The days of substitute teachers in the classroom meaning a free, easy day for students are over.
Substitutes, in many cases, now are in the classrooms full-time; making lesson plans, grading papers, teaching your kids the same way a full-time teacher would.
Long-term substitutes in the Clark County School District help fill the 750 teacher vacancy positions. CCSD currently employes 664 long-term substitutes.
But, they are paid much less than full-time teachers.
Fernando Valenzuela is a long-term substitute teacher at CCSD. He said the pay varies, but it averages about $120 a day, for Title I schools: $150 a day.
Starting salary for a full-time contracted teacher is about $46,000 a year, but Valenzuela said he gets about $18,000 a year for doing the same job.
“I’m in the classroom, in the same classroom, Monday through Friday,” he said.
The practice of using substitutes to fill in for teachers in the long run is not isolated to southern Nevada.
Lois Weiner is an author and professor of education at New Jersey City University. She specializes in urban education policy.
Weiner said teacher vacancies and low pay for substitutes is a national - and global - issue.
“What has happened in the last 15 years is that the two-tier system has been worsened. It’s been intensified because we have an increasing number of jobs that are not filled,” she said.
Weiner believes the education system needs to ask big questions about why teachers aren't being hired and why they are not staying.
“The problem has been intensified by policies that have de-professionalized teaching and worsened teaching conditions, worsened teaching pay, taking away teachers' autonomy, and I think that the problem of long-term substitutes has to be put into that. So that the position of long-term substitutes has been worsened along with the position of regular teachers,” she said.
Because of that, many substitute teachers have been unwilling to become full-time teachers. Valenzuela said he's not sure if he wants to make the commitment in time and money to get his master's degree and become a full-time contracted teacher.
Weiner said districts need to address that issue.
For example, a district in New Jersey is paying for substitute teachers to get their certificates to become full-time teachers. She wonders if districts are really putting in the resources to fill the vacancies they have.
In addition, she said the schools that are getting short-changed the most are likely low-income with more children of color.
“These vacancies probably don’t exist in the most affluent schools in the district,” she said, “Shortage areas and vacancies are almost always configured by who the students are who are being taught and the political clout they and their families and communities they are in to make sure there are teachers who are making a commitment to teaching as a career.”
She said schools that need the most stable and well-paid teachers are likely getting the most substitute teachers.
While Wiener has strong words for school districts, she also doesn't want to let teachers' union off the hook.
“When they were negotiating for their 3 percent increase they needed to, I think, morally and politically put pressure on the district to attend to this question of the vacancies,” she said.
Weiner said that full-time teachers often don't see substitute teachers and other support staff as peers or colleagues.
Valenzuela said he has talked to the Clark County Education Association, which represents teachers in Clark County, and the Nevada State Education Association, which represents teachers around the state, both unions expressed interest in helping but didn't provide details about it.
He has thought about organizing a strike of substitutes, which he believes would have a big impact.
“The effect would be huge because we currently have both a teacher and a substitute teacher shortage. If you have a large group of substitute teachers not showing up, the district is going to hurt,” he said.
Meanwhile, Valenzuela said he has started a petition to support his cause after not receiving support from the district.
“It seems to me like they’re ignoring the issue completely," he said, “I have yet to get any response from Dr. Jara and so at a certain point, I have to feel like they just don’t care.”
He said the response to problems at the district seems fragmented with parents, teachers and support staff all working for something separate when in reality they're fighting for the same thing.
"We’re all in education and what we all have in common is that we want what’s best for the students and I feel like we are lacking the solidarity not just amongst ourselves as educators but extending that to support staff or extending that the parents as well,” he said.
Editor's note: The Clark County School District declined to participate in this discussion.
Fernando Valenzuela, long-term substitute, Clark County School District; Lois Weiner, author, urban education policy
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