Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Looking For Mr. And Mrs. Good Sub

In Arizona, the only formal education that is required to serve as a substitute teacher is a high school diploma or G.E.D. In Bullhead City, that's all that many 'subs have:
Some parents, teachers and students say they feel cheated by the use of emergency certified personnel in area schools.

“Somebody needs to stand up and ask some questions around here,” retired Mohave High School administrator Dave Kops said. He was referring to the practice of using emergency certified substitutes as contracted teachers in the classroom.

“How is a person who hasn't been trained in classroom dynamics and direction supposed to direct a classroom? The fact that people are being employed in positions and paid the same as certified teachers is unfair to those who spent years in college and are paying off student loans,” Kops said.

In Arizona, anyone with a high school diploma or GED can receive emergency substitute certification at the request of a district that proves an emergency employment situation exists, Arizona Department of Education Director of Certification Jan Pentek said.

Emergency certificates are designed to fill a need in the substitute teacher pool and not to replace certified teachers in the classroom, Arizona department of Education Assistant Director of Certification Brenda Morgan said.

“The certificate entitles the holder to substitute only in the district that verifies an emergency employment situation exists and in the temporary absence of a regular contract teacher,” documentation from the state said. “The individual holding only an emergency substitute certificate shall not be assigned a contract teaching position and shall be limited to 120 days of substitute teaching per school year.”

Emergency sub certificates are often confused with emergency teacher certificates, which require a bachelor's degree, as do regular sub certificates, Brenda Morgan said.

Emergency teacher certificates are designed to fill a need where regular certified teachers can not be found, as is often the case in rural areas, she said.

Bullhead City Elementary School District employs 26 emergency certified teachers and 42 emergency certified substitutes. The Mohave Valley Elementary School District has four emergency certified teachers and 13 emergency certified substitutes; the Colorado River Union High School District employs 12 emergency certified teachers and 12 emergency certified subs, according to Pentek.

In most cases, emergency certified subs are used strictly as subs, Mohave Valley Elementary School District Supt. Phil Sauceman said.

In his case, all but three emergency certified subs are used only for substitute teaching, he said.

One replaced a teacher on maternity leave, another replaced a teacher who resigned mid-semester and will fill the position only until a certified teacher can be hired. The third was necessary in a regular teaching position because of the rapid growth of the district after school began, Sauceman said.

The Bullhead City Elementary School District uses all 42 of their emergency certified subs as either substitute teachers or teacher's aides, Supt. Ted Fadler said.

CRUHSD Supt. Nancy Silk said most of the 12 emergency certified subs in her district are used to increase the sub pool but did not specify how many were used in the classroom.

“We of course prefer to have highly trained teachers in the classroom but that is not always possible,” she said. “Sometimes we are forced to place emergency certified substitute teachers in the regular teacher positions. We work very hard at recruiting and keeping our certified staff by being competitive salary-wise and work very closely with teachers who are close to becoming highly certified.”

Seniors at Mohave High School cited undertrained staff as one of the main problems with their education.

In a survey of 100 students conducted Jan. 24 by substitute teacher Bonnelyn Cole, in which students were asked what needed to happen to improve education and learning at the high school, the top response from students was: “Quality teachers that are credentialed in the subject matter they are teaching.”

“When asked if the seniors felt they had received a quality education, sadly, only three students raised their hands,” Cole said. “They expressed fear of not being able to compete when moving on the college.”

The students' second and third suggestions for improved learning were: “Teachers who can teach, not just hand out worksheets ... and teachers with strong moral values that really care about kids,” she said.

One parent of a CRUHSD junior said she was appalled that her son could have a teacher with less education than him.

“How can they possibly place people in a teaching position if they have only a GED?” Marianne Polenski asked. “And, we wonder what's wrong with our education system. No wonder Arizona is at the bottom of the rung nationwide.”

Polenski questioned who was ultimately responsible for overseeing that certification was used the way the state intended.

“Who makes sure that the district isn't just hiring whoever they want?” she asked. “Where are the checks and balances.”

In the event a district assigns faculty to positions they are not qualified for, the district governing board should take responsibility, Morgan said.

If that fails, the county superintendent's office monitors misuse, she said.

But, according to County Superintendent of Schools Mike File the responsibility was taken from their office years ago.

“I know that it happens because we do their payroll,” he said. “It's fairly common in rural areas and in high growth areas for districts to assign long term substitute assignments. I was unaware that they were not allowed to be contract employees. It's standard practice for everyone who gets paid through the district to have a contract.”

The current Arizona regulations could soon change, Morgan said.

“These are the rules as of right now,” she said. “There is movement towards more stringent rules.”

To qualify for an emergency substitute certificate in California, individuals must have completed 90 semester units of college or university course work, be currently enrolled in a regionally accredited four-year college, and pass the California Basic Education Skills Test, according to the California Commission of Teaching Credentials.

The Needles Unified School District currently employs no teachers with less than a bachelor's degree, according to the California Department of Education.

The Nevada Department of Education doesn't even offer an emergency sub certificate. They do have an expedited alternative route to licensing for teachers, which requires a bachelor's degree plus 150 hours of professional development training, Clark County School District Personnel Coordinator Jean King said.
Even though I realize that having a college degree doesn't necessarily equate with being a good teacher, if classroom teaching is to ever be considered a legitimate profession, there really needs to be a higher standard. In most states, it seems as though teaching is one of the few occupations from which one can earn wages without having completed the licensure process.
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