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Solving the Substitute Shortage, Part 2: Exploring Other Options

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Many school districts, coping with a serious shortage of substitute teachers, can no longer rely on the subs who simply show up and sign up. So schools have explored other options! Included: Information about a new substitute agency, a new substitute union, and a "sub camp" that bridges the gap for new subs.

As schools across the country deal with an increased demand for substitute services, many school districts are coping with a serious shortage of substitute teachers. For most, this has meant that they can no longer rely on the subs who simply show up and sign up. Other options must be explored! Education World shares news of three such options!


The Substitute Bill of Rights!

The National Substitute Teacher Alliance (NSTA), recently adopted a Bill of Rights for Substitutes that states that "Substitute teachers will ...

* be accorded the dignity and respect that as professional educators they have earned.

* be provided with all the information they need to create a successful learning experience for all students.

* be provided a safe working environment and a complete list of procedures and policies of the building to which the teacher is assigned.

* be kept informed about appropriate training and professional development opportunities offered by the district.

* have equal access to employer-provided health services.

* have equal access to due process.

* receive compensation commensurate with the essential services they perform.

* as invaluable assets to the entire school community, receive full consideration for full contractual employment as positions become available.

In suburban Minneapolis, Intermediate School District 287, a consortium of 13 independent school districts, is solving the problem by recruiting and training noncertified college graduates as substitute teachers. For the past two years, the district has held a "sub camp," where men and women of all ages and backgrounds learn to be substitute teachers.

According to Jane Holmberg, District 287's director of teaching and learning, in just four sessions the "camp," has trained about 480 parents, community volunteers, retirees, and recent college graduates.

At sub camp summer sessions, potential subs first attend three four-hour sessions on topics that include instructional skills, reading a lesson plan, classroom and behavior management, and basic district policies. In the fall, before they begin substituting, "campers" spend a day observing in one of the district's schools. Then they return for one more camp session, in which they share their experiences -- and practice teaching lessons to one another!

According to Holmberg, the program has been a tremendous success. More than 400 of the campers who completed the course are now subbing, greatly easing the area's substitute shortage, especially at the high school level. In addition, about 20 of those subs are available for special education situations. Two-thirds of the sub camp attendees -- who are all college graduates -- are interested in eventually pursuing teaching licenses, Holmberg said.

"We don't teach substitutes to plan lessons," Holmberg told Education World. "We train them to implement lesson plans. We're not training teachers. We're training practitioners -- substitutes who will bring more expertise into the profession."


Other school systems, overwhelmed by the task of finding, training, and retaining quality subs, have begun turning to outside sources. Last November, for example, Kelly Services launched Kelly Educational Staffing, a service designed to remove the task of managing substitutes from the hands of frustrated administrators.

A service such as Kelly's offers advantages to both schools and substitutes, company spokesperson Leslie Oliver told Education World. The company recruits, hires, screens, schedules, and evaluates all substitutes working in the schools or districts that contract its services. Kelly trains the subs, using the materials created by the Substitute Teaching Institute, and offers administrators and permanent teachers information about what materials they should make available to substitutes. According to Oliver, the company also provides subs with feedback about their performance, runs "substitute teacher of the month" competitions, and rewards quality subs with retention bonuses and other awards.

By using such services, according to a Kelly press release, "districts are able to eliminate the hassles of recruiting, screening, interviewing, and scheduling, and schools can concentrate on other priorities, such as teaching and learning."

Although not yet widespread, such services are becoming more common. By this September, for example, Kelly will be providing substitute teachers to schools and school districts in more than 20 states.

"Temporary staffing services for substitute teachers," Max Longhurst an education specialist at the Substitute Teaching Institute at Utah State University noted, "may not be necessary in all areas, particularly in smaller school districts, but they do provide another option for larger systems struggling to provide quality education in the absence of the regular classroom teacher."


One more long-term avenue for easing the substitute teacher shortage may lie with the substitutes themselves. This summer, the first-ever national substitute teacher conference was held in Washington, D.C. At the conference, the newly formed National Substitute Teacher Alliance (NSTA) announced that its mission is "to promote dignity and respect for substitute teachers as they provide the highest quality of educational continuity for our nation's students."

In order to realize those goals, the NSTA supports the forging of collective bargaining agreements designed to guarantee substitute teachers development and training programs, improved wages and health benefits, a fair evaluation and grievance process, and the right to full unbiased consideration for contractual employment.

"It is our position," NSTA president Shirley Kirsten told Education World, "that substitute shortages are related to a lack of dignity and respect accorded substitute teachers, to depressed wages, to a lack of health and other benefits, and to the absence of due process. Subs around the country need to organize -- to get to the bargaining table to obtain necessary improvement in wages and working conditions.

"Naturally, the increase in respect for subs will have ramifications for students across the country," Kirsten added. "By increasing training and professional development, we are also advancing the education of our nation's children."

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Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 08/23/2000
Links last updated 01/19/2006