When the Teacher’s Away, the Spotlight’s All Theirs The Need for Qualified and Reliable Substitute Teachers is on the Rise in Duval County and Surrounding Areas.
By TIA MITCHELL
This is Pearstine Badger’s class.
Her name is on the door and her handwriting adorns the bulletin boards and posters covering the walls.
But for several weeks this school year, the woman standing in front of Badger’s fourth-grade students at Lake Forest Elementary School was a substitute. Her job was to make sure the students continued to learn while their teacher was away.
On any given school day, approximately 850 Duval County teachers will leave their classrooms in the care of a substitute. There are about 8,000 full-time teachers in the system.
In Duval County, as nationally, the need for substitutes is increasing, a trend that mirrors the teacher shortage. That’s because the strong economy is drawing would-be substitutes to higher- paying and more stable jobs, education experts say. Also, the heightened focus on standardized testing and accountability require more teachers to be pulled away from their classrooms for training.
Badger’s replacement was Johnnie Mae Cook, a retired educator who usually spends about four days a week substituting. She filled in while Badger recovered from a car accident. Badger returned to work Monday.
On a school day last month, Cook walked around the classroom while one of the students read Fantastic Mr. Fox aloud. Every few seconds, Cook would stop and quietly whisper into one of the students’ ear.
“Eyes in the book,” she ordered with an even voice anytime their attention drifted.
Cook, 68, said substituting allows her to continue working with children, while heeding her doctor’s orders to remain active. She prefers students in the upper elementary grades and is considered so good that some schools request her.
Her strength is discipline. When she tells her students something, “they know I mean it.”
Cook’s ability to hold the students’ attention is one of the most important skills for a substitute teacher, educators say.
“Kids are kids, and they’ll try to take advantage of a new face in the classroom,” said Lake Forest Principal Kim Bays.
Each school day, Bays finds time to visit classrooms where there are substitutes. She looks to see if the substitute is in control and the children are on task. And she watches out for a respectful attitude toward the students.
Duval County contracts with Kelly Education Staffing to provide its substitute teachers. The temporary staffing company created this specialized service for schools in 1997 and it has grown each year. Last year, the district paid the company approximately $13.8 million. So far this year, Kelly has been paid about $3.5 million.
The school system pays the teacher’s hourly wages plus a 39 percent markup to the firm. Teachers with the minimum number of college credits make $8 an hour, those with bachelor’s degrees receive $10 hourly and substitutes with master’s degrees or higher earn $10.85 an hour. Substitutes also receive an extra $1 an hour if they log more than 250 classroom hours a school year. They are generally paid for a seven-hour school day.
There is a pool of about 2,800 substitute teachers in Duval County. All subs must have at least 60 college credits, pass a background check and an interview and attend a half-day orientation. Once they do that, they can sign up for any available slots districtwide.
So far this school year, the firm has been able to fill 96 percent of the county’s needs. On those few occasions when someone cannot be found, the school is responsible for filling the classroom vacancy using existing staff.
Some schools have a hard time attracting substitutes either because of reputation, specialty or location, so the company offers incentives to help fill those slots.
SWEETENING THE POT
Duval County is the only Northeast Florida school district that has privatized the hiring of substitutes. And until recently, it also was the only district that required substitutes to have some college experience.
As of Jan. 1, substitutes in the St. Johns County schools are required to have at least 60 hours of college credit, according to new standards approved there. Baker, Clay and Nassau counties require only a high school diploma or GED.
Wages also vary among the counties. For example, a substitute with a bachelor’s degree in Clay County receives $13.68 an hour.
Nassau County recently approved raises for substitutes, which is effective Jan. 1. Then they will make $60 to $110 a day, depending on the education level, up from the previous range of $48 to $70 daily.
All of the school systems require an initial orientation and training workshop for substitutes, mandated by state law. However, St. Johns County also requires a full day of shadowing with a veteran substitute.
Geoffrey Smith, director of the Substitute Teaching Institute at the Utah State University, said training, not qualifications, should be the biggest priority. He suggests eight to 10 hours of training for new substitute teachers. He said there are some districts that don’t require any.
“We send a teacher to college for four to six years to become a teacher, yet we take an individual without any training at all and say you can replace that teacher for a day or two in the classroom,” he said.
When it comes to substitutes, the full-time teacher also has a responsibility, educators say. Most schools require teachers to keep lesson plans on file so that if there is an emergency the substitute will still have directions on how to conduct class.
Bays, the principal at Lake Forest, began her career in education as a substitute. She said filling in for full-time teachers is an opportunity for those interested in teaching to get their feet wet without all the responsibility. She liked it so much, she got a master’s degree in education and became a teacher.
Subbing taught Bays the value of being organized, how to stay watchful of entire classrooms of rambunctious children and gave her a better eye for “the true value of having authentic work for students to do.”
firstname.lastname@example.org, (904) 359-4425SUBSTITUTE TEACHERSExcept for Duval County, all of the Northeast Florida school districts hire their own substitute teachers. They all require background checks and an orientation for new substitutes, which are state requirements. Here is some additional information on substitute teachers for each of these school systems.MINIMUM EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS?Baker: high school diplomaClay: high school diploma or GEDDuval: 60 hours of college creditNassau: high school diploma or GEDSt. Johns: 60 hours of college credit (as of Jan. 1)SUBSTITUTE PAY BAKER: $85 per day for those with a high school diploma, $100 daily for those with associate’s, $125 a day for those with bachelor’s and $150 for a master’s or higher.CLAY: $10.26 an hour for those with a high school diploma, $12.54 hourly for those having at least 60 hours of college credit, $13.68 an hour for those with at least a bachelor’s degree. Long-term substitutes assigned to a classroom for 11 days or more earn between $21.89 and $23.96 an hour.DUVAL: $8 an hour for those with at least 60 hours of college credit, $10 for those with a bachelor’s and $10.85 for those with at least a master’s degree. Substitutes who amass 250 or more classroom hours in a school year earn an additional $1 hourly.NASSAU: As of Jan.1, substitutes with a high school diploma will earn $60 a day; those with associate’s degrees will earn $75; those with bachelor’s degrees will be paid $95; and those with master’s degrees or higher will earn $110.ST. JOHNS: $80 a day for those with a high school diploma, $85 a day with at least 60 hours of college credit, $90 a day for bachelor’s degree or higher.
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