.
It wasn’t until his computer was encrusted with ice that he decided to abandon all hope and admit defeat. But it was too late. The ice had already frozen his hands to his keyboards and was creeping up his arms, binding him in place.
Supposedly, Arthur is still there in the central office, suspended in time, frozen to a non-functional computer. And the report was never completed.
James had just started his job at Barningdale School District. So, when his officemate asked him to retrieve an employee file from the storage room, he jumped at the chance to help out. Had he known what awaited, he may not have been quite as enthusiastic. As it was, he didn’t expect to find himself in an old storage room lined with poorly-marked, unorganized filing cabinets along one wall.
“How hard could it be to find one file?” he thought, checking the first filing cabinet’s drawers. He was optimistic that he’d find the right folder soon enough. But by the fourth cabinet, he was beginning to lose hope, and his head was beginning to pound. It seemed like the thump of each drawer as it opened and closed was caught on repeat in his mind.
After several trips back and forth fetching records, he had a feel for how the old documents had been organized once upon a time. And to his delight, his next forays into the storage room went a little bit quicker — even though it seemed like there were more and more places to look every time. Even the rhythmic swish-thump of the drawers had settled into nothing more than background noise.
The next couple of days passed uneventfully, though it was becoming more difficult to find the right files in the ancient storage room. It seemed as though the school district was consolidating all of its employee records into one place, because by the end of the week each wall was lined with filing cabinets groaning under the weight of the records they contained. But the next week, things began to go downhill. The director had decided to conduct a voluntary audit to check their processes, and it fell to James to produce all of the records they needed. It felt like a losing battle — the storage room was stuffed with filing cabinets and even loose piles of paperwork, and James had developed what seemed like a permanent migraine. He swore he could hear the swish-thump of the filing cabinets’ drawers everywhere he went.
He decided that he’d had enough after walking into the building one day to find the dreaded filing cabinets spilling out of the storage room into his office. He asked Mel who had put them there, and why they couldn’t possibly just find another storage room.
“What filing cabinets?” Mel asked. An odd question, since one had taken up residence next to her chair. There was only one explanation.
“This is a terrible prank to play on the new guy. It’s not even funny,” James muttered, and turned to his computer — only to find it blocked by even more of the bland beige cabinets.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. But would you mind going down to the storage room and pulling this set of documents? I’m sorry, I know it’s a long list, but we really need them all by the end of the day.”
James couldn’t bear a single moment more hunting for haphazardly-filed records. He turned to tell Mel he couldn’t take it anymore — he was even hearing that awful, repetitive swish-thump of the drawers in his sleep.
But Mel was nowhere to be found. There were only filing cabinets — hundreds of unnavigable, disorganized filing cabinets — filling the office.