From better pay for substitutes to special training programs, schools are paying more attention -- and respect! -- to the substitute teachers they recruit.
Time was when the biggest problem in substitute teaching was the way some students did no work when a sub took over in the classroom. Now, the worst problem involving substitute teaching in many areas of the United States is recruiting enough subs to go around.
A good sub is hard to find for any number of reasons. The economy is thriving, relatively. In such an economy, qualified people who might work as substitute teachers have found other full-time jobs. In addition, some school districts are in the middle of an enrollment boom, making the demand for subs even greater as the number of subs falls. And the essence of the substitute teaching job itself is part of the problem; low pay, the lack of health benefits, and the unpredictable number of hours worked impacts the number of available substitutes.
With the growing need for subs, school districts have tried new ways to attract more of them. News stories from several areas of the United States seem to indicate that the problem of finding qualified substitute teachers is not limited to one region but exists throughout the country. A Christian Science Monitor story in December focused on the following strategies that school districts have used to find substitute teachers:
With all the negatives about substitute teaching, some positives exist. "It's a wonderful foot in the door," Lynne Snyder, associate director of teacher education at Central Michigan University, told The Detroit News. "It lets you scout out different (school) systems, and it (financially) supports you ... but you have to be willing to move or drive."
Naturally, the quality as well as the quantity of substitutes concerns educators facing a shortage. A statewide training program for substitutes, spearheaded by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, addresses this problem.
In 1996 Wisconsin began allowing school districts to hire non-certified teacher substitutes. But such substitutes must hold a permit, granted only when they hold a bachelor's degree and successfully complete a training program on the local level. Newly certified teachers interested in substitute teaching and experienced teachers returning to the field as well as current substitute teachers are encouraged to attend.
Topics covered in the training include these listed in a WEAC brochure:
To create such a training program, a grant from the National Education Association's (NEA) National Foundation for the Improvement of Education was used as well as help from the WEA Professional Development Academy. The state Department of Public Instruction, administrators, school boards, and the state PTA collaborated to develop criteria and a training program for non-certified subs.
Besides better professional development for substitutes, school districts can encourage regular teachers to smooth the way for subs. The NEA recently published a list of tips from teachers -- tips on how to prepare for a substitute to take over:
In the end, the substitute teacher shortage, though clearly not a positive development in itself, may lead to some beneficial changes. In many school districts, administrators and other educators have developed a new appreciation for skilled substitute teachers. At the same time, training programs for substitute teachers will tend to enhance the professionalism required for the job.
Article by Sharon Cromwell
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Links updated 02/28/2007