On the frontlines
Substitute teachers deserve more money, benefits and respect
By Randy Jurado Ertll 06/05/2014
Substitute teachers working in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) have no labor union representation, which makes a recent decision by the PUSD to reduce their pay particularly painful.
Many substitute teachers have decided to begin organizing to demand that the pay rate be returned to the original amount and that they be reimbursed for the difference.
Many PUSD substitute teachers have chosen to work with the Communication Workers of America (CWA) to obtain official union membership.
They have already obtained the majority of signatures to officially become unionized in order to demand a fair pay and obtain certain benefits that they have been denied for far too long.
Let me tell you, being a substitute teacher is not easy. It takes courage and commitment to do this job. They must work at schools that are not familiar to some subs, and certain schools are very tough when it comes to certain student behaviors and attitudes toward subs.
It takes years of teaching experience to learn certain classroom management and teaching skills. First, you have to be an expert in most subject fields, since you may be assigned to teach math, science, English, or even physical education classes.
It can be an unpredictable job, but substitute teachers become nimble, efficient and effective in navigating various public school bureaucracies.
They are required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and to pass the CBEST teaching credentialing test. Also, they have to jump through many hoops to become cleared by the governor’s office and pass extensive background checks conducted by the state Department of Justice (DOJ). They need to obtain fingerprint clearance.
With this in mind, substitute teachers deserve respect and equal pay with certain benefits. They should actually be paid what regular teachers make on an average day. The Los Angeles Unified School District pays close to $200 per day, in some cases more than $200 for long-term substitute jobs.
It is important to note that substitute teaching has become more competitive since many teachers who were laid off now rely on substitute teaching on a regular basis. Although our economy has made life harder for substitute teachers, they do it because they have a passion for teaching and for helping to serve as positive role models and inspiration for students.
One substitute at a particular school can help change the life of a student via a lesson plan, or reading an inspirational paragraph or chapter, or assigning students to write essays about themselves or about real life challenges that students face on a daily basis. Some substitute teachers can inspire students to go into certain career fields or to make the right life decisions.
The hardest classes to do substitute teaching in are middle schools and certain high school classes, since students are going through major growing changes. But substituting at elementary schools requires even greater responsibility.
Substitute teachers sometimes have to also play the role of psychologists or counselors. Many do this by simply listening to students. Students may not say much at times, but they listen to the words being used and see the behavior of substitute teachers.
Substitute teachers must follow all of the rules and regulations that teachers must follow on a daily basis and the policies set by each school district and the state Department of Education.
Now part-time professors, or adjunct professors, are facing a similar dilemma which substitute teachers have been facing for decades. They are required to teach, but they are paid peanuts, especially since they are perceived as little more than emergency personnel who parachute into a classroom for one or two days and then leave.
However, these should not be perceived as short-term, transactional relationships. Sometimes substitutes eventually choose to become full-time teachers. They find that teaching is their life’s calling.
Substitute teachers are not robots or made of metal. Substitutes are human beings who have feelings, emotions and families.
Many struggle in paying household bills, medical bills, rent and mortgages. It would only be fair, equitable and humane for the PUSD Board of Education to reinstate the $140 a day rate and to offer certain employee benefits to all substitute teachers.
In the long run, it will benefit PUSD much more since substitute teachers will eventually choose to stick around with PUSD, especially if a retirement plan is offered.
Let us show substitute teachers that we appreciate and respect their courage of being educators.
In the toughest of circumstances, they do not back down. The resilience, fortitude and courage that it takes to be in the trenches of the classroom is a great example for our PUSD students to follow.
Randy Jurado Ertll is the author of “The Life of an Activist: In the Frontlines 24/7.” Visit his Web site randyjuradoertll.com.