Monday, January 11, 2010


Carolyn Bucior's NY Times Op-Ed "The Replacements" has been making the rounds on the web since its original January 2nd publication date.  Among the (unreferenced) statistics she sites are:   
  • 77 percent of American school districts give substitute teachers no training 
  • 56 percent of districts hire subs without conducting face-to-face interviews 
  • In 28 states, a principal can hire as a sub anyone with a high-school diploma or a general-equivalency diploma
  • Not a single state requires that substitutes hold a teaching degree.
  • In some places, a substitute teacher’s daily pay is less than the school janitor’s
  • Nationwide, 5.2 percent of teachers are absent on any given day, a rate three times as high as that of professionals outside teaching and more than one and a half times as high as that of teachers in Britain
  • Taxpayers spend $4 billion a year for subs
The sum total is "that children have substitute teachers for nearly a year of their kindergarten-through-12th-grade education."

I started my teaching career as a substitute teacher in an inner city school system in late May and early Junes while I was in college.  I had an insider in central office (my mother) and while I was not spared some of the tougher assignments--high school classes with students a foot taller than me and in some cases the same age as me--I did draw a 5th grade maternity leave one year.  As a result I crossed "Teaching 5th Grade" off my list.  As Ms. Bucior points out it is a difficult job with a tremendous amount of variation in nearly every aspect.

Inevitably when I am visiting a school there is a substitute or two.  I have observed the full spectrum: from someone with no control over a class and screaming at the students to very competent teachers running lesson plans who I only knew were subs because they told me.  Can we agree on this:  A district has a responsibility to train subs and to certify them as competent to be in the classroom with children?  If nothing else, student safety is at stake.  Beyond that, in these days of compressed learning and standards based testing (and so teaching), literally every day counts.  Not that I am advocating a pedagogical pace that accounts for covering material without attention to learning.  What I am advocating is that students not miss portions of their education because a teacher has the flu.  I will leave off commenting on teachers being absent for reasons other than illness for another blog.

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