In Defense of Substitute Teachers

I have been a Highly Qualified English teacher since 2002. While attending Tennessee Technological University, I achieved the Dean's List with a GPA of 3.6 in Education. As a Highly Qualified teacher, I have taken and passed six Praxis exams-tests that are nationally recognized and necessary to be a teacher. For the past eight years I have taught in Tennessee and Hawaii at the Secondary level in both urban and rural settings.

For two years my father has happily pursued one of the most thankless and selfless jobs around: substitute teaching. Recently, Knox County has mandated that all substitute teachers pay $39.95 and pass four online tests known as the STEDI, a branch of the Utah State University's Substitute Teaching Institute. While on paper this looks like Knox County is strengthening their education system, in reality they are depleting their students of quality substitutes.

The course and tests are laid out in such a way that one would have to have a degree in Education to pass. In actuality, the course and test is made out in such a way that a room full of educators, with a combined 46 years of teaching experience, cannot pass. I realize that we are but one case, but when a room with three generations of educators cannot pass a test, in fact made a 66 percent, then that is sign that there is a flaw in the course and test.

I recognize that schools would like to have as many educators in classrooms as possible, but this is not a reality. Substitute teachers come from a variety of backgrounds, few of which include formal education training. Their lack of training should not be viewed as a handicap, but as strength. Substitutes bring different backgrounds and experiences, which in turn give students different experiences.

Substitute teachers are as important to a school as any other member of the faculty or staff. Without caring individuals that are willing to sacrifice their time and energy to maintain control in classrooms, schools would not run.

The use of an arbitrary course and test, that is strangely difficult for licensed and working teachers to pass, is a surefire way to deplete the substitute pool. The sad truth is, our children will lose out on caring, selfless individuals because the would-be substitute teachers will be more likely to find other jobs, or remain in retirement as opposed to paying $39.95 to fail tests. There has to be some other way for Knox County to look better on paper than to lay off qualified teachers and stand in the way of possible substitute teachers.

Shame on Knox County Schools for placing this blockade on possible substitutes. More importantly, shame on Knox County teachers for not standing up for the people that make our sick and personal days possible. As teachers, we know more than anyone how important it is to have good, caring, and hard-working substitute teachers—and we should be the ones standing up for them.

Ryen Minton