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Subbing - Pay and Conditions

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I have been thinking a lot about how much substitute teachers get paid and how little respect they get for the work they do. I wrote on Facebook that I think it is a bit of an insult that subs only get a fraction of what regular teachers get. If a sub worked every single school day at $100 per day, his/her total salary would be $18,000, with no benefits, no guarantee of work. While it is true that subs don't usually have to do lesson plans or give grades or talk to parents, they do have to be prepared for different curricula, different schools, different kids, the constant challenge of change and uncertainty. I am lucky I don't have to depend on it for all of my income.

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I am proud of the work I do. It is hard - in some ways that are similar to the difficulties for regular teachers and in some ways unique to the job of substitute teacher.

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In response to my comments, Shaun Hately said that subs in his part of Australia typically make the same salary as a beginning teacher, around $33,000, which is a LOT better than the $11,000 to $12,000, which I about what I earned in the last two years. And, of course, in the US, health care is made available through employment, and subs are technically self-employed. They don't get any health insurance, unless they buy it as an individual (which is VERY expensive) or get it through a spouse.

Sure, subs could work during the summer at a different job, but summer jobs are also increasingly hard to come by - and also rarely provide health insurance. It is demeaning to work so hard and still not be able to take care of oneself.

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Subs have to deal with a number of issues that regular teachers do not. See the first paragraph of this post and the previous post for sources of stress for subs (discipline, procedures, work parameters, and curriculum content). Both subs and regular teachers have to deal with disciplinary issues. Big differences, though, are that regular teachers are there to teacher correct behaviors in a consistent manner. That is, after all, what discipline should be about. Subs, on the other hand, have much less long term influence. They can use the school's administration, the threat of reporting to the regular teacher, and standard discipline techniques. But there is often uncertainty about how effective these might be. I was once subbing in a classroom, where a student took apart a small manual pencil sharpener. This can be done relatively easily, with something strong enough to be used like a screwdriver. The student then used the razor blade that was in the device to cut things. Because I was afraid that he might begin to use it to cut other students, I removed it from his desk when the students went out to recess and took it to the principal. She seemed relatively unconcerned. I was not. I still think this had the potential of being really bad. On the other hand, when the same student, a few weeks later filled a drink bottle with water, paint, and glue, and I again took it away from him and told her, she seemed much more worried. Apparently she was more worried that the student planned to deface the school than she was worried that the student might deface other students.

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My cousin, who is also a sub, mentioned that the advantage that subs have is that they don't have to go to meetings and they don't have any worries. This is only partly true. This past week, I subbed all week for a math teacher, who was presumably sick. When I accepted the job for the first day, it was described as "basic math" at the high school. Since I am good at math, I was confident that I could teach that. But, when I got there, I found out that the teacher had taught basic math last year. This year, he was teaching two geometry classes, and 3 calculus classes. And, there weren't any standard lesson plans. There were assignment sheets for the AP Calc AB and BC classes, but there were no assignment sheets or lesson plans for the geometry classes. Because I was worried about no lesson plans and not being able to keep up with the calculus classes, I DID worry. And I worried more and more, as 1 day turned to 3, then 4, then 8 days. I tried to do some calculus at home to refresh my memory, but I was simply too exhausted from the teaching day to do much. Therefore I'd say, it is a mixed bag on the worries front. 1 day, usually is fine, but when one day stretches into 8, it becomes a bigger concern. And you don't know when that will be the case.

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In this case, I felt confident about one day and OK with 3 days. I think it is much better for the students and for subs, if the sub who first takes a job stays for any additional days. It is hard for a sub to follow another sub, which I have done a couple of times. The degree of uncertainty about discipline, procedures, and lesson content all increase when a second sub takes over for the first one.

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And, the longer a subbing job goes on, the more the additional worries become similar to those of regular teachers. Some of the standard subbing worries do decline, too, as the sub becomes familiar with the students, the procedures, the work conditions, and discipline in that situation.

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I do find subbing fascinating, but, make no mistake, it is hard work - different in some respects from the work that regular teachers do, similar in other respects. I just wish that some respect for the job would rub off on the subs.

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