A Substitute Career Path

Also in yesterday’s Sakonnet Times is an article about the transitional pains at one of the Tiverton elementary schools that I mentioned last week. Principal Ed Fava ends the article on an interesting note, albeit by missing the more significant factor:

Mr. Fava has one more stress to add to his list this month: a shortage of substitutes.
“It’s problem that is district wide,” he said.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week, Mr. Fava substituted for a first grade class and a fourth grade class. On Monday, Dec. 17, he substituted for a fourth grade class, while a resource teacher filled in to teach first grade.
“I just don’t think we pay enough,” he said. “That’s why we can’t attract them or hang onto them.”
Substitute teachers in Tiverton make $72 a day and about 30 percent of that goes to taxes, he said.
“When you break it down, they’re making a little over $7 an hour. You can make more than that working at McDonalds,” he said.

It really isn’t appropriate to compare substituting in public schools with working in a fast food joint. As with other apprentice-like, ground-floor positions in the public and private sectors, schools used to get away with the pitiful pay for substitutes because it was an early step on the path toward being a full-time teacher. I suspect that young would-be teachers are discovering, as my wife did, that the openings for teachers are, and will continue to be, increasingly rare, and increasingly political when available. Thank the teachers’ unions, in part, for erasing merit comparisons from the profession, while also creating a very attractive slot in which even the mediocre have enhanced security compared with the private sector.
If young teachers can do little more than get in line for years on end, waiting for jobs that pay enough to attract the less passionate, that can be performed rather easily, if done poorly, and with dissipating risk of firing or layoff as time passes, then they’ll conclude that either the region or the profession must be abandoned. Nobody’s going to take fast-food–level pay (without benefits) for an indeterminate duration and little likelihood of advancing.
I’m not sure what the current rules are for non-teacher substitutes, but the lack of predictability and the early wake-up calls when a slot is open make it an unattractive means of earning extra money. For this group of potential subs, as with the hopeful young teachers, schools simply aren’t going to be able to pay enough to overcome the barriers.
You want substitutes? Bust the union, reorder schools such that motivated and talented teachers can advance more quickly, and incorporate substitutes into the career path.

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