Subs aim to be teachers, not entertainers

by Cynthia Martens

Are substitute teachers baby-sitters or teachers?

Betty Fruechting, who is a substitute teacher in Hillsboro schools and a retired special education teacher, has one answer.

“When I was a teacher and needed a sub, I often asked for the same person because I knew my classroom would function the way I wanted-students would be taught and not entertained,” Fruechting said. “That is the kind of substitute teacher I’ve tried to be.”

And that is the kind of substitute Superintendent Gordon Mohn says he wants in the USD 410.

“We meet with our substitutes at the beginning of the school year, and we tell them, ‘We’re not hiring you to read a book, we’re hiring you to be up and active,” Mohn said. “We want you to teach as much as you can, as much as is reasonable. And if you have a good set of lesson plans from the teacher, you can teach. But be active because when you’re not active in the classroom, kids can misbehave.'”

Mohn has a list of 36 potential substitutes for the 2001-02 school year. In the past, the list has been shorter, and it was difficult to find people, Mohn said. But the district is in “good shape” this year with the present list.

All prospective substitutes sign up each year regardless of their past employment with the school district. And Mohn said it’s not unusual for substitutes to be signed up with more than one district.

Substitute teachers are categorized in the following three levels, depending on their educational background and certification history:

n?Regular teaching certification-teachers with a valid Kansas teaching certificate;

n Substitute teaching certification-teachers who usually have had teaching certificates in the past but let them expire. These teachers then opt to get a substitute certificate;

n Emergency substitute certification-individuals who have a minimum of 60 hours of college course work, which may or may not include education courses.

Those teachers with regular and substitute certification are accepted without reservation, Mohn said.

“If you bring either of those in, you can be on our sub list.”

But the emergency substitutes are only called if the regular and substitute teachers are not available.

“For us, on our emergency certification, I interview those people,” Mohn said. “And we try to control the amount of emergency subs we have.

“I think we can put about any sub in a classroom for a day or two and get along,” he said. “But if you go very long in, say, high school science or math, you want somebody with a little background in those areas.”

All three levels are required to pay about $24 a year to retain the certificate, and the emergency certificates are renewable one year at a time.

The current list has 18 teachers with teaching certificates, six with substitute certificates and 12 with emergency certificates.

Mohn said reporting a total of 36 substitutes can be misleading because some specify certain grade levels, subjects or days they are willing to work.

When groups of teachers are scheduled for in-service curriculum and development during the year, Mohn may be stretched to fill the positions with substitutes.

“There’s a few days in the year when we have trouble finding enough people because most of these people on this list are on surrounding schools’ lists.”

Although Mohn and the principals have been called upon to substitute, it doesn’t occur with frequency.

“If you get a call at 7:30 a.m.-a teacher’s sick or their child’s sick-we have to get on the phone and find somebody,” Mohn said. “They might not be able to get here until 10 a.m., and the principal can cover until then. A few times the principals might have to take the day.”

This year at USD 410, 350 teacher absences were filled with substitutes through the end of February.

A substitute’s salary, regardless of the level of certification, is $78 a day. But if a substitute is hired for more than 11 days of consecutive substituting for the same teacher, they are paid a beginning teacher’s salary, which is $134.38 a day. And that pay is retroactive to the beginning day of substituting.

“So far this year, we’ve spent $27,000 on substitutes,” Mohn said.

Each building is responsible for contacting a substitute. With advanced notice, the building secretary usually makes the call. But if teachers have an emergency early in the morning, they contact the principal, who is responsible for finding a substitute.

About 70 percent of the substitutes are contacted one or two days in advance because the staff making the placements has been given ample notice.

“Then 30 percent are probably (called) the evening before or the morning of,” Mohn said.

Each teacher is encouraged to keep daily lesson plans and write out a set of instructions for the substitute.

Mohn said at the high school level, one option a teacher has is to prepare a test for the substitute to give on the day of an absence.

But occasionally, a teacher won’t have any lessons prepared.

“And I know we have some substitutes who have kind of emergency lessons,” he said.

“Let’s say I get in that situation, and there’s nothing that I can find the teacher has for me to do. Well, I’m a former history teacher. I know I can pull up some plans and have some worthwhile discussions related to history.”

And how are the substitutes treated by the students?

Mohn said he sees the following three issues that shape the attitude of students and how they interact with a substitute:

n How structured the regular teacher is-if the teacher runs a structured and organized classroom, it’s easier for the substitute to fit into that environment and take charge;

n The attitude of the substitute-they need to have the attitude they are going to be actively involved teaching the students;

n A follow-up system-the district has a reporting system to get feedback from the substitute after the assignment is completed so changes can be made in the program in the future.

One substitute, Becky Lindsay, averages about three times a week as a Hillsboro substitute for kindergarten through eighth grade.

“It’s kind of like walking into a movie late and leaving early,” Lindsay said.

“You have to start where you haven’t seen the beginning, and you walk out where you haven’t seen the end. Sometimes it’s difficult.”

Lindsay chose to substitute teach about 10 years ago because she wanted to stay at home with her children, three girls who are now 12, 14 and 18.

“And when they started school, it was a good way to leave the house when they did and come home at the same time they did,” Linsday said.

And in response to those who think substitutes are hired as baby-sitters, Lindsay said, “Well, they are welcome to come and watch a classroom.”

Lindsay said she would welcome the naysayers to experience coming into a classroom and completing the lesson plans as a substitute.

She added that substituting has been an enjoyable experience for her, and she has had the opportunity to get to know “hundreds” of children and watch them grow.

“USD 410 has wonderful kids, we really do,” she said.

“And good teachers-because they always leave wonderful lesson plans.”

Lindsay recently got her elementary endorsement and is certified to teach full time. She has submitted her application for a position next year in the elementary level at Hillsboro.

Mohn said it’s not unusual for substitutes to look for a full-time position at the school.

“We’ve hired people that have been subs, especially elementary teachers because there’s an abundance of elementary teachers usually,” he said.

“It’s a good way for them to get to know us and us to get to know them.”

Mohn said he doesn’t see any current problems with the substitute program in place at Hillsboro.

He encourages people to contact him if they are interested in signing up to substitute and stresses the importance of all substitutes attending the three-hour training session at the beginning of the school year.

“They get a chance to meet all the principals, and those principals (have an opportunity to) talk about what their expectations are,” Mohn said.

Mohn acknowledged that substitute teaching can be a difficult and challenging job.

“I want our substitutes to know how grateful we are for them being willing to do that,” he said.

“We’ve talked about questions of respect, and sometimes those people don’t get respected like they out to be.

“We appreciate what they do.”

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