Substitutes No Longer A Stop-Gap Measure For Educators
By Pamela Worsham // April 16, 2012
BREVARD COUNTY • INDIAN HARBOUR BEACH, FLORIDA – The week starts with a call from the school secretary and Helen Moseley already knows the drill.
Line up child care, write it down in her calendar and leave by 7:30 a.m. on Friday.
Now in her fifth year of substitute teaching at Ocean Breeze Elementary School in Indian Harbor Beach, Moseley is one of the most respected professionals the school relies on.
It’s not only her skills, calm demeanor and knack for connecting with children that have both kindergarten teachers at Ocean Breeze requesting her presence when they have to be out of the classroom. but as a former teacher at the home of the Dolphins, Moseley is also part of the fiber of the school.
“I did my internship here and held out until I could get a job because I liked it so much,” Moseley said. “It’s a good small school, very community oriented.”
She taught kindergarten, fifth and fourth grade for eight years and left in 2007 to tend to family matters.
Once her daughter Emily, now 3, was born, Moseley made the decision to stay home full time and teach occasionally at her old school.
And because she still has strong friendship ties with some of the faculty there, they feel comfortable calling on her.
“My two good friends that I taught with for years don’t have to write specific plans for me because I taught the same thing. We taught the same grades, in the same team and set up the classrooms the same way,” Moseley said.
Substituting is really is a win-win situation in this case, Moseley said.
The teachers have peace of mind because it means the students are getting continuity. And for her it means she is still able to generate some income doing what she is passionate about without having to miss out on any special moments with Emily.
Even with a different title, Moseley continues to take the job of teaching as serious as she did when she was full-time.
“Having been a teacher I don’t treat it any differently than my responsibility as a regular teacher,” Moseley said. “I’m keeping the kids safe, teaching them the objective of the lesson and making sure there’s control and order in the classroom.”
Former Jupiter Elementary School teacher Kelly Brockett agrees that all teachers appreciate that amount of dedication from a substitute.
Brockett said when she found a substitute that was thorough and followed her lesson plans, she would only request them.
With only six months to prepare for FCAT, she said she felt she could not spare any time.
“Every single day was a teaching day whether I was there or not. I couldn’t lose any more time on curriculum. I had to get it done,” Brockett said. “With that time frame, I would say ‘Here’s a lesson plan. Do what you can do’ and I would expect them to teach.”
She can’t remember ever having a horrible experience and on the contrary says there was the same group of solid substitutes on campus every day. They knew the teachers and procedures very well and so the school had them practically on speed dial.
Looking back at how her teaching career began by substituting, Brockett said she sympathizes with them.
“It was really hard to go from classroom to classroom on a daily basis not knowing the kids, not knowing the schools, it’s hard,” she said.
Brockett said she believes many of the substitutes in Brevard County were like her, teachers in waiting.
Many have the degrees and the experience, but just can’t get a teaching job. So they settle for substituting to get their name out there and their face seen.
West Melbourne Elementary School for Science assistant principal Kira White is seeing the pool of substitute teachers getting younger as well because they simply cannot get teaching jobs.
She said she encourages them to get into a school, get to know the administration and learn how the school functions.
“We use (substituting) for men and women who are aspiring to be teachers to get out there and see what it is like,” White said. “Because getting a teaching job really comes down to whom you know, who you keep getting good recommendations from and who’s consistently getting called back.”
According to White, those are the individuals who are more likely to get the teaching jobs rather than someone who has no experience or has not substituted.
And though she believes the county is doing a good job overall in recruiting quality individuals to fill these substitute positions, there occasionally may be some less than stellar individuals that get hired.
Just last week White said she had to blacklist a substitute who was caught surfing the web during class time.
She said these are rare instances that can be minimized by teachers leaving detailed lesson plans and feedback about their experiences.
“We require teachers at the beginning of the year to make up a week-long packet of sub plans. Instead of asking one of the other teachers in the grade to run copies we are actually able to provide the substitute with regular-scheduled activities for the whole day,” White said. “We also ask our teachers to stay on the same page. If you have a really good experience or a really bad experience with a substitute please share it with us, so that when we are trying to find someone for your class we are calling the good ones back.”
Former Brevard Federation of Teachers President Frances Baer also concurs that substituting is a great way for future teachers to test the waters.
On a recent trip to both the KIPP Charter School (Knowledge is Power Program) and Harlem Village Academies she witnessed candidates auditioning for teaching positions.
“It was so fascinating to see and I think substituting can be a wonderful way to audition teachers here,” Baer said. “You have to demonstrate that you can teach, and it’s a logical way for the principal to see those substitute teachers work with these kids.”
She believes Brevard Public Schools is putting in the same caliber of dedication to finding quality individuals as they did when she was at the helm of BFT.
“I’m a little removed than I used to be, but I can speak to the standard that we urged and championed and feel (BPS is) certainly continuing to do the same kind of philosophy,” Baer said. “I think Brevard does a good job, I haven’t heard many complaints.”
The scientist in current BFT president Richard Smith would like to tackle the issue of substitutes with a more statistical approach.
His organization recently surveyed parents by telephone about a number of school procedures and he said he believes that method would be best in getting to the heart of what parents feel with regard to substitutes.
Smith he bases this on the fact that parents are the ones who hear directly what a student’s experience at school was when their teacher was away.
On a personal note, Smith said he could not recall in his 35 years of teaching high school science of an incident where the substitute did not fulfill their responsibilities.
“I found most substitutes at my school to be competent. Most of the time my lesson plan was followed,” Smith said. “However, I will say that there is no substitute for a teacher. What you’re doing is preventing an uncontrolled class.”
According to Brevard Public Schools, there are currently 1031 substitutes in the Brevard Public School substitute pool.
The breakdown according to category of schooling are 155 (or 15 percent) with high school diplomas, 62 (or 6 percent) with associate’s degrees, 595 (or 58 percent) have bachelors degree or higher and 219 (or 21percent) are retired teachers.
Once they are interviewed and hired, substitutes get their school assignments by either developing a good rapport with a specific school or by signing up with the school system’s automated AESOP system.
AESOP calls substitutes until midnight and then begins again at 5 a.m.
Brevard Schools Human Resource Director Joy Salamone pointed out that out of the $4,179,657 district-wide budget allotment for substitutes last school year, only $3,627,618 was used, which she said is a testament to a low teacher absentee rate.
Though some critics may question whether this may actually be because some schools are opting for lower-qualified and lesser-paid substitutes as opposed to higher-degreed and higher-paid ones to stay within or under budget.
“I think there are some moments in time when we have to look at things because ‘I’m out of money during this piece of my year.’ But I’m going to tell you, all year? I don’t see that happening,” Salamone said. “When I pull my records, I see more degreed people in our substitute pool than I do non-degreed people.”
Salamone said she believes that quality almost always trumps budgetary boundaries because of the goals that need to be achieved in a limited amount of days in the school year.
“On any given day most principals will say ‘Get me a qualified person.’ We only have 180 days with these kids and that’s only so many hours. If you figure out how many days a teacher could be out on any given year either for training or sickness, our principals truly take into account that we need quality in front of those kids every minute they are here.”