Deterrents Abound for Substitutes; Angela Willig-Friedrich Noticed a Shortage of Foreign Language Teachers in Western Pennsylvania after Moving from Tennessee, Where She Spent 15 Years Teaching Spanish to Law Enforcement Professionals. [Derived Headline]

By Martines, Jamie | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 5, 2017 | Go to article overview

Deterrents Abound for Substitutes; Angela Willig-Friedrich Noticed a Shortage of Foreign Language Teachers in Western Pennsylvania after Moving from Tennessee, Where She Spent 15 Years Teaching Spanish to Law Enforcement Professionals. [Derived Headline]


Martines, Jamie, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Angela Willig-Friedrich noticed a shortage of foreign language teachers in Western Pennsylvania after moving from Tennessee, where she spent 15 years teaching Spanish to law enforcement professionals.

The former criminal investigator began to wonder how much students were learning about the language and the culture.

"Sometimes I have that little voice that says, 'It would be nice if I could make a little more of a contribution to that,' " said Willig-Friedrich, who lives in Crescent, Allegheny County.

That motivated her to sign up for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's SmartSTART program, which prepares people with a bachelor's degree in any subject and who do not have a teacher certification from the state to work as substitute teachers. Schools are required to hire substitutes who hold a teacher certification first. If none is available, school districts can employ a substitute with an emergency certification.

Already busy with tutoring and volunteering with her church, Willig-Friedrich said she is a little overwhelmed by the online coursework, classroom observations and mountains of paperwork she must complete before stepping foot in the classroom as a teacher. While she is eager to get started, Willig-Friedrich is only at the beginning of what could be a months-long process.

Schools across the state and region have trouble filling day-to- day teacher absences, with many districts in Westmoreland County struggling to cover at least 90 percent of teacher absences each year, the Tribune-Review reported in January.

Schools across Allegheny County face a similar problem. In many cases, that means schools must pull classroom assistants or other staff members from their regular duties to cover several teachers' schedules for the day because no substitute is available.

The lack of substitutes across the state is largely because of a decline in graduates from teacher training programs. Instructional certificates issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Education declined from 14,764 to 8,615 between 2005 and 2014, meaning there are fewer people available to serve as both full-time teachers and substitutes. Special education, science and foreign language teachers are in particularly high demand.

In light of the substitute shortage, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit started its SmartSTART program in 2001 to help recruit, train and retain substitutes to work in local school districts that elect to participate in the program. The most recent training session was Jan. 27. Several intermediate units across the state offer similar training programs for area substitutes.

Alice Gillenberger, human resources coordinator at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, said prospective substitutes should make sure the work is something they really want to do before signing up. They're expected to do more than baby-sit students or play games all day, she said.

"You're a teacher," Gillenberger told the group of six prospective substitutes during the recent training session at the intermediate unit in Homestead. "You're expected to carry on the academic program for that class."

As Gillenberger pointed out, being a substitute is not an easy job. That could partly explain why there is a shortage, said Edward Fuller, an associate professor at Penn State who specializes in education policy. …

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