tampabay.com

Campaign in the works to attract substitutes

Schools too often find themselves short of people available to teach.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published March 6, 2007


Cynthia Morehouse enjoys spending time with children, and she often volunteered in local schools in her spare time.

She never really thought about substitute teaching, though, until a few months ago. That's when she learned that you don't need a teaching degree to work as a sub.

Now Morehouse, who also works nights at a grocery store, spends a few days each week as a substitute, loving the experience.

"I learn something every day, even from the high school kids," she said the other day while subbing at Seven Oaks Elementary. And if the Pasco County School District offered additional training for people like her, Morehouse suggested, "they could probably get more" substitutes.

They're needed.

On any given day, Pasco County has as many as 300 teachers out sick. And it's a rare day that all the spots get filled: Despite having about 1,000 people on the substitute list, the district's average vacancy rate has hovered around 15 percent all year, forcing schools to fill the holes with whatever staff they have.

"It is difficult to get them," Hudson Elementary principal Linda McCarthy said, noting that the supply and demand theory works against the district. "The number of subs that we need from time to time is higher than the number we have available."

Substitutes can choose the schools where they work, and the days that they work, making the list of 1,000 significantly smaller for each individual school.

The district wants to change the odds to its favor by:

- Increasing the number of training days each month from two to three. Since expanding the options a couple of weeks ago, it already has pushed the weekly average of unfilled slots down to 11 percent.

- Increasing the length of time each substitute must be trained, from one day to two. That will allow substitutes to learn about teaching strategies in addition to the current focus on classroom management.

- Joining with Pasco-Hernando Community College to boost substitute training and recruitment. Part of the idea is to draw substitutes from the ranks of PHCC students, including but not limited to those already enrolled in an alternative teacher certification program.

"We're working hard to change the statistics," said Pat Sinclair, who oversees substitute teacher training for the school district. "We want to improve the quantity and quality of substitutes. They're a link between when the teacher is out and when the teacher comes back. We want learning to continue."

Carol Jones, coordinator of the Educator Preparation Institute at PHCC, says the top complaint she hears from substitute teachers is the lack of training and not, perhaps surprisingly, the low pay. The district pays $55 to $75 per day, based on a substitute's level of education.

Maybe that's because it is hard to feel like a professional when no one gives you any instruction, Jones said: "It is a career for some people. You wouldn't go into other careers without some substantial training."

PHCC is adopting a program from the Utah State University Substitute Teaching Institute, a leader in the field, to guide the improved training.

PHCC also will help recruit substitutes from its student body.

Jones figured that many college students, particularly those in the alternative teacher certification program, would jump at the opportunity to substitute, to earn money and gain experience.

She also expected that the college's broader reach - it will provide training in New Port Richey and Dade City, adding to the school district's Land O'Lakes site - should make it easier for some candidates to attend.

School Board chairwoman Marge Whaley, who sits on the district substitute committee, welcomed all the advances.

"Anything they can do to recruit substitute teachers would be wonderful," Whaley said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fast Facts:

 

If you're interested

You can apply to become a substitute teacher online at https://apply4job.pasco.k12.fl.us/appEntry/. For information, call (813) 794-2351.