“Substitutes: French today, P.E. tommorrow”

Fill-in teachers bring plenty of training and flexiblity to part-time jobs

  • Thursday, January 13, 2000 11:00am
  • News

“While considering how he might pose for a newspaper photo, substitute teacher Dan Kelly jokingly suggested that he could bring some rope to school so his students could tie him to a chair.Though Kelly’s classrooms are far from that wild, his whimsical vision is dead center with the stereotypical image of the substitute teacher — inexperienced, bewildered and out of control.“Everybody who has ever substituted has had a day from hell,” he admitted. But generally, Kelly said the stereotype is not at all like reality. He said he enjoys substitute teaching — a job he’s done off and on since the early 1970s.Generally speaking, substitutes are highly-trained professional educators. Many have years of experience and are popular with both students and school staff. They also have to be quite adaptable.Though his college degree has endorsements in political science and history, Kelly has had to lead classes in everything from math and English to weight training and Spanish as a substitute for the Coupeville and Oak Harbor school districts.The same holds true for most subs. Whereas regular classroom teachers teach within their specialty, substitutes can be placed in any classroom, even those outside their area of expertise as long as it’s not for an extended period of time.Linsley Dix started substituting last year. Since then, she has faced many of the same classes as Kelly as well as a few others, including kindergarten and French, despite her degree as an English teacher.“I even did music, and I have no musical background at all,” she said. But having no experience doesn’t let a substitute off the hook. Sometimes it means a crash course in a subject and the ability to go with the flow.“You have to step in to a place and continue on with what a teacher is doing,” Dix said. “For just about every classroom I’ve been in, teachers have left great lesson plans for me.”Substitute Dianne Schwalier agreed.“You have to be a flexible, creative and risk-taking person,” she said. “The cringe words are babysitting and busy-work. No credentialed teacher wants to be thought of in that way.’’Schwalier, Dix and Kelly all say that it’s important to remember that most substitutes are state-certified teachers and not just glorified baby sitters.“I don’t want them calling me because they want someone to control a crowd,” said Dix. “I get more out of my day if I’m teaching, not just standing there.”When pushed outside their comfort zone, Dix said substitutes just have to become more creative.“When I went into the French classroom, I had the students teach me something,” she said.Kelly said one of the biggest mistakes a sub can make is to come on too strong.“I think you get in trouble with kids if you’re too pompous,” he said.Schwalier said each classroom is different and subs need to adapt to the classroom style of the regular teacher. Some classrooms are strict and orderly. Others are more casual.“There’s quite a difference between a P.E. class with 50 or 60 students and a 50- or 60-piece orchestra,” she said.Local substitute teachers earn about $90 per day but they receive no benefits and no promise of continued employment. That lack of consistency makes substituting too unpredictable for some. Even though Kelly, Dix and Schwalier currently work an average of from three to five days per week, they do have to have other jobs and medical plans to fall back on. Kelly, who once ran a furniture business, still makes custom-made furniture and Dix works about 17 hours a week in a deli.Schwalier, who has been a regular classroom teacher elsewhere in the world, said there are a few advantages to being a substitute.“You don’t have the extra-curricular meetings. You don’t have lesson plans and you don’t have grading,” she said. “But you miss the real heart of teaching — the connection with students on a continuing basis.”Schwalier and Dix are both actively pursuing full-time teaching jobs locally. Kelly hasn’t ruled out a full-time position. They all say that subbing has allowed them to experience many different schools, classrooms and students. They also say that it’s a good way for other teachers and administrators to get to know them — something that can’t help but improve their chances of employment when jobs become available.“Unless you’re not good at it,” Kelly said.”

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