Substitutes

Micah Maynard, Staff Writer

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The absence of a teacher often brings joy to students. Instantly, the student imagines the possible fun and enjoyment he or she will experience, as the amount of work could be considerably less. However, substitute teachers have many of the same responsibilities as full time teachers.

“I think the differences vary depending on the type of substitute you are, but for me, I would say the responsibilities are the biggest difference,” Pam Roscoe, a former substitute teacher, said. “I did not have to worry about any of the paperwork or plans that the teacher needs to factor into their day-to-day. I still tried to teach each lesson left for me, but I did not have to worry about what that entailed until I walked into the classroom every day.”

Roscoe is now working as a behavior intervention assistant at Sevier.

Students often have different views on how a substitute should be.

“(I want) someone that will help with work if we need help,” said Devon White, an eighth grade student at Sevier. “It depends on the substitute and the teacher they are replacing.”

Substitute teachers often start as full time teachers or coaches. Many are former teachers who retired or are in between jobs. Some are also young educators who are working on getting a teacher’s license and hope to get experience by substituting.

“I have never been a teacher, but I have been a coach and trainer before.” said Michael T. Dulaney. “In my last job at Eastman, I was a chemical operator.”

Roscoe, however, was a kindergarten and first grade teacher.

“I would switch every other year, so I could move up with the students,” she said. “I also worked with the higher grades in the afternoon when my students were with other teachers. I taught Language Arts to both middle and high school and Geometry to high school.”

Like Roscoe, many substitutes started as teachers. The number of substitute teachers in America, however, is relatively small. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, the estimated amount of full time teachers in the United States is around 3.6 million. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the estimated amount of substitutes is only around 611,000.

Although some substitutes may have had experience working with students and other staff, it can still be a major challenge, especially when the substitute is going into a new school. This forces them to adapt to a new environment of students and teachers.

“The most difficult part can be coming into a school where you don’t know anyone,” Dulaney said. “There are also situations where, as a substitute, you may not be familiar with the subject matter, or there may be a student or two who want to see how far they can push the boundaries of discipline.”

Roscoe also faced the problem of setting the rules in a new classroom and with a new set of students.

“ Each teacher has his or her own set of expectations on how their classes should behave,” Roscoe said. “I felt it was my responsibility to keep the class running as close to the norm as can be. Unfortunately, there are many students who hear the word ‘sub’ and decide they can take that time to take advantage of the situation. There seems to be a gap when viewing substitutes as an authority when they are unknown in the classroom.”

Unlike teachers, substitutes go to many different classes, and, sometimes, to many different schools. Substitutes have a new class of students almost every day.

“Teachers will contact substitutes to line up their own sub if they know they are going to be out,” Roscoe said. “This is handy when a teacher is going to be out for multiple days, because they can plan for the same sub for the whole time.”

An online system is also used to help substitutes know when they are to teach a class.

“There are procedures in place that the teachers use to take days off and there is a system online where I can find jobs,” Dulaney said.

Aside from the struggles and hassles of substitute teaching, many substitutes have had interesting experiences in the classroom.

“Some of the conversations or discussions we have had during class are really interesting, especially at the high school level,” Dulaney said.

Roscoe has also had many of the same experiences.

“I counted a student absent once when he was present,” she said. “I was subbing in fifth grade a few years back. When I was calling his name for attendance, he thought it would be funny to shout, ‘I lick walls’. I didn’t realize that was his ‘I’m here’ response, so I marked him absent. They called his mom looking for him. Needless to say, we were both embarrassed.”

White finds that some substitutes are different than others.

“It depends on the sub: some may make it fun, some may make it boring, or some may just play games after work,” he said.

Substitutes also have valuable pieces of advice to give to their students.

“Please understand that if you put forth the effort to do the work, you may be surprised at how far you can and will go,” Dulaney said.

Roscoe also feels that she has made a connection with every student she has met.

“I am blessed to have gotten to know the students, and each one holds a special place in my heart,” she said. “My time as a substitute will always be something I look back on fondly.”

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