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Red Taped


Retired teacher Nancy Flanagan—now a doctoral candidate in education policy—thought it would be nice to go back to her old school as a substitute. Easier said than done:

I calculated that it would take three days of subbing to cover the registration fee alone—not counting the unpaid day of substitute training by a real live former teacher, the fingerprinting fee (and the pleasure of spending a morning at the county jail to accomplish that), the original certificate replacement costs, and the darned TB test. It would be October before I broke even.

I, too, am retired and substitute teach. Fortunately I just shifted my work papers over to the sub side of employment in my district so I didn't have to go through the "security" stuff.

WHAT I have seen in classrooms as a sub disturbs me. 5th and 6th graders who have no clue about square numbers or number patterns. The days being spent on math and reading and sometimes science or social studies is thrown in for 45 minutes at the end of the day. There is no art, no music, or even just free time unless you are one of the students who doesn't get pulled for special services in math or reading.

I am glad I taught fulltime when I did rather than now. As a sub I had a sixth grader tell me that she felt they took too many tests. I had a fifth grader tell me that she had the "right" to NOT have any homework over spring break. I had a senior tell me she was looking forward to getting out of school so she wouldn't have people telling her "what to do" anymore. She was planning to go to a LPN program after graduation. I have had students who wanted to learn tell me that they were tired of the "naughty" kids stealing their education by being distruptive.

As I used to say while teaching fulltime, some days I earned my pay by 10 AM and the rest of the day was gratis. This is true for subbing also.

I'm a California substitute teacher. That doesn't mean much, except that I recouped my sub-certification expenses faster than Nancy did. I also didn't have to go to the local county jail for fingerprinting; they did that for me at the local school districe office. Everything else, however? Yeah, all of that was stuff I had to go through, not to mention that I had to take the CBEST. (One of my teachers in the credential program, a woman with a BA in English and a MA in Education related her own horror story of having to take that nasty thing--and having to repeat it--)

Altogether, it cost me close to $500 to become a substitute teacher...and my first experience as a sub came very close to making me throw six years of hard work out the window; what was I doing wanting to TEACH these little monsters? They were utterly out of control; they had a three word vocabulary, and those words started with "F," "N," and "M." Desks flew.

It took six weeks to get me back into a classroom. I actually thought it was MY fault---but some brilliant far thinker decided to put a middleaged virgin substitute in the middle of a gang fight.

Maybe it was farsighted, come to think of it. If I came back to try again after that, then nothing is going to faze me, is it?


Sounds awesome.

I spent four years as a sub. This year is my first as a full time teacher. When I statrted, my stomach would turn as I woke each morning to return to that first five day assignment. 5th graders with anger managment who would shake and have tears stream down their face, unable to deal with being given directives. Kids 1/4 my size yelling at me about how they were going to hit me. A book full of lesson plans that meant nothing without some orientation to the reading program. This might have been covered in some training, but the district offered none.
Those first couple of years, I thought how would someone do this for so long. I had a teacher tell me she had subbed for seven years before becoming credentialed. I thought it insane. The costs, the abuse, the lack of support by the school. But I held on, I hung in there. Now I have my own class. I think it insane.
Maybe the reason I stayed was that I think I can contribute something. I try, but the reality of being credentialed is just as bad. The district kept me in limbo as a long term sub in pergatory at best-with block periods of kids at the lowest levels in ELD and 9th grade English. They kept me there just long enough to save about $5k and make me feel even more so, that teachers are underpaid.
There isn't much more support on the bahavioral side, limited on the academic and you simply grit your teeth and push through.
The reality is, a veteran teacher should be working with my kids, if the goal is really to help them academically. Those who have done nothing and only disrupt the classroom should be removed elsewhere, but that would be a loss of revenue. More support shoud be given to those of us stuck in purgatory-at-best. But the reality is quite different.
Not only do they make you pay your own passage on what seems worse than a boat ride to Hades, but then they underappreciate you, under pay you, and judge you in the failure of support. No one wanted to take over the class I took. I recently had a sub tell my one really good class-single period-that he would never sub for my classes again.
It's fairly ironic that the cry is, "we need teachers, we need teachers," but they make you jump through hoops. Then, as you attempt to make it through those hoops, in midair, they light them on fire and let the flames singe you. Meanwhile thet look at you with a mischievious smile, "you didn't think it would be that easy, did you." Good subs and teachers alike are under appreciated. I'm trying to be a good teacher and I was a good sub, but nothing changes the situation.
It feels too often, that the situation is far too akin to that of the Entertainment Industry-to the story told in "Swimming with Sharks"(film)-we went therough hell and now you have to also. The difference, the big difference is the financial reward and stability. It used to be teaching was a decent profession. Here in California, once, you could afford a home.

Wow. Your stories make my little adventure seem pretty lightweight. I actually spent two (separated) years substitute teaching, one at the very beginning of my career and another in the middle, when I was pregnant. I didn't care for the early-morning calls, being at the bottom of the teacher hierarchy or having to be "the warden" most of the time--but I did not experience problems like those responders have listed.

Actually, it seems to me that retired teachers are in many ways ideal subs, especially when they can return to the districts/schools where they taught and have credibility (one hopes).

I am especially struck by David's remarks on the grueling "sink or swim" process for subs and new teachers. It is so incredibly UNprofessional to treat substitute teachers and novices this way. Maybe all subs in a building should have one-day mentors, assigned to turn to when help is needed. I know that many subs who would like to be employed as full-time teachers think that asking for help with any issue, from lesson plans to out of control behavior, is a sign of weakness. Imagine if medical interns felt that way: if I ask a resident for help, will he think I don't know everything?? Shudder.

Also in Calif...

I'm just finishing up my third year subbing after 35yrs in the "industry" as the teachers call it.

I figure it took 3 subbing pay days the first year to start subbing but only a half day subbing to renew my subbing certificate each follwing year

I'm surprised by the number of kids recommended by the classroom teacher to be retained(called "held back" in my day)only to be overridden and promoted up by the principal!

I'm pretty sure this isn't what NCLB was supposed to be.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • KauaiMark: Also in Calif... I'm just finishing up my third year read more
  • Nancy Flanagan: Wow. Your stories make my little adventure seem pretty lightweight. read more
  • David: I spent four years as a sub. This year is read more
  • John: Sounds awesome. read more
  • dianaiad: I'm a California substitute teacher. That doesn't mean much, except read more




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