Many substitute teachers working in various school districts have no adequate labor union representation. Some have no labor unions that represent their specific needs, and many are pretty much fending for themselves, earning peanuts, and getting no respect for grueling, migrant work.
Being a substitute teacher is not easy. It takes courage and commitment to do this job. They must work at schools that are not familiar to them, and certain schools are very tough when it comes to certain student and staff behaviors and attitudes toward subs. Many have to drive, take the bus, metro to get to various schools, under the sweltering sun.
It often takes years of teaching experience to learn certain classroom management and teaching skills. First, you have to be an expert in most subject fields, since you may be assigned to teach math, science, English, or even physics classes.
It can be an unpredictable job, but substitute teachers become nimble, efficient and effective in navigating various public school bureaucracies. Many are courageous since they have to go to areas that have high crime rates and high gang activity.
They are required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and to pass the CBEST teaching credentialing test. Also, they have to jump through many hoops to become cleared by the governor’s office and pass extensive background checks conducted by the state Department of Justice (DOJ). They need to obtain fingerprint clearance. They have to pay for various required fees that add up such as the Commission on Teacher Credentialing annual fees.
With this in mind, substitute teachers deserve respect and equal pay with certain benefits. They should actually be paid what regular teachers make on an average day. The Los Angeles Unified School District pays close to $190 per day, in some cases more than $190 for long-term substitute jobs. It sounds like a respectable amount, but new substitute teachers rarely get job assignments making it tougher to get by on poverty wages. Substitute teachers only get to work on average eight months or less per year, and many are not able to get teaching jobs during the summer months. Many subs struggle tremendously, but society seems to not really care about the struggles and needs of educators.
It is important to note that substitute teaching has become more competitive since many teachers who were laid off now rely on substitute teaching on a regular basis. Although our economy has made life harder for substitute teachers, these educators take these assignments because they have a passion for teaching and for helping to serve as positive role models for students.
One substitute at a particular school can help change the life of a student via a lesson plan, or reading an inspirational paragraph or chapter, or assigning students to write essays about themselves or about real life challenges that students face on a daily basis. Some substitute teachers can inspire students to go into certain career fields or to make the right life decisions.
The hardest classes to do substitute teaching in are middle schools and certain high school classes, since students are going through major growing changes. But substituting at elementary schools requires even greater responsibility.
Substitute teachers sometimes have to also play the role of psychologists or counselors. Many do this by simply listening to students. Students may not say much at times, but they listen to the words being used and see the behavior of their substitute teachers.
Substitute teachers must follow all of the rules and regulations that teachers must follow on a daily basis and the policies set by each school district and the state Department of Education.
Now part-time professors, or adjunct professors, are facing a similar dilemma which substitute teachers have been facing for decades. They are required to teach, but they are paid peanuts, especially since they are perceived as little more than emergency personnel who parachute into a classroom for one or two days and then leave.
However, these should not be perceived as short-term, transactional relationships. Sometimes substitutes eventually choose to become full-time teachers. They find that teaching is their life’s calling.
Substitute teachers are not robots or made of metal. Substitutes are human beings who have feelings, emotions and families. Many struggle in paying household bills, medical bills, rent and mortgages. It would only be fair, equitable and humane for various school districts to increase the pay and should provide basic benefits such as health care coverage.
Let us show substitute teachers that we appreciate and respect their courage for being educators.
In the toughest of circumstances, these teachers do not back down. The resilience, fortitude and courage that it takes to be in the trenches of the classroom is a great example for our students to follow. Finally, substitute teachers need to be designated and given migrant worker status via The Department of Labor.
Randy Jurado Ertll
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