No Substitute For Dedication

Substitute teachers help continue students' education


by Jim Keyworth

roundup staff reporter

While teachers and administrators are working hard to bring education into the 21st century, some things will never change.

Like the way students will try to take advantage of substitute teachers.

"One of the biggies is using the wrong name," said Barbara Watt, a veteran who has been subbing in Payson schools for over six years. "It's just really tough to know all the students in a classroom when you might only be there one day."

Watt, who currently has a long-term assignment subbing for a Rim Country Middle School teacher who had a baby just before school started, said older students are more likely to succeed with their substitute ruses.

"In the lower grades they tattle on one another, but in the higher grades, they don't," she said.

Another common tactic is for kids to try to get away with things the regular teacher doesn't allow. "It's usually little things like chewing gum," Watts said. "The kids will try to tell me their teacher lets them chew gum."

Classroom management is the biggest single problem that substitute teachers face, said Nancy Woods, who schedules and coordinates substitutes for the entire Payson Unified School District.

"That's why we've added a section on classroom management tips to our substitute teacher handbook this year, and we're also offering a full day in-service workshop for new substitutes next month," Woods said.

Subs are always in demand, but because older students are more likely to give them a hard time, Woods has a lot more trouble finding people willing to substitute at the middle and high school levels.

"We never have enough," she said.

Besides getting sick, teachers have sporting events and conferences to go to.

"So when I find somebody who is willing to sub for the higher grades, I snatch them right up," she said.

Watt is more than willing.

"She is just a dedicated, wonderful lady who has put in many years with us," Woods said. "The kids love her."

One of her attributes is obviously a sense of humor.

"Every day is a new challenge," Watt said.

While a lot of the incidents she's experienced are not suitable for print, she remembers a time when she was subbing in a middle school physical education class.

"These two girls decided to slip out," she said. "I noticed they were gone and went into the girls' bathroom looking for them. They heard me coming, closed the stall doors and stood on the toilets so I couldn't see them from underneath. What they didn't realize was that they could now be seen above the stall doors. With their heads popping over the top, I caught them redhanded."

Watt, who is semi-retired, has learned a few tricks herself through her years of substituting.

"I would say the No. 1 rule is to pick your fights and issues carefully, because it's not worth fighting over the little things," she said. "Is it really a big deal that a kid is using the wrong color ink? Make sure the issues are ones you are really concerned about. And then follow through. Don't threaten unless you are really going to take the action."

Watt is one of a "a core of reliable, long-term subs who are wonderful," Woods said. "They're often retired from other professions, but sometimes this is their livelihood."

Substitutes, who are paid $66 per day or $11 an hour, can specify not only the age groups they prefer, but also the days of the week they want to work, and even the subject areas they'd rather teach.

"People check in so often to let me know their availability," Woods said, "that we get to be very good friends."

For retired people, it's a wonderful way to get out of the house, she said.

"Just because they've never been a teacher doesn't mean they don't have something to share," she said.

Watt, who worked for an elevator company in California before moving to the Rim country, believes it is often better not to have a teaching degree.

"The world experience a lot of people have is invaluable in the classroom," she said.

"I would encourage these types of people to come out and work a day or two," Woods said. "It's a real rewarding thing to do. You get a real sense of belonging and helping."

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