When I was in elementary school, there existed a certain stereotype about having a substitute teacher in the classroom. This person was usually expected to be nothing more than a warm body, given the responsibility of taking attendance and passing along the busywork for us boys and girls - as recited from a written lesson plan left by the usually classroom teacher. Usually this substitute didn't have content knowledge of the subject or grade - let alone a teaching license. She (and I say "she" because they were usually women back in the day) were part-time stay-at-home moms or retired teachers whose professional development dated back to before her students were even born. The results of this situation were an adult in the classroom who could offer no academic assistance, had no authority to manage her students' behaviors, and had no aspirations of making teaching a career - so no investment in the students or in her career.
Let's fast-forward about twenty years to the present. Substitute teachers are still very much in demand - as they always will be. As long as teachers go on vacation, have doctor's appointments, become ill, or have children, the sub will be an asset to any school district. As I entered the world of teaching about three years ago - as a substitute - I noticed a huge shift in the expectations of this set of educators. Yes, before I mentioned "teacher" (which I use very loosely), and now I mention "educator" (a professional dedicated to the education field). This statement is meant to be bolder than perhaps it sounds on the surface. Now, with the advent of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) - which I have issues with, in part, for other reasons not mentioned here - teachers are to be held to higher standard than previously. As schools and districts are rewarded for possessing Highly Qualified faculty, they are held accountable to having classrooms staffed with licensed educators, teaching in the field in which they are credentialed. Where this higher standard crosses paths with the role of the substitute is in the higher expectations placed upon them in many school districts.
While attending a substitute orientation for Fairfax County Public Schools back in 2007, I noted an emphasis on substitutes only teaching subjects in which they believe they are qualified. I thought it was the greatest thing I'd heard in a long while. In fact, I practically had to look through my orientation materials to make sure I was at the right session. This new ideology shook my world - suggesting that substitute teachers should NOT be just warm bodies. This district wants all teachers, substitutes included, to offer their expertise to students in the classroom. A BA in English teaching English, a BS in Math teaching Calculus, or a BA in History and Geography (like me) teaching Social Studies. Warm bodies be gone, and enter the "Substitute Educator"!
It's difficult to become a classroom educator, and rightfully so as educators carry with them great responsibility. However, with the recent recession and often-accompanied budget constraints, becoming an educator with his/her own classroom has become an exceedingly daunting pursuit. As witnessed in cities like New York and Washington, these budget constraints have caused mayors and chancellors to crash under the pressure and make some really ridiculous choices. I will be kind to these leaders here, as I've bashed them plenty in other venues.
The result most relevant to this article is that MANY qualified teachers are without classrooms. This is amplified by the false claim by many at the dawn of the recession, "Go into teaching, the education field is always in need of good teachers." Hence, career changers flooding a field already supersaturated with able educators. Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing these career changers at all (after all, I'm one of them!). So, the collective body of substitute educators in our nation's school districts are these qualified educators, awaiting the opportunities for classrooms of their own, and hoping in the meantime that their skills and talents will be discovered by impressed administrators. Therefore, classrooms possessing substitutes who are very serious about their professional practice, who go above and beyond in making a positive impact wherever they're assigned, and who see substituting as a stepping stone rather than a fallback way to earn easy money and have summers off.
I am one of those hopeful substitute educators. I love teaching, and I love helping young people succeed and believe in themselves. Despite the current economic situation and overpopulated industry, I will gladly take on the garb of the substitute. While the students I face will not be the same from day to day, and while it will not be my own classroom in which I teach, my dedication, devotion, professionalism, and love will not wane. Yes, I admit that this is in part for want of impressing the right person at the right time, but it is also because my devotion to kids existed long before I ever received a paycheck for my efforts, and will continue to exist even if I never see another paycheck. Although if you're reading this article and are an administrator, a classroom and a paycheck would be nice :)
Take care and know no matter where you are and what you do, little ones are watching you and learning from you. Be cautious of what you teach them :)
ONLINE PORTFOLIO & ISSUES IN SOCIAL STUDIES EDUCATION
- Eric Joseph Nally
- Annandale, Virginia
- Social Studies teacher with 2 years experience as a substitute, 1 year as a student teacher, and 6 years of volunteer work in various roles. I specialize in differentiated instruction, data driven curriculum, and authentic assessment. A New York State certified teacher, I graduated from Fordham University with an MST degree and high accolades. Finally, I hold membership with Kappa Delta Pi and NCSS as well. It is my intention to grow student confidence and widen content knowledge for students of all backgrounds, cultures and abilities through modeling literacy comprehension, critical thinking and communication skills. I believe each and every student is a valuable asset to the learning community, capable of achieving academic success. I am able to lead these young people to such success. Please click on the links on the right to learn more. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you.