San Francisco’s subs now earn roughly $95 a day. That adds up to less than a first-year teacher’s salary, but it’s not bad, at least compared with substitutes’ wages in other parts of the country. Nationwide, the daily wage runs the gamut, from $25 a day in Alabama and South Dakota to $98 a day in Hawaii, with the average hovering around $55 per day, according to a recent survey of 47 states conducted by University of Wyoming education professor Michael Tomlin.
But San Francisco’s day-to-day substitutes, like most subs, are not entitled to medical insurance, nor do they get paid vacation or sick leave, even when they work every day. Availability of a benefits package is no “small potatoes,’' says Kristeen Hanselman, director of affiliate affairs for the National Education Association. Benefits can increase a substitute’s real earnings by as much as 40 percent.
In addition to the low pay and absence of benefits, substitutes must tolerate an appalling lack of respect, from adults as well as students. San Francisco substitute Scott Silverberg points out that people tend to forget that many subs are fully certified, experienced teachers. Among the many indignities he was forced to endure, Silverberg recalls the day he spent changing light bulbs with a janitor and the time he was asked to tidy another teacher’s science lab.
But it’s the attitude of the students that can really make or break a day. Chicago sub Rosemary Schachte compares her experience substituting to being stranded on a broken-down bus filled with strangers for six hours. “You hope a riot does not erupt,’' she says. “You hope that with the force of your personality you can have a quiet day.’'
A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1991 edition of Teacher as Low Pay, No Respect