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The Value of Substitute Teachers vs. Community Volunteers
posted by: Alix | September 18, 2012, 04:39 PM   

Paying for substitute teachers is traditionally a difficult task for many cash-strapped districts across the country. Earlier this month, the Nampa School Board in Nampa, Idaho approved a controversial new policy that allows community volunteers to serve as unpaid substitutes. The school district's decision has sparked a national dialogue on the merits of substitute teachers nationwide.

In the Idaho district, as a result of a $2.8 million "budget error," the substitute teacher budget was wiped out and the district was forced to come up with alternative ways to staff empty classrooms. While some emergency money was funneled back into substitute teacher funds, it will not be enough to meet the school district's projections for the school year.

According to Nampa School District Spokeswoman Allison Westphall, while the volunteers will not be receiving instructional training, the unpaid volunteers must meet specific requirements that include a high school diploma. "And they have to pass a criminal background check, and pass a drug test," she stressed. "And we check their references, and they have to go through an interview process."

The lack of training concerns some community stakeholders who ponder the effectiveness of a volunteer with no classroom training or experience working with children or high school students. Human resource contacts for the district admit that even paid substitute teachers currently do not receive official training from the district. Due to budget cuts, a plan to provide online courses in classroom management was recently scrapped.

Nationwide, education experts have challenged the idea of large substitute teacher budgets, asserting that districts get little instructional value for their investment. In a recent Education Week commentary, veteran administrator John Fitzsimons suggests that high schools should no longer hire substitutes for short-term teacher absences.

He claims the doing so is "of little or no instructional benefit, very expensive, and an administrative nightmare." He contends students should be given opportunities to manage their own time when a teacher is out, for example, by meeting in study groups or working on independent projects. Based on this model, an unpaid volunteer could supervise these study halls as students work on school work independently.

For students in grades K-8, an adult would at least have to be present to supervise students. Still, experts challenge the merits of hiring a substitute teacher when the permanent teacher usually has little time to prepare a proper lesson that can be translated into proactive learning.

What do you think about hiring substitute teachers? Is it academically and/or cost effective? What do you think is the best way to ensure continued student learning during teacher absences?

Comment below.

Comments (1)Add Comment
Interesting proposal
written by Joe from Warren, PA, September 18, 2012

In my district, subs don't have to be certified to teach, but are required to meet those other criteria listed above.
I don't know how many people would subject themselves to a day of substituting without being paid, but I don't necessarily see any problem with it.

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