Set the Bar Higher for Substitute Teachers? Smaller School Systems Fear Education-Standard Reform Would Reduce Applicant Rolls

Article excerpt

Byline: CYNTHIA L. GARZA, The Times-Union

Tammy Gibbs is not the typical rural school system substitute teacher.

She has been filling in at Baker County High School for the past five years. She likes the schedules' flexibility, although she is still at the school at least three to four times a week.

What sets her apart is her bachelor's degree in home economics. Of the Baker County school system's 145 substitutes, about 25 have a college degree, according to school officials.

Twenty-one states besides Florida allow substitutes into the classroom with only a high school diploma. Seven states have no education minimum for substitutes.

Although about half of Florida's school systems have more stringent requirements than the state, some, such as Senate Education Chairman Lee Constantine, think it's time to make the change for all districts. The Altamonte Springs Republican said he will sponsor teacher reform that will include setting requirements for substitute teachers.

But for some school systems -- especially smaller ones -- officials said it's hard enough already to fill the vacancies.

Constantine said the legislation would have flexibility for school districts but would include additional training and requirements for substitutes..

Raising the standards for substitute teachers has not been a priority for some school systems, mostly because less-populated areas don't have a large pool of applicants.

"Finding quality substitutes is a challenge," Baker County High School Principal David Crawford said. "It's one that we manage, but raising the educational requirement for substitutes would certainly increase the weight of that challenge."

In Northeast Florida, there is a substitute teacher pool of about 3,625. A college degree is not required for Baker, Clay, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties.

"I don't see that we're ready [to require] the two-year degree," said Millie McBee, treasurer of the National Substitute Teachers Alliance and a retired Orange County teacher who spent 28 years teaching middle school math and science. "There are many counties that need substitutes. I know our five or six largest do not, but the smaller counties would have a problem" with finding a degreed substitute.

In Northeast Florida, only Duval County requires its substitute teachers to have at least 60 college semester hours to teach as a substitute.

"We're pulling from a bigger population here," said Sandra Maner, supervisor of substitutes and applicant tracking for Duval County schools. The district has 1,700 substitutes, and since Jan. 1 has received 411 new applications from temporary teachers.

Duval County also requires that new substitute teachers take a six-hour training course at Florida Community College at Jacksonville. …