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Let's Hear It for Substitute Teachers

Too often considered glorified babysitters who replace teachers who are absent, substitute teachers deserve far more respect, especially because of changing expectations ("Why S.F. has a severe shortage of substitute teachers," San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 4).  

Subs are paid from $136 to $165 per day - about half of what a full-time beginning teacher makes. In return, subs are expected to pitch in at a moment's notice and follow the lesson plan left for them.  That assumes, of course, that there is a lesson plan.  When teachers wake up sick in the morning, they leave subs virtually all on their own.  

Even when teachers know ahead of time that they will be absent for medical reasons or for professional development and leave a detailed lesson plan, there is no assurance that students won't test subs to see how much they can get away with.  When that happens, no amount of money can make the experience bearable.  Reformers who claim teachers are overpaid wouldn't last a week in the classroom as a substitute.

Unlike college, where students are dismissed when told that their professor is absent, students in K-12 cannot be left unattended. Since that is the reality, I urge schools to establish a list of qualified subs who have been properly vetted for their subject matter expertise and pedagogical skills. Those who fall short can be given support to improve.  Some districts already do this, but I think it should be mandatory. Even then, there's no guarantee that these subs can come even close to the absent teachers, but at least they can provide students with a modicum of learning.  

That's important because I foresee the teacher-absenteeism rate increasing dramatically in the years ahead as a result of pressure to produce quantifiable results. Teaching five classes of young people five days a week has never been easy, but it is harder now than ever before.  Something has to give, either physically or psychologically. Whoever fills in for teachers who are absent rarely, if ever, are recognized for their services.  I hope that will change.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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