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Education Letter to the Editor

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February 01, 1992 8 min read
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Substitutes Respond

As Elizabeth Schulz points out in her story on substitute teaching [“A New Face Every Day,’' November/December], a number of urban school districts acknowledge that they have a problem covering teacher absences for a variety of reasons. What is the solution? As a substitute teacher, I suggest the following innovative ideas:

  • Assign substitutes permanently to a particular school in the district. This not only fosters a sense of belonging and fellowship but also familiarizes the substitute with the school’s philosophy and policies. In addition, the students, teachers, and staff become acquainted with the replacement teacher.
  • Before the start of the school year, each district needs to hold a substitute teachers’ orientation program. Such a program should focus on guidelines, directions, and training. Topics to be addressed should include district procedures, statement of policy and philosophy, discipline procedures, information pertaining to compensation, and responsibilities of teachers, administrators, and substitutes.
  • Substitute teacher handbooks need to contain assignment procedures, time schedules, a map with directions to schools, floor plans of schools, emergency procedures, a substitute teacher report form, and a classroom teacher report form.
  • Substitutes should only accept assignments for which they qualify and should only accept them from designated personnel. They should be expected to provide continuity of instruction; at no time should a substitute teacher be rotated, as this is counter-productive.
  • Every attempt should be made to contact the substitute at least one-and-a-half hours before the start of the school day, or, when possible, the day before the substitute teacher is needed. This will allow the sub to arrive in a timely fashion and bring appropriate alternative lesson plans and creative exercises.
  • Schools should hand substitutes, on their arrival, a packet that includes attendance procedures, a class roster, seating chart, and a list of students who have special needs. It is the teachers’ responsibility to keep this data up to date and the administrators’ job to ensure all documents are on file in the office.
  • Substitutes should leave a complete record of the day’s activities for the regular classroom teacher and the building principal, and the classroom teacher, when he or she returns, should complete a formal evaluation of the sub’s performance.
  • Lastly, each school should actively promote the professionalism of substitute teachers by inviting them to staff development activities and workshops designed with the subs in mind.

To ensure a quality education in every classroom, as prescribed by classroom teachers, I strongly encourage each district to make changes and upgrade their substitute teaching policies. Katherine McAndrews-Grogan Hamburg, N.Y.

I could not let your story about substitutes pass without some comment. I was particularly annoyed at the implication that substitutes without certification or teaching credentials may not be qualified. In my opinion, the vast majority of the problems in schools are created by the certified teachers and the established system--not by the subs, credentialed or otherwise.

A few words about me. I am 71 years old, which is obviously a handicap, although I am very healthy and active. I have two degrees with honors and have recently retired from a long, rewarding, and lucrative career. I signed up to sub primarily to have something to do and to add a bit of income. When I applied, the man who interviewed me said I should send a resume to all the county high school principals along with a description of the special lectures I am prepared to give when teachers are absent. I did as he suggested, but I have seen no evidence that any principal or teacher at a local school has ever heard of me.

Teachers apparently don’t want subs to teach. A sub routinely receives specific instructions on homework or an insipid work sheet that is to be completed during the period assigned. Very often some dumb movie is scheduled, a film that usually runs longer than the class period!

I find a great deal of indifference among the students I have met, even among the good students. A day with a sub means nothing; ergo, little or no work needs to be done, and it is fine sport to get the sub’s goat. Disorder, incivility, and downright stupidity is the name of the game.

I have had only one day of subbing filled with excitement. I subbed for a teacher of French, who assigned oral recitation. In all of her classes, hands were constantly waving as almost all students sought an opportunity to respond. Such a wonderful and rewarding day.

An ideal day for a sub is in an advanced class, such as physics, where students go about the day’s assignment in an orderly fashion so the sub can read a newspaper or magazine all day. The next best is to have the last period free so you can rush home early to grab the aspirin bottle.

A few words about the teachers. Very few have ever acknowledged that I have subbed for them. One has asked that I not be assigned again to her classroom. Likewise, I have refused to sub again for another teacher. The latter called me the day after I filled in for her and read me the riot act. I obviously was incompetent when I judged “her kids’’ to be a bunch of hoodlums.

Recently, I subbed for a math teacher whose written instructions told me to go over the answers with the pupils. The answers, she wrote, would be found in the “teacher’s addition’’ of the text book. The next day in another room, I read some interim grade reports on the teacher’s desk. One report included this comment: So-and-so “should have past math.’'

I will not be available to sub next year because I expect to move away. I may finish out this year; I will not throw in the towel simply because I find the whole scene to be beyond belief. I think parents should be called on to sub, the way they are called for jury duty. I cannot believe that they have the foggiest notion what goes on inside the schoolhouse walls. John Graham Woodbridge, Va.

A Common Language

Without wishing to prolong the debate over Madeline Hunter [“Madeline!,’' October] I would like to respond to Barbara Reider’s letter on the topic [“Letters,’' January].

I have been in education for 30 years and I, too, understand the “intuition’’ of teaching. Intuition, however, is not easily transmitted. How do you pass it on? It is difficult to explain to a new teacher--one who has not had the benefit of years of experience-- ways to extend assignments or the rewards of carefully guiding practice to ensure good assignments in return. Since we cannot be cloned and will eventually retire from the profession, isn’t it our duty to give something to future generations of teachers?

The beauty of the Hunter approach is that it provides a common language, a way of explaining to both new and experienced teachers, the thinking and research behind the “intuition’’ that leads us to take certain actions.

I was a classroom teacher for 15 years and, I thought, a pretty good one. But if I had been trained in effective teacher behavior, I would have been so much better. Hunter opened a new world for me. Her approach provided an explanation for the things we did well and gave us insight into how we could become better teachers. While it may be common sense to some, as my grandmother used to say, “Common sense ain’t so common.’'

I am a disciple, an advocate, and a real fan of Hunter and the decisionmaking model. The approach spells out things that teachers may consider as they work with students. It is not lockstep; it is not stifling; it does not prohibit creativity in the classroom. On the contrary, it equips the teacher with additional tools to think about and use in working with students. And we know that we need all the tools we can get. I agree that “we teachers need to give ourselves credit for welldeserved excellence.’' But isn’t it nice to know the reasons behind those intuitive actions? And that we have a common language with which to share them?

Teaching is both art and science, and Hunter brings the two together--beautifully. Lynda Byrd Chicago Heights, Ill.

Whole Language

I am responding to the letters on whole language that appeared in the October issue of your fine magazine. I have been a teacher for more than 20 years, and I have seen many “new and revolutionary’’ ideas come and go. My children, who graduated with B-plus averages from high school, were the products of new math, and both had to take remedial math when they got to college. I suffered through an intensive twoweek summer workshop, cramming the elements of a new and revolutionary reading program into my poor, befuddled brain; two years later, the program was eliminated from our school.

Now, we are in the throes of the “new and revolutionary’’ whole language phenomenon. There are many facets of whole language that are fine. However, according to the assistant superintendent of our district, research has already shown that children who are immersed in whole language programs are showing disastrously low scores on standardized tests in the areas of capitalization, punctuation, and usage. Obviously, they have never been taught the basics.

I’m sure that whole language students write darling little stories and are probably having more fun in school, but I’m equally sure that there are myriad spelling, punctuation, and syntax errors throughout their creative little wonders. If this is what we want for our children, we can rest assured that the United States will continue to compare abysmally with other countries as far as education is concerned. I myself find this idea repugnant.

I’d be fascinated to know how the whole language craze came into such favor with today’s educators. I’d be willing to wager a week’s pay that the innovators were people who had trouble reading, writing, and speaking, not to mention distinguishing a participle from a pronoun or preposition.

I guess I’ll just keep on doing what works for me, and I’ll continue to reap the reward of hearing that my former English students excel in freshman English when they get to college. Sue Clare Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Teacher Magazine welcomes letters. They must include your address and daytime phone number and may be edited for length and clarity. Mail them to: “Letters,’' Teacher Magazine, 4301 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 250, Washington, DC 20008.

A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1992 edition of Teacher as Letters

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