Monday, October 26, 2015

Tales of a Substitute Teacher: The Early Bird Catches the Worm

Sign the petition: A lesson in speaking up for what you want.

Today I could, should, would have been starting my first real-ish, albeit temporary, teaching job. I thought I was perfectly suited to act as interim sub for a 9th grade English teacher at Monarch High School, while she went on maternity leave. And she thought so too. But a lack of communication between teacher and administration compounded by me not listening to my gut, cost me this plum opportunity.

I wanted it badly. It was the perfect job at exactly the right time. It was coming at a moment when I was reconsidering my career and looking for a stream of revenue to sustain my family. As much as I adore the world of home furnishings and interior design, my friends know that I frequently feel the pull to shift gears and teach. This two-month assignment would have given me a more realistic picture of the teaching experience than what random substitute teaching has provided so far, and it would have paid a lot better too. (see my previous blog about substitute teacher pay.)

My mistake was not going directly to the principal at the earliest possible time. I was aware that the principal had to approve the selection, (Broward Schools's Substitute Teacher Handbook, page 9) yet I waited patiently for the English teacher and her administrator to introduce me. I nudged her every 7-10 days to make sure I was still on track for the job. And I totally seemed to be.

Their mistake was not recommending me to the principal at the earliest possible time especially when, to everyone's surprise, the teacher took leave 4 weeks ahead of schedule. On Monday October 12th, I sat in her classroom, getting the skinny on the curriculum and daily routines. She thought I was taking over, but then, got a phone call telling her the position had been filled by someone else...a person she didn't know. The pregnant teacher apologized but there seemed to be no recourse. I was deeply disappointed, and cried intermittently throughout the day. I'm just like that.

Two days later, I got a call from the principal. He was responding to an email I had written the night before asking for an explanation of interim sub protocol. He told me how important it was to find the right person for a job of this scope, and that he had no idea about me until it was too late. The woman he had approved was a former Monarch teacher whom he already knew and trusted to fill the job.

Gianna (left) and Sammi en route to deliver the petition.
Two days later my daughter, Sammi, and her friend Gianna walked into the principal's office with a petition requesting that I be the substitute for Ms. Freeman. They had gathered almost 120 signatures in two days. I had suggested the idea to her. "It  might not change the course of events," I said, " but it is a way to show that you care about your education and who's involved." As the principal was going into a meeting, they handed it to him with a brief explanation. He didn't say much, they reported.

As a parent and storyteller, I imagined that the petition delivery scene might have unfolded in a more dynamic way. I envisioned that the principal would have been genuinely touched by their desire to challenge the system and the peaceful and organized way in which they went about it. I was hoping he might have offered some acknowledgment, such as, "Wow! I am sure that you mom is a great teacher, and I am impressed by your persistence. But because of several factors, it just didn't work out. I spoke with your mom earlier his week, and hope to meet her soon."

The interim sub starts today. For the past 8 school days since the teacher took leave, however, there was a different substitute, who according to my daughter, was a self-confessed non-language artsy guy. He began each class with the vocab and grammar warm-up as instructed by the teacher, and then told the students, "The rest of the period is yours."   "So what did you do?" I asked Sam. "We mostly played on our phones, talked quietly, and listened to music."  I calculated this as 5 hours of wasted instructional time.

For my daughter's sake, I hope this interim substitute teaches, inspires, and carries forth in a way that would make Ms. Freeman proud.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Tales of a Substitute Teacher: The Economics of Substitute Teaching

a sample paycheck for a regular substitute teacher
If everything had gone according to plan, on Monday I would have started a two-month interim sub stint as a 9th grade English teacher at Monarch High School. The timing for this opportunity could not have been more perfect. But due to a miscommunication between teacher and administrator, I did not get the job, and it was officially offered to someone else. 

It is no secret that I have been contemplating a career in education for years and became a sub mostly to get the public education experience, observe it, and share my passion for learning. My other freelance work has enabled me to step into the classroom when desired, and this interim post would have given my the first taste of real consistent teaching and the ability to sustain my family while doing so.

The interim sub job pays good money. It pays 240% above what a normal substitute teacher earns. According to the Broward Schools "Substitute Teacher Handbook" which is available publicly on-line, the daily rate for an interim sub is $204.07. If the average school month has 20 instructional days, then that sub earns about $4,000 a month. That is a respectable income.

Average substitute teacher pay is a different story. A single person cannot make a living as a substitute teacher. At Broward Schools, substitute teachers make $11.27 per hour, approximately $80 for a full day's work, and $1,690 per month or what it costs to rent an average two-bedroom apartment in my town. This hourly amount  is $3.22 over the Florida minimum wage and $5.71 below Florida's living wage for a single adult. The gap between earnings and the living wage naturally widens as you add in children or a non-working spouse.

There are certain upgrades in the substitute teaching arena, but it still won't translate into a livable wage. A "pool sub", for example, shows up to one school everyday and earns $95.03 for the daily commitment or $1,900/month. If you have a bachelor's degree and choose to work in a special school reserved for students who are emotionally, behaviorally, or intellectually challenged, you can earn $116.17 per day or $2,323 per month.  I have never sought to work in one of these facilities but am going to try this out one day and report back.

The economics of SUBstitute teaching support the meaning of the prefix which is "below, beneath, under and less than".  They are also aligned with what so many middle school and high school students think and say when they see a substitute teacher in their classroom, that you are "just a sub"...a placeholder, babysitter, someone to make sure students don't cut class and hurt each other. But I am certain that even 12-year old babysitters make more money an hour.

My daughter is in 9th grade. She has had a sub in English class for the last 7 school days. She reported that the class was expected to do ten minutes of vocabulary and grammar exercises daily and that once that was done the substitute teacher said, "The rest of the time is yours." Her class talked quietly, went on their phones, and listened to music.  I calculate roughly 4 hours of instructional time lost. As a parent this irks me greatly. As a substitute, I understand that teaching "The Odyssey" can be daunting, but there certainly could have been other language artsy things to do.

I write this blog and share my experiences because I hope I can have some impact raising the standards of substitute teaching and thus the compensation for doing the job.

Up next: The Interim Sub Job, Part II