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Schools may get tougher rules for substitutes

Published Oct. 1, 2005

Attention Hernando County students: The next substitute teacher you disrespect may not be the powerless pushover you think.

From assistant principals to Superintendent John Sanders, administrators may soon be required to work twice a year as substitute teachers.

"We are in the business of education, and I think this is basic," School Board member Sandra Nicholson said in making the suggestion at a workshop Tuesday. "This would help keep administrators in touch with what is going on in the schools by getting them down to the very base of our existence."

The administrators-in-the-classrooms idea was one of a handful of changes board members suggested as a way to address what they see as a lack of qualified substitute teachers. The board discussed the issue several years ago, but Nicholson said previous administrators did not take it seriously.

Of the district's 268 registered substitutes, 110 do not have more than a high school education. Full-time teachers are required to have a four-year degree and certification by the state.

"If I went to the doctor and a high school graduate was filling in (for the doctor), I wouldn't like it one bit," board member Jim Malcolm said. "I think we should have qualified replacements for our professionals, too."

Nicholson, who does not have a college degree, first raised the idea of looking at substitutes' qualifications at a board meeting last month. She told the story of a student who graduated from Hernando High School one spring and was substitute teaching there the next fall.

"That's just scary to me," she said. "That person can't have the ability to teach that an educated person can. He might have not taken algebra and could be teaching it the next year."

The suggested changes, which the board still must formally approve, include:

Requiring substitutes to work toward a degree while teaching.

Establishing a mentoring system for new substitutes.

Finding a way to ensure that substitutes filling in in one class for an extended period are qualified to teach that subject.

Placing administrators as substitutes.

Board members were in agreement on the potential changes, except for the idea of placing administrators in classes. Jerry Milby said administrators' time is too valuable to spend filling in for a teacher.

"Who's going to do the administrator's duty while he or she is in the classroom?" he asked. "Your administrators were picked and put in their positions to be administrators."

But Nicholson said the entire district needs to be as involved in the classroom as possible.

"I think it is part of any administrator's job," she said.

"Teaching?" Milby responded.

"Yes," said Malcolm, a former teacher. "It is absolutely part of the job. I think it's just good teamwork. . . . I think you are not really part of the system until you have a student step up and tell you where you can go. I'm frankly amazed at the resistance to the idea."

Sanders said the suggestion has some merit, but he thinks most administrators are in touch with the classroom.

"I think that's a bad rap that we administrators get all the time," he said. "I'm not sure that there is a direct correlation between being out of the class and forgetting what it is like to be a teacher."

Substitute teachers in Hernando make $41 to $59.85 a day, depending on their education. The district provides a short training period for substitutes, and the board discussed beefing it up if it can't find enough substitutes with college degrees. District staff members were instructed to find out if grant money is available to pay for training or to help substitutes work toward their degree as they teach.

The only teacher at the meeting, teachers union president Cliff Wagner, said he had a substitute in his class Tuesday whom he handpicked and trusted. She does not have a college degree.

Sanders said Florida is one of a few states that do not require substitutes to have a college education.

"To me what's important is classroom management," said Wagner, a biology teacher at Springstead High School. "To be honest, in terms of teaching, substitutes are just babysitters. The teacher makes the lesson plan, and if the sub can keep the class from getting out of control, they are good."

But Nicholson said that's the mentality she is trying to purge.

"I don't want a babysitter," she said. "I want my kids to learn no matter who is teaching. I want educators."