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Classroom substitutes often trained educators in search of work

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When a teacher calls in sick at a local school, lists of potential substitutes are ready to step in and run the classroom for the day. Many of them are hoping for a full-time teaching job themselves.

The Indiana Department of Education requires that substitutes be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma, but many local school districts have higher standards. They want college graduates, preferably with teaching licenses, who know how to catch students’ attention when they get distracted or who are trained to see and help students when they don’t understand what’s going on in class.

Locally and across Indiana, some school districts have had to lay off teachers, while others have been slow to create or fill teaching positions, and that’s prompted recent graduates and laid-off teachers to seek work as substitutes. And that means students have a greater chance of having a trained teacher filling in if the classroom teacher is gone, according to Clark-Pleasant curriculum instructional specialist Cameron Rains and Franklin executive director of curriculum and instruction Deb Brown-Nally.

“The more training, especially educational-related training, that people have, the better,” Rains said.

Greenwood’s substitutes are hired by the staffing company Kelly Services, while Franklin and Clark-Pleasant interview and hire their substitutes. Before a substitute teaches a class for the first time, typically they’re trained for part or all of a day on school procedures, standards and what to do in case of an emergency, though none of the training reviews the kinds of lessons the substitutes will be teaching, school officials said.

Those specific, classroom instructions typically come from the teacher whose class the substitute is taking over for, and the lessons are prepared the week, night or morning before class. The substitute then uses those instructions as a guide to teach the class.

“Teachers will tell you that it’s harder to be gone than it is to be at school because of all the planning and note-taking that takes place prior to them leaving, so that a sub who comes in can be prepared and have everything they need in order to make the day go smoothly,” Brown-Nally said.

Teachers can keep in touch with their substitutes through notes left before and after school and with email during the school day. Teachers and principals usually meet with and watch the substitute during most of the school day as well, Brown-Nally and Rains said.

Before the start of school and throughout the day, other teachers will check in with substitutes to make sure they understand all of the instructions they’ve been given. The school’s full-time employees want to see whether the substitute is following the lesson plans that were left for them or whether they simply ignored what they were told — a move that could prompt a school not to have that substitute return, Rains and Brown-Nally said.

“Your colleagues kind of have your back when you’re not in the building,” Rains said.

Greenwood can work with Kelly Services to ensure a substitute who didn’t work well at a school isn’t assigned there again. Sometimes a substitute may work well with the students and staff at one school but not at another, assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said.

And Clark-Pleasant and Franklin both have lists that start with preferred substitutes — people who have shown they know how to follow a teacher’s directions and can control a classroom, Brown-Nally and Rains said.

Typically, these are the first people who are called when a teacher won’t be at school.

“When you have a good sub, you want to keep them there as much as possible,” Brown-Nally said.


Here’s a look at what is and isn’t required to become a substitute teacher in Indiana, as well as what local school districts prefer:

What is required:

Substitutes must be at least 18 years old

Must have a high school diploma

After that they can apply for a substitute teaching permit through the Department of Education at www.doe.in.gov/licensing

What is not required:

A college degree or credits

A teaching license, which requires people to demonstrate skills in managing a classroom as well expertise in math, language arts, science and other essential subjects

Teaching experience

What schools want:

College graduates, preferably with teaching experience

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