I've barely been a sub for two months and there's this seedling of an idea growing in my mind. Substitute teaching should be a full-time job and a truly integral part of education. It should be done by those with the skills to actually contribute to a variety of curricula, and those who sub should be compensated more like non-substitute teachers.
I'm not just bitter that I get paid per diem and don't have any benefits or security to speak of, and the last thing that I'm doing is diminishing the value of classroom teachers (that's how I'll refer to the full-time teachers of the current system). I'm convinced, perhaps naïvely, that there is a better way to use subs.
First, a glance at the current system: substitute teachers are like freelancers. We get hired by as many school districts as we choose to (and that choose us, of course) and then accept or deny jobs as they are offered to us (by phone or online). We get paid a predetermined amount for each day (or half) that we work and receive no benefits or contract of any kind. In the state in which I work, substitute teachers must meet the same "highly qualified educator" status as classroom teachers — we must be certified. There is also a system for "guest teachers" here that allows non-certified individuals to sub if there is such a need.
Letters from superintendents insist that we are "an integral part of education," but we are not. A typical day for a sub goes like this: A sub will arrive at a school, sign in, and find their classroom. They will search for lesson plans on the teacher's desk and usually find something that tells them what classes they will teach, where rosters can be found, and what movie to play or worksheet to complete for each class. They will welcome the students, go through attendance, and babysit them while they do a worksheet or watch a movie. They will read a book whenever they can and between classes. They will either sit uncomfortably in the faculty room during lunch or avoid others and eat in their room. They will write down any disciplinary issues or deviations from the lesson plans for the teacher, sign out at the office, and go home to search for another job.
I fear that this paragraph will sound haughty, but I think I do good work and am willing to compare myself in this way to other subs. This is how a typical day goes for me: I sign in, find lesson plans, find emergency materials and forms, find rosters, and identify the books that the students are working from. I'll read the lesson plans multiple times, then learn what I can about the material being studied, and think hard about what I could do with each class if they run out of work. I welcome the students, go through attendance, and then do what the lesson plans ask. I will go through the worksheets myself to make sure I understand the material, watch the movie with the students, and learn the relevant rubric for a class project. I will seek out opportunities to help students and get to know them to some degree (which I also find helps immensely to keep them focused). In my spare time, I'll read from their textbook or other materials so that I can be even more helpful as the day progresses. I will briefly lecture on material that students are having difficulty with. I will take detailed notes about questions I couldn't answer, disappointing or laudable behavior, any lecturing I did, and deviations from plans. I clean and organize what I can in the room without disrupting anything too much (some teachers like a messy desk, I won't change that but I'll make sure everything ends where it began), say "hi" to any students that I see that I've taught before on the way out, offer to the office to do anything else they need, and sign out (to, of course, go home and search for another job).
There are many other subs who go this extra mile, as well, but it is surely not the standard expectation of classroom teachers or administrators. I'm convinced that with some changes, the effort and care that those like me put into this role could be taken advantage of and used to significantly contribute to students' educations.
I propose a system in which substitute teaching is a full-time job on par with being a classroom teacher. Details to come in Part 2...