- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2002

Kiley, McKeag, 23, a trendy dresser who looks to be about the same age as the teen-agers she teaches at Westfield High School in Chantilly but who has the command of a lifelong teacher, is one of thousands of substitute teachers who will lead classes in local public schools this week alone.
"This is such a rewarding job," Ms. McKeag says. "Once I graduated [college] last year, I started teaching, and I love it. Substituting is a great way to find out what teaching is all about."
That's great for the substitute, but how about the children? How do school systems make sure they get high-quality substitutes to teach their students?
Requiring an academic background, along with references and other background checking are what local school systems do when hiring substitutes.
Among four local school districts Montgomery, Fairfax and Prince George's counties and the District Montgomery County demands the highest academic background and provides the best pay.
Montgomery requires a college degree of all substitute teachers and pays between $99.67 a day for short-term subs and $134 a day for long-term subs. (Long-term pay kicks in on the 11th day.
"We require a bachelor's degree,butof course, we love it if people have a master's degree," says Elizabeth Arons, associate superintendent of human resources for Montgomery County's public schools.
Ms. Arons says requiring a degree is not just a way to help en-sure a solid academicbackground, but also a way to measure maturity.
"We feel it works better to have substitutes with bachelor degrees. If you have a high school diploma or if you have gone to college for a couple of years, you will probably be very close in age to the children you are teaching," she says.
In Prince George's County, on the other hand, the school district asks for a high school diploma although a higher-level education is preferred and the pay is between $53 a day and $91 a day. The diploma must be at least two years old to ensure that the applicant is at least 20 years old.
If an applicant is close to finishing his or her teaching degree, the school district can pay as much as $133 a day, says Tony Ruffin, spokesman for Prince George's County public schools.
Fairfax and the District require 60 college credits of all substitutes, which corresponds to about two years of full-time college education. Fairfax pays between $85.12 and $112.14 a day, while the District pays between $78.65 and $88.65 a day.
Nationally, the range of pay is $30 a day to $185 a day; the minimum education requirements range from a high school diploma to a college degree, according to the Substitute Teaching Institute at Utah State University at Logan.

Donna Wiseman, associate dean of teacher education at the College of Education at the University of Maryland, agrees with Ms. Arons that a college education should be the minimum requirement for a substitute teacher.
Aside from educational background and maturity, however, classroom skills also are very important, Ms. Wiseman says.
"If a substitute walks into a classroom without a lesson plan and classroom-management techniques, the kids are going to act out, and it's a wasted day for learning," Ms. Wiseman says.
One of the most important classroom-management techniques is to clarify your expectations of the students, she says. "You need to let the students know exactly what you are expecting of them," she says,. "and then you hold them to that."
Ms. McKeag, who taught a ninth-grade special-education class at Westfield about ancient Rome on a recent morning, has made it a habit in each class she teaches to restate her expectations over and over, both vocally and in writing.
She writes in blue on the white board exactly what she wants the students to do during class time:
Make sure your notebook is organized.
Work on packet.
When packet is complete you may do old homework.
Pop quiz.
(The "packet" to which she refers is a half-dozen pages of questions and crossword puzzles on ancient Rome.)
The students seem to respond well to the writing on the wall.
"It's good, because sometimes you forget what you're supposed to be doing," says Walter Salmeron, 15, a ninth-grader at Westfield.
Another classroom-management skill has to do with the ability to keep students on task, which Ms. McKeag does by reminding them of how much time they have left to do a certain assignment. When they are finished, they are allowed to work on homework.
Patrick Monaghan, 15, says he appreciates being able to do some of his homework at school.
"It's better to do it here because you can ask if there is something you don't know," Patrick says.

While acknowledging the importance of a solid academic background, Geoffrey Smith, executive director of the Substitute Teaching Institute, says not enough emphasis is placed on on-site training and preparation for substitutes.
Local school districts provide a half-day to all-day orientation for substitutes, and then the temporary teachers are on their own.
Sometimes they may be in good shape because the regular teacher has left clear notes and lesson plans. Sometimes that's not the case, Mr. Smith says.
"We don't think the academic background is as important as the [on-site] training they get," Mr. Smith says. "PTA moms and dads in particular can do a great job."
He encourages substitutes to put together, on their own, a resource kit with alternate lesson plans and activities so they have something to pull out at a moment's notice if the regular teacher's lesson plans are insufficient.
However, to improve the learning environment for both children and substitutes, Mr. Smith would like to see more extensive substitute training either by local public schools or institutes, such as the one he represents.
The more training substitutes get, he says, the sharper their tools will become when they are dealing with the ever-changing nature of their work: new students, new subjects, new schools.
"It's like asking someone to cook for you. You have to make sure they have the right ingredients, and pots and pans, to do the job."


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