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The Dire Need for Substitute Teachers

Regardless of how dedicated teachers are, exhaustion invariably exacts a price as the school year progresses in the form of increased calls for a substitute.  The problem is that quality subs are hard to find ("Quest for stronger subs in schools," District Administration, Feb. 18). 

It's little wonder in light of the meager pay and abuse.  When I began teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1964, teachers received ten "sick" days at full salary each school year.  Days not used were accumulated and factored into the pension received when teachers retired. Since then, days not used are lost forever, providing an incentive to use them even when they are not necessarily needed.

Toward the end of my 28-year career in the LAUSD, I relied more on subs as my energy level decreased.  It was always impossible to know with certainty what would transpire in my absence.  That's because the best subs were in constant demand.  Once they accepted the day's assignment, the substitute office was forced to rely on whoever was available.  As a result, sometimes my lesson plans were religiously followed, and other times they were totally ignored.  It was a gamble.

Although I was often disappointed, I understood the difficulty that subs encounter.  Many students viewed the appearance of a sub as a day to do whatever they wanted.  How subs put up with student failure to follow directions still astounds me.  If we're ever going to get quality subs, we need to raise their per diem, provide them with better training, and follow up with administrative support.  Anything less will merely perpetuate the situation.

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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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