JESSICA ESPOSITO — Special to Southern News
Did you ever wonder what credentials were needed to be a substitute teacher? In order to be a substitute teacher in the state of Connecticut, an individual must undergo a background check and have a bachelor’s degree in anything. Yes that is correct, anything. As an education major who has taken part in several fieldwork experiences, I find that very strange.
I always wondered why people who majored in education could not be substitute teachers while they are in school learning to be teachers. I have done fieldwork where, occasionally, there would be a substitute teacher when my mentor teacher was not there. Yet, I have been working with these students, I have written and taught several lesson plans, and I have played an active role in the classroom since the beginning of my internship. Further, I know the schedule, so why can’t I fill in for my mentor teacher while she or he is sick? Why is it that a piece of paper, a college degree, proves that you are capable of managing a classroom?
In several universities throughout the state, before candidates are even accepted into their teaching departments, they are required to obtain letters of recommendation, pass the Praxis I and take a few courses in the field of education, among other tasks. We have to undergo a background check just like those who apply for a substitute teaching position. I feel saddened that society has the view that anyone with any type of degree can go into a school with no prior experience and “teach.”
Now, I realize that substitutes are usually called in for short-term purposes, sometimes for the day, sometimes only for a period. However, when a nurse is out sick or taking a personal day, not simply anyone with a degree can perform his or her job. I know that nursing requires immense skill and plenty of training, but so does teaching. If teaching has been reduced to “glorified babysitting,” then why is it that education majors must take test after test to not only show competence regarding content, but also curriculum and how children learn?
We can all remember times throughout our schooling when we’ve had substitute teachers, and a large portion of the time we do not finish what our teacher had intended. Further, our teacher usually leaves worksheets to do, and that is not good teaching. The substitutes might as well let us, the students, have recess or sit back and text each other the entire day. I think it would be much more productive if substitutes could actually teach something so that the students would be learning and the day would not be wasted.
Unfortunately, there are so many teachers without jobs, so why can’t there be a system where teachers substitute for other teachers? Wouldn’t it be better if someone who was trained and certified was able to cover for a teacher who fell ill? I think substitute teaching positions should mainly be open to teachers; those who have majored in a “report card” subject like mathematics or English. Even people who major in a related field would be assets as substitute teachers, but not those who major in areas that have absolutely no correlation with education.
According to the Connecticut State Department of Education: “If you substitute more than 40 days in one district in the same assignment, the district must apply to the Bureau of Educator Standards and Certification for a substitute teacher authorization. If you substitute at the elementary level, secondary level, or in special education beyond 40 days in the same assignment, you must have a minimum of 12 semester hours of credit in the subject area you are teaching.”
The SDE does acknowledge that people without degrees in education should not be substituting for a long length of time. But think about this for a moment; the SDE says it is OK for people to substitute up to 40 days. The school week is five days long, so an untrained person can hypothetically being teaching in a classroom for two months without any background in education. Two months is an astronomical amount of time in terms of a school year. Children only go to school nine months out of the year as it is. If we take away two months, that leaves even less time for learning to occur.
With the high stakes, testing becoming more prevalent in schools, especially in the primary grades. I do not think students can risk losing out on those two months. The students are being shortchanged in this whole situation.
When will the state realize that what they are pushing for is hypocritical? One moment they say teachers must be highly qualified by majoring in a content area in addition to their education major, yet substitute teachers can have any major. The SDE goes on to say that in “rare circumstances” you can become a substitute if you are 18-years-old, a high school graduate and have experience with children. I just don’t understand the inconsistencies. As an education major, our grades, evaluations, fieldwork experience and even our degrees aren’t enough to satisfy the state. We have to take the Praxis II, the Connecticut Foundations of Reading Test and in the near future we will be required to take the Connecticut Foundations of Mathematics Test to become certified teachers.
Whether or not substitute teachers cover for one 45-minute period, one day, or even one month, who would be a better candidate for that position—a certified teacher, or simply anyone with a college degree?
Unfair education standards
JESSICA ESPOSITO — Special to Southern News