Near the Cape Fear River in the clear and breezy coastal town of Wilmington, N.C., Dr. Mike Allred is teaching prospective substitute teachers to always be ready with key, effective teaching ingredients up their sleeves, to always be ready with a lesson plan, and to leave their “preconceived notions at the door.”
State requirements and qualifications for substitute teachers vary. Some states have few while others have more, but over the years the requirements have been growing greater within school districts—particularly in technology use and training to improve and support the substitute teacher workforce, according to Jaclyn Zubrzycki, staff writer for Education Week and host of the webinar “When Teacher’s Out: Building a Professional Substitute-Teaching Force.”
Dr. Allred has a 41-year career in N.C. Public Schools, working as a Spanish and English teacher, a basketball coach, and an administrator. He managed a middle school and a high school as an assistant principal and principal where he helped land his school in the “Top 10” out of 137 most improved schools in the state. He ended his career in public school as an assistant superintendent.
Dr. Allred said in a telephone interview that teachers today are great and more professional than what he knew in the 50s and 60s. “The good old days were not always so good,” said Dr. Allred. “Teachers today are great. Of course, teachers were great in the past, too.” But the profession has changed a lot, he said.
With teacher accountability and assessments, Dr. Allred said that today’s teaching has become an increasingly professional career. “High expectations really work,” he said, “for your students and teachers, and yourself. Then, and only then, can you put them out for other people.”
As an assistant superintendent until 2006, Dr. Allred taught entry-level, uncertified teachers hired by the district how to teach. “Then I decided to retire. If I had to do it again, which I don’t, but if I did, I would not have retired as soon as I did,” said Dr. Allred. He would have liked to stay for at least another year.
“What I really enjoy being able to do since I moved to Wilmington is being able to teach the Effective Teacher Training course at Cape Fear Community College,” and he took to it like a duck takes to water, he said.
It is a requirement that substitute teachers pass Dr. Allred’s effective teaching course before being hired for the job in Wilmington.
Further inland south, Knox County Schools in Tennessee also started to revamp their substitute training program, which they found to be outdated in 2008, according to Kathy Sims, executive director of Human Resources with the county.
Still using paper and pencil, they would send a substitute teacher roster to schools, and then principals or administration would call substitutes to come in as needed. Now, Knox County uses all electronic systems, and substitute teacher applicants have to pass a web-based training program before getting the job.
Zubrzycki and Sims agree that districts, principals, and teachers want quality substitute teachers, and they want those subs to stick around. Looking at the substitute workforce in a new light, districts throughout the nation are hiring permanent substitute teachers that work full time in a school building.
Sims said that principals in her school district have expressed interest in having a full-time sub on campus, but the district has a hard time focusing resources into creating the position, though schools with additional funding have the resources.
Sims said principals noticed that “the quality is much better” after the substitute training program.
A few places to find great substitute teachers, according to Sims, is among mothers, college students with extra time, and retired teachers.
“Smaller schools have their favorites. Their best subs are mommies,” said Sims in the webinar. It’s a great workforce for parents who choose to stay home, because when children are at school, they can sub, said Sims. In Knox County, subs need only a GED or high school diploma in addition to passing the web-based training.
Sims said that they want to make sure quality instruction continues in the classroom when the teachers are away, and they want everyone in the classroom to be an effective teacher. One idea they had was to create a “dream team,” similar to a substitute teacher academy, that works full time within a small region.
Substitute teachers, according to Sims, would also like to have continuous training, particularly on how to use classroom technology like smart boards.
“Of course being a teacher, to see the kids begin to be successful and proud of themselves, and you see that they are getting what you are teaching them—of course that is very satisfying,” said Dr. Allred.
Now, Allred is seeing this in his future substitute teachers at the community college. “We talk about the assertive discipline approach … After you get a sub job, you feel like you can handle it.” And subs learn different teaching methods for the classroom, like “time management, behavior management, presentations, and positive feedback,” said Dr. Allred.
Former students have told Dr. Allred that they have the confidence to go in the classroom.
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