Sunday, August 23, 2009

Substitute Teaching in Rural Northern California

I meant to do a write-up on this last week, when I thought I would have the leisure -- because I almost never get called during the first week of school. But, I got called for a three-day job on the second day of school, and then again for Friday. That's substitute teaching -- you never know what's going to happen, and your day's plans can change by a simple phone call.

From what I hear, subbing in a rural area is quite different from doing it in a city -- even a small city. There, you pretty much work for a single school district, which keeps you working every day. It's almost like having a full-time job. All the large districts are now automated, so you can pick an assignment online, or you get a recorded message by phone.

I work mostly in Tehama County, but I'm also on the list in Glenn County, going as far south as Orland. I don't work every day -- and that's not from choice. If I don't get a call, then I don't work, and there's no way I know of to make there be a job when there isn't one. I have run into subs who claim they work every day, but I have no idea how they manage it. As a new sub, I hardly got work at all, in spite of running around to all the schools and dropping off a card. It takes time before you establish the relationships that get you onto the "short list".

One of the districts I work for has just started an automated system. In some ways, it seems great to be able to just pick a job out of a list -- although none have appeared, so far. On the other hand, if my most regular districts did that, I'd miss the personal touch. There are some teachers who call me first, then when I assure them I'm available, they tell the sub clerk about the arrangement. Can't do that kind of thing when it's all taken care of by computer. Most of my jobs come from "regulars" i.e. teachers that ask for me.

Another thing that's different from urban subbing is that you have to work for several districts -- unless you don't mind a lot of days off or have a special relationship with a particular district. It's a bit complicated at tax time, because I get W-2s from each individual district -- and they vary from year to year. I don't get *a* paycheck. Each district sends me a check separately. If anybody had reason to attach my wages, they'd have a helluva time chasing them down.
Each of these districts does their accounting differently, too. In a rural area, a district can be quite small, containing only one little elementary school, in contrast to a city where a school district can have dozens of schools. Red Bluff is the largest that I sub for, and it has three elementary schools and a middle school.

I didn't start out to be a sub -- almost nobody does. Almost all substitute teachers are either just out of school and hoping to get into a permanent position, or they are retired teachers who are just earning a bit extra. For one thing, the pay is extremely low compared to having a full time job. I make between $85 and $115 per day, and there are only 180 days a year I can work -- and I don't work all of them. You do the math. Most people who don't get a permanent job move on to something they can make a living at. It wasn't so bad for me, really -- once I got past the disappointment. Before becoming a sub, I was a stay-at-home mom, so we were used to getting by one income. And I love the job.

One of the great things about being a sub is the variety. I normally work in K-5, but in special education I've worked with every level from preschool to post-high school. I've worked in resource (which is mostly tutoring for kids in regular classrooms), and in community day school (which is for kids with behavior problems.) I normally avoid the larger middle schools, but in the one I do work in I've taught every subject, including fly fishing and calf roping. (Only in Red Bluff would you get an elective class in calf roping!) A job can be for half a day; the longest I've ever worked in one place has been three months.

And I love the kids -- the eager kindergartners wanting to share their achievements, the autistic kid making a breakthrough, the middle-schooler just developing an interest in politics or science fiction or whatever.

You have the bad days. One probably isn't supposed to say this, but there are some classes that are just impossible. When I get one of those, I don't sub for that teacher for the rest of the year. That's the reason I don't do middle school any more; I'm not so desperate for a day of work that I have to put up with spitballs, rudeness, and refusal to stay on task. After seven years of substitute teaching, I'm fairly skilled at getting kids to do what I need them to do, but I'm not a miracle-worker. Part of it is my own temperament -- I can deal with an autistic kid in full meltdown better than a snotty group of 7th graders who decide it's fun to give the sub a hard time. But mileage varies from teacher to teacher. I've known teachers who are at a total loss with little kids, and some are downright scared of special ed. (Oooh, yuck, diapers!) Some teachers just love teenagers.

Anyway, another school year has started. I'm not scheduled for tomorrow, but that could change the next time the phone rings. With substitute teaching, you never know . . .


JanuskieZ said...
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hunterlee said...

Hi Karen,

I stumbled upon your blog. I like it. I too sub, but not by choice. I'm a single mom and trying to make ends meet. I guess since I'm older, schools don't want to hire me as a regular classroom teacher. Maybe I'll try tutoring. Too bad because I'm a damn good teacher!

Karen said...

I've noticed that there is a prejudice against older women -- I'd see myself not even getting interviews while they hired 25-year-olds. That's quite an irony, because I make a much better teacher now, than I would have made before I had kids. Of course, these days, teachers aren't getting hired at all; they're getting laid off. I've seen many a fine teacher linger on the sub lists, only to eventually give up and move on to another career, because you can't live on a sub's pay. I also know subs who are working another job to supplement, so they can stay in the teaching profession, even part time.

Cris said...

I must be one of the rare breed that actually planned on subbing full time. The after school meetings, the lesson planning, the grading, the parents, etc. are just not what I want. I love being able to walk out the door by 4 pm and I love the variety of the jobs. I just wish the job came with health insurance. So far, I've been able to live off the income. We make between $122 and $134 dollars a day here in WA. Every year of layoffs the competition seems to get stiffer, and I begin to worry more. Just waiting to see how this year goes. I worked the first three days of school, but no work today. :(