ANNAPOLIS – High school math may be fresh in the mind of that substitute algebra teacher – he or she may have just completed the course.
Under many Maryland school district requirements, substitute teachers could potentially be fresh out of high school and not much older than the students they are trying to supervise.
In Maryland, 16 of the 24 school districts hire substitute teachers with only high school diplomas. Only one, Montgomery County, requires a bachelor’s degree in any subject. While some counties provide special training for substitutes, no district requires subs to have education degrees or even teaching experience.
Most substitutes don’t preside over the same classroom for more than a day or two, school officials say, but some can take on long-term assignments up to an entire school year.
“Everybody has trouble getting substitutes,” said Marge Penhallegon, a personnel officer in Baltimore County schools. “Being a teacher is hard, and when you have to walk in for a day or a couple days, it’s even harder.”
Each county has a “pool” of substitute teachers who are called, often on short notice, whenever there is an open classroom. Substitutes can accept or decline a job offer based on their availability.
Substitutes with bachelor’s degrees get paid an average of $11 more than non-degree subs. Those with long-term assignments also receive higher rates per day.
The number of non-degree substitute teachers varies with each county, but some school districts estimate half of the subs in their pool have only high school diplomas.
Deborah Bostian, president of the Maryland Parent Teacher Association, said she didn’t realize the majority of state school districts do not require substitute teachers to be college-educated.
“(The education requirement) should be at least 60 credits before they’re allowed in a classroom,” she said. “Our children deserve someone with some educational background. Any training they have would be better than someone fresh out of high school.”
Although only a small minority of substitute teachers have teaching certificates, subs are supposed to do more than just watch students. School district officials say substitutes are expected to carry out a daily lesson plan.
“We never expect the substitute teachers to be merely in the room,” Penhallegon said. “We always expect instruction to continue.”
But most school districts say it isn’t feasible to raise educational requirements for substitutes because of the statewide teacher shortage.
By 2001, Maryland schools will need another 11,000 teachers, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. But the state only trains about 2,500 new teachers a year, and almost half of those find jobs in private schools or other states.
“Most of the counties are requiring what the market will bear,” said Ron Peiffer, spokesperson for the Maryland State Department of Education. “It’s always desirable to have a degreed candidate, but local school districts have had a very difficult time filling these positions in recent years. … The substitute teacher pool is considerably smaller than it’s been in the past.”
This wasn’t always the case, Peiffer said. Several years ago the state had a surplus of teachers, he said, and many people who were certified to teach became substitutes to gain experience before finding full-time jobs. But when instructors began to be in short supply, most certified teachers got full-time jobs and the pools of substitutes in each county quickly dried up.
To add to the problem, some substitutes will work only certain days or at certain schools, making it sometimes difficult to fill all the empty classrooms, educators say. Plus, adjoining counties often compete for the same subs.
The teacher shortage has forced school districts like Garrett County to lower requirements for substitutes.
Garrett, just two months ago, required subs to be college seniors majoring in education or college graduates. Now they just need high school diplomas, although they must be reviewed by a selection committee that looks at education, work or volunteer experience and recommendations.
“We just could not find enough substitutes,” under the old requirements, said Ervin Fink, director of human resources and finance.
Even Montgomery County’s lofty standards had to be trimmed. About two years ago, the county stopped requiring its substitute teachers to have education degrees, said Linda Walker, substitute coordinator.
Montgomery still maintains a higher requirement than other counties because it also provides the best salary for subs, at $85.26 a day, Walker explained.
Although standards have dropped, educators insist they still choose substitutes carefully.
“It’s not an automatic procedure,” Fink said. “A person with a high school diploma can’t just walk in and say ‘I want to substitute.'”
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