Saturday, October 24, 2009

Area districts tighten standards for substitutes

With influx of applicants, some districts now require teaching certifications.

By Melissa B. Taboada
Thursday, August 27, 2009

Central Texas school districts are raising standards for substitute teachers. With the sour economy and a glut of job seekers, those districts say they now have the option to be choosier and some are requiring new substitutes to possess teacher certifications.

"With the economy, the depth of our pool has increased, and along with that, certified (teachers) as well," said Troy Galow , the Leander district's director of employee relations, which oversees substitutes. "In different years, we don't have this luxury or opportunity to have this many certified people."

The Leander school district began requiring teaching certification for new substitutes last school year but kept many of its previous substitutes who don't have certificates. At least half of this year's substitute pool of 900 are certified teachers or have indicated that they are, pending verification. Previously, the district only required a high-school diploma or equivalency certificate and at least six months of verifiable related work experience, such as private school teaching, child care or working as a teaching assistant.

Lake Travis currently requires substitutes to have a high-school diploma or equivalency certificate, but trustees might approve new rules today requiring 60 college hours.

The Pflugerville school district is accepting substitute applications only from certified teachers and those who have skills in high-need areas, such as bilingual education or upper-level math. The economic downturn allowed the district to raise the bar, said Lori Einfalt , Pflugerville's executive director of human resources. She said the district has more than 460 substitutes.

"We have many more certified applicants making inquiry at this time, so we are building our base from there," Einfalt said. "Of course, we have many successful substitutes who have served us over the years who comprise the foundation of our substitute pool."

Districts benefit from having a supply of stand-ins with experience running a classroom, education experts say.

"Historically, one of the problems that substitute teachers have is classroom management," said Debbie Graves Ratcliffe , spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. "People who have been through traditional teacher certification programs get trained in that area, and it can be critical to their effectiveness."

Rand Schuetzeberg , a retired teacher who taught for 37 years and recently returned to school as a substitute teacher in the Leander district, agrees. "No. 1 is controlling discipline in the classroom and knowledge of the material," she said.

A friend, who was a middle-school teacher, needed a long-term substitute and asked Schuetzeberg to fill in for the 15-week assignment. "When I took that 15-week job, I just walked in and started teaching," she said. Certified teachers "are not scrambling around looking for plans and that sort of thing.

"I love teaching, that's why I went back to subbing," Schuetzeberg said. "I couldn't stay away."

When the economy goes south, school districts typically get a flock of good applicants, Ratcliffe said. Some trained teachers who had been staying at home with children now have to get back into the workforce to help the family financially. Teachers who went into other careers but got laid off are returning to teaching. Some substitutes are teachers who have been laid off in other districts, Ratcliffe said.

The Round Rock school district isn't taking any substitute teaching applications to start this school year because they simply have too many.

Other districts, including Austin, have cut back on new hires, making it difficult for recent education graduates to land a job. Austin, which has more than 2,100 substitutes, and is not taking applications and requires candidates to have at least 60 hours of college courses.

And while the Eanes and Hays school districts generally do not require substitutes to have college experience, once the substitute pool gets saturated, district officials there say they will only allow certified teachers to apply for the remainder of the year.

"Last year, we saw an increase in the amount of interested substitutes in our district, and that trend seems to be continuing this fall," said Lester Wolff , Eanes' assistant superintendent for human resources. "We would prefer certified teachers because of their background and training, as well as their knowledge of instructional strategies."; 445-3620

Minimum substitute requirements for new applicants

Austin 60 college hours; is not accepting applications

Eanes high-school diploma or GED for now; teaching certification when substitute pool gets saturated

Hays high-school diploma or GED for now; teaching certification when pool gets saturated

Lake Travis high-school diploma or GED; trustees might approve new rules today requiring 60 college hours

Leander teaching certificate

Pflugerville teaching certificate or special skills, such as in upper-level math or being bilingual

Round Rock minimum of high-school diploma or GED, substitute pool already saturated; not accepting new applicants

San Marcos 30 college hours

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