Substitute Teacher Training

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Carolyn Bucior, author of recent New York Times article, discusses substitute teachers and their training (or lack there-of).

Do you have experience substituting? Give us a call or comment below!


Carolyn Bucior

Comments [36]

MG from NYC

I was an NYC regular teacher for 3 years and then (later) a per diem sub for another three years. Since the fall of '09, I have tried to return to subbing (after a 3-year child care hiatus), and I have found it almost impossible (despite a successful track record, permanent certification, and a Master's Degree)to get regular calls. The most I get is one call here and there. Right now I haven't had one in over a month.

Mar. 05 2010 11:57 PM
Kathryn from Queens, NY

I'm a certified teacher with a Master's degree who is in her second year of subbing in the NYC schools. I have more bad days than good, but I have to keep telling myself that all of these experiences will help me become a more effective classroom teacher (when that day comes).

Jan. 13 2010 07:14 PM
Seen it all from CT

Substitutes--I've been one off and on for
years--are the last unorganized migrant
workers. No group in academe does more
for less. Their rights few, their problems
legion, in a bad economy they are many of
them scratching for work. New subs should know the following:
1. You are a casual hire, who serves at the
pleasure of administration.
2. The worst student has more rights than
you do. (That 12th grader is drunk as
a lord, but department policy says look
the other way.)
3. Subs should be low-profile. Writing
discipline slips is not the way to go.
Be a Ninja.
4. The department head and the ship captain
is a potentate, master-and-commander, who
writes your evaluation, which you never
5. You will see fools and knaves, but some
wonderful teachers too, who make it all
worthwhile, almost.
6. Don't get caught up in this life, trust
me. Blackwater is hiring.

Jan. 11 2010 09:19 PM
Professional Development Workshops for Teachers

Your post is really informative for me. I liked it very much. Keep sharing such important posts.

Jan. 09 2010 01:46 AM
bill from new jersey

I am a full time teacher now and have been for five years, but prior to that I subbed in a small city in New Jersey. I desperately wanted some kind of training before I started subbing (or even some type of minimal orientation) but one wasn't provided. We teachers really rely on our subs to carry out our plans and to let us know what happened in our absence. A good sub is friendly but firm, knows how to relate to the kids in an appropriate manner based on their age (seniors hate to be treated like elementary school kids) and makes sure the kids do their work while we are out. I think a certification program would be benenficial for the kids, the teachers and the subs themselves.

Jan. 07 2010 04:56 PM
Jeffrey Thomas from Ossining NY

I am a NYstate-certified teacher but cannot find a job in my area (your broadcast made no mention of this phenomenon), so I have been substituting for 3 Westchester school districts. I am treated as a baby-sitter. Even for planned substitutions in my field of expertise, the regular teachers ignore my request for a lesson plan--they instead all provide simple worksheets or textbook assignments, so I am at best a helpful tutor; at worst, a kindergarten cop. It is quite disheartening to be treated by regular staff the same as an uncertified twenty-something kid who signed up as a substitute. Also disheartening is the fact that administrators have never offered me advice or assistance, never have they checked on me in the classroom. And the regular teachers, even when I offer to help, refuse my offer. It feels more like a unionized shop, where every workerbee (and the drones, too) are primarily protective of their positions, not imagining offers of help to be genuine.
In most cases, teachers have left reasonable plans and reasonable work for the students; but they rarely leave guidance: attendance procedures? seating chart? assigned seating? bathroom policy? food-in-classroom policy? group-work policy? discipline guidelines?
And yet, this experience has given me marvelous insight into the differences between schools and districts. Last suggestion: every school should have its teachers "substitute" in another school once each semester, so as to sensitize them to these differences that new people would need to know.

Jan. 07 2010 03:26 PM
Douglas Green from Endicott, NY

I would like to talk to Ms. Bucior about posting her article on my blog. Can you ask her to contact me via email. My blog is DrDougGreen.Com. As a sub you also run the risk for being (or at least seeming to the students) better than the teacher you replace. This happened to me as a sub in 1970 while waiting to do Basic Combat Training with the US Army. In one case the teacher told the principal not to bring me back. In the other, the students went to the principal and told him how much they liked me. That resulted in the teacher I subbed for being let go at the end of the year and me being hired to replace him after I finished my Army duty. This is a rich subject to de sure.

Jan. 07 2010 02:31 PM
Jacques Read from Washington, DC

A daughter-in-law who teaches high school english asked me to sign up as a substitute, since it peeved her to have to use substitutes who knew nothing of the subject matter. I had been retired for a four years at the time, and decided to give it a try. For $37.50, the price of having the FBI check your fingerprints, I attended a day-long indoctrination class at Montgomery County Maryland's school headquarters, mostly directed at classroom difficulties that might crop up. I selected the three Bethesda high schools, all listed as among the best in the nation, and agreed to only teach chemistry, physics and mathematics. Although I had only taught undergraduate and graduate courses in these subjects, I figured it might be fun not having students who were nearly as well educated as I was. The schools in Montgomery County require substitute lesson plans to be available when the substitute shows up. On rare occasion this hasn't been the case, and I have had to ask the students to identify the textbook they're using and where they are in it. Usually the "resource teacher" (viz department head) has the detailed lesson plan if it's not on the teacher's desk.
I have had parole officers drop in to see if one of my students was awake (she wasn't), police have taken another way, and I have a few times used the "panic button" next to the teacher's station that brings the security people in seconds when 200lb boys have altercations. It is very hard to actually expand upon the assignments and really teach when there are over thirty students and a few of them don't want to be there, but on the average, I enjoy it.

Jan. 07 2010 01:37 PM
M. M. A. from Patchogue

I loved subbing. I am a trained teacher, but subbing is an entirely different ballgame, requiring different skill and talents than what is needed in a regular classroom teacher.

I hate to say it, because I think most seminars/training sessions are a waste of time, but I think some sort of training for subs might be useful.

It would have to be very short (maybe 2 hours) and taught by a successful and enthusiastic substitute, NOT by one of the regular administrators in any given district. Not even by a regular teacher.

Jan. 07 2010 11:16 AM
Lisanne from Brooklyn

The toughest thing about being a sub is not knowing where you are going to be and also not knowing the students names.

I am a substitute teacher in the NYC public schools. I was shocked when I started that I got no prep of any sort on basic things such as attendance procedures etc or that you will have severely developmentally challenged (autism etc) kids in your class without being told.

I think that the DOE should require all subs to complete some sort of workshop that will inform us on scenarios that we will encounter.

I disagree with your guest about the sub qualifications also as to sub in nyc you must have a bachelors degree and have completed a certain amount of education credits.

My experience has mostly been good, I try and follow the teachers lesson plans that they leave and I do usually have a backup plan. But I do NOT agree that the subs are slackers and should have their own lesson plans.

I am currently in the midst of getting certified myself and in graduate school and will have nothing but respect for any sub that fills in for me in the future.

Jan. 07 2010 11:06 AM
Jennifer from Pleasantville NY

It might be helpful to remember that substitutes are horribly compensated, so we might be careful about what we expect from them. In my district a substitute teacher earns $13/ hour. My teenager makes more than that working as a mother's helper.

Jan. 07 2010 11:05 AM
the truth! from BKNY

Subs...puhleese train the regular teachers! They suck!

Jan. 07 2010 11:01 AM
liz from Westchester

I would love to sub for my own subject (French) and actually teach it, but the computerized request system doesn't seem to allow teachers to access subject specialists. Teachers appear to prefer to leave "babysitting" work as they don't know who will take the class and it is easier to deal with when they return.
I am a qualified,experienced teacher from the UK but here can sub for only 40 days a year. What happens day 41?

Jan. 07 2010 11:01 AM
Jennifer from Pleasantville NY

I am a certified teacher, and have worked as a substitute teacher. Substitute teaching does not require training and it certainly does not require certification. The substitute teacher is FILLING IN for the core classroom teacher, and is NOT developing curriculum. Instead, the substitute is following simple instructions that have been laid out in the day's lesson plan. Its like following a recipe and doesn't require anything more than common sense and the ability to read. It is really a form of babysitting, and only requires the presence of a responsible adult. Remember too that students do not take substitutes seriously, they realize they will not be doing any active learning -- the classroom teachers don't expect it, and neither do the students. I don't think we have to make this into an issue. Substitution is something that happens occasionally in the classroom, and the kids treat it as a break from their busy academic semester.

Jan. 07 2010 11:01 AM
Xanthe Jory from NYC

I am an educator who began my career as a sub in the NYC public school system and most recently was a principal for 6 years.

Subbing is a truly difficult job, and in general, the subs I have encountered have been utterly unequipped to handle it. As a principal, when we encountered a good sub we would do whatever we could to hang on to that person. However, it is difficult to retain talented subs. What constituted a "good sub"? Someone who could keep the classroom safe. Being able to actually teach was not even a goal. I do think, though, that most principals and teachers could do a much better job in orienting subs on a daily basis, providing them with appropriate lesson plans and materials, and supporting them throughout the day.

However, often the subs we encountered were not only untrained but also entirely unprofessional. We had subs who photographed students on their cell phones, slept on the couch in the school lobby, smoked in the bathroom, cursed at students, etc.

So the problem is on both sides.

Xanthe Jory

Jan. 07 2010 10:59 AM
Sebastian from Manhattan

I was lucky enough to have had Frank McCourt as a substitute when I was in high school - Seward Park HS on Grand Street. This must have been before he got his job at Stuyvesant. His wife Barbara was our English teacher and he subbed for her when she was out. He was wonderful.

Jan. 07 2010 10:58 AM
M S from Brooklyn

I am one of those people who went through teacher training and has decided to not become a teacher because I just find the professional too hard. I have any ivy league degree and am not one to shirk off a challenge. Instead I am going to medical school. So I take exception to the guy who says that all subs should be able to deal with any given classroom situation. Teaching is an undervalued profession. Teachers in most states are underpaid, and the public generally does not appreciate the dedication, intelligence and people skills required to be a good teacher - including a substitute teacher.

Jan. 07 2010 10:58 AM
Telegram Sam from Staten Island

My high school had a terrific "full time" sub who was a professional musician. He taught me more and had more of a connection with his students than any full time teacher I ever had.

Jan. 07 2010 10:58 AM
Valerie from Astoria, NY

I was both a sub and a long-term sub (for nearly a full school year teaching AP level courses!). But in my experience one of the best things that the high school I worked regularly at was that they had a group of "regular" subs, ones that basically came in every day. They were subbing when I was in high school there, and had been around for years. Students AND teachers were familiar with them and new what to expect having them in the classroom. It was like a backup squad of teachers. Sure, the instruction wasn't the same as having the regular teacher, but for the most part they were able to assume the reins for a day or two.

Jan. 07 2010 10:58 AM
Sarah from Hell's kitchen

Currently, the hiring freeze means that no new subs can register for the system - because, I've been told, the excess pool teachers are supposed to be subs.

I am a student in an MA Ed program and have been unable to get a sub license, even with a referral from a high school where I do my state-mandated observation fieldwork.

Also, NYC only allows a sub to work a limited number of days unless they can document they have achieved 6 credits in education in that school year.

Jan. 07 2010 10:56 AM
Andy from Brooklyn

Dear Caller:

As a teacher, you are also required to have an extra lesson plan on file for your sub, which you should update monthly. It's not the sub's job to be on top of the lesson he should teach, it's the absent teacher's job.

Jan. 07 2010 10:56 AM
Larry from NYC

Get that lady and her going-nowhere story off the air.

Jan. 07 2010 10:54 AM
Cathy George from presently living in Yantai China

Substitute teachers in Washington State are required to have Washington teaching certificates. I taught for twenty years in the class room and substituted for seven years.

Jan. 07 2010 10:54 AM
Scott from Brooklyn

If anyone is paying attention there is little or no work as a sub these days because of the cutbacks. I sub in the independent schools almost exclusively and find that as a male elementry teacher I am more appreciated and respected and welcome. Public schools don't really care or check in with you during the day and I always get asked " if I can help you" because unattened males shouldn't be in the school. I'll skip that thanks.
By the way fully certified, Master Degree at Bank Street two years teaching at Brokklyn private school.

Jan. 07 2010 10:54 AM
Maria McGrath from Brooklyn

In our elementary school, our principal usually doesn't bother with substitutes--she just splits the students between other classes in the same grade or one up or down.

Jan. 07 2010 10:53 AM
Daniel from Munich

To be fair, Samuel [1], teaching PE is nowhere near teaching mathematics or science, somewhere where the training could really help.

When I taught in NYC (mathematics), the best subs were in-house subs. We could pick up extra pay for filling in teaching extra classes for a teacher who was out. This was most often done when a teacher would be out for an extended period.

The biggest issue I see with subbing, is allowing for the transition from sub to full teacher. My mother gave up teaching in NYC to raise a family. When my siblings and I were in elementary school, she went back to teaching, but couldn't get a full time job. She was a much loved (much requested sub) but still couldn't get hired. That's a shame.

Jan. 07 2010 10:52 AM
Sue from North Salem, NY

My child is in a co-taught classroom which is a fantastic arrangement. With two full-time teachers in the class, when one is out sick it doesn't disrupt the flow of learning.

Jan. 07 2010 10:52 AM
Jay from New York

There is a similar problem regarding teacher training for graduate student teachers at universities. I first taught freshman calculus as a grad student at an Ivy League school, with absolutely no teacher training whatsoever, and this is the norm. This is especially problematic since invariably one teaches very badly at first, and it takes a couple of years to improve. Of course the students are paying tens of thousands of dollars for this poor teaching.

Jan. 07 2010 10:51 AM
Elizabeth from Manhattan

Agree, subs need training and back-up, but you cannot compare being a cardiac nurse to being a substitute teacher. One requires much more training.

Jan. 07 2010 10:47 AM
Geoffrey Smith from Logan UT

It is a challenge for any individual to walk into other teacher's classroom, take over and keep the learning going at the same level. The quest however, is to improve the current level of student learning even when the permanent teacher is out of the classroom.

We have found that when substitute teachers are well trained, permanent teacher have prepared their students for the times they will be out of the classroom, and the district practices and policies support substitute teachers in their teaching, students can continue to learn.

Jan. 07 2010 09:54 AM
Jill McAleer

As a liscensed teacher and school counselor who has subbed extensively, I feel that the difference between one with training and one without is the classroom management skills and knowing how to address students (tell them vs. asking them). Knowledge of developmentally appropriate classroom management is key. Even employing effective parenting skills can help the less experienced). There have been so many times when the plans left for me when subbing were very weak including so much busy work that the students never transitioned and therefore would become bored. A good sub has a knack for flexibility and has a bag of tricks that can be applied in a variety of classroom settings. I would bring copies of word games, break into a game of "spelling simon says" to punctuate one task from the next, teach olders how to budget a checkbook, write a class poem, learn deep breathing for stress relief and focus, etc. to make up for a lack of structured lessons being left for me. That said, I also feel that a motivated adult who genuinely loves kids and can think on their feet will do a fine job at subbing with a little experience. I agree with Larry from Manhattan that subs do not really "teach" the necessary daily curriculum (as a parent/educator, I feel that the teacher should personlly cover that which they will evaluate/assess in exams anyway) - however, students in a class with a sub should come away learning "something" even if it is something not related to the curriculum.

Jan. 07 2010 09:35 AM
Raegen Miller from Washington, DC

The US Department of Education recently released the final regulations for its School Improvement Program, the $3 plus billion effort to turn around chronically failing schools. The regulations include attention to the issue of teacher absence. In particular, agencies will have to report to the Department the school-level teacher attendance rate for those schools receiving attention under the program. The rationale for this reporting requirement is that chronically failing schools often have dysfunctional professional cultures, especially around attendance. It would be great if Carolyn could talk about the sense of this dimension of professional culture that substitutes may pick up in a school, either immediately or upon repeated service there. Substitutes may be able to tell us a lot about the phenomenon because they often work across a variety of schools. The research on "absence culture" focuses on the level of trust between teachers and administrators, and on how strongly the attendance norms in a school are felt by individuals.

Jan. 07 2010 09:00 AM
Liz from Central NJ

I am a mom with a lot of teaching skills, looking to work while my kids are in school. Substitute teaching makes sense, right? I signed up with the staffing company that has a contract to provide subs in my town. But now I'm getting cold feet. It cost me $200 for the certification. Subbing pays $70/day, less than $9/hr. Plus, subs report BEFORE students and stay AFTER students, so I have to arrange for childcare to get my kids to and from school, on a flexible basis. Starbucks has more flexibility and probably pays better! No wonder my kids come home shell-shocked whenever their teacher is out.

Jan. 07 2010 08:55 AM
karen from Somers, NY

I am a teacher from the UK. In the UK all substitute teachers are fully qualified teachers who are paid a pro rata salary for the days they substitute in schools, based on the salary they would be earning if working full time. All substitute teachers are expected to, and do teach the classes to which they are assigned. There is more respect for substitue teachers from students and staff and are not considered simply babysitters. It is no wonder sub teachers here are considered such, most are unqualified to teach and should not be expected to do so. The pay is also very low in contrast to the teachers, you get what you pay for!

Jan. 07 2010 08:47 AM
Larry from A Manhattan High School

As a school administrator, I would wager that no amount of training can really account for the fact that a day or two lost with the permanent teacher is just that --a day or two lost for sure. The adage, "when the cat's away the mice will play," holds true here. A sub can have classroom management skills certainly to keep the studnets from getting hurt or hurting each other, but in the end, I certainly never expect them to really teach...neither do the teachers who are out, the students who have the classes, the parents, or anyone else. Subs are, sad to say, child sitters.

Jan. 07 2010 08:09 AM
Samuel Caruso from South Bronx, East Harlem

Substitute teaching is its own training! I am currently a 29-year old P.E. teacher, but subbed for over 300 days from 2004-2008 in about 15 different schools from the middle Bronx to one in Brooklyn.

Establishing rapport with the students with the number one priority; I usually did so with humor and patience. Being young at the time was a distinct advantage in this way, although then the female students would hit on you.

Second was to make an example of one student.

Jan. 07 2010 07:49 AM

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