It's flu season

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

    Warwick has 120 substitute teachers By Linda Smith Hancharick Warwick — Most of us go to work everyday, doing our job, day in and day out. When we get sick or have personal business to do, we usually reschedule meetings and make up the work at a later time. When you teach, that is not an option. Whether the teacher is present or not, there is a classroom full of children waiting to learn. That is why substitute teachers are a vital part of any school system. Here in Warwick, there are 340 teaching staff members. In addition, there are hundreds of classroom aides, monitors, nurses, clerical and custodial workers that are essential to keeping a district up and running throughout the year. With winter here and the flu season upon us, phones will be ringing at the homes of those subs every day. "We have 120 teaching subs on call in our district," said Warwick Assistant Superintendent of Schools John Niedzielski. And the need is always there for more, he said. A lot has changed over the years when it comes to substitute teaching. Years ago, subs were more like babysitters. They sat in class when a teacher was absent and the class became a study hall. Not necessarily the case now. Matt Reinhardt is subbing this year for the first time. He has three years of college under his belt from Catholic University in Washington where he majored in elementary education. He is switching his major to nursing when he returns to school next year but teaching is definitely in his blood. He has taught snowboarding to kids out west. Both his parents are teachers so it was a natural fit for him to go into teaching. And he likes it. Substituting has given him a new perspective on teaching. "Seeing my mom and all she does, how she puts everything into it, I thought I could go for it too," said Reinhardt, whose mother Patricia, is a fourth-grade teacher at Kings Elementary School in Warwick. "I have a whole new respect for teachers." Reinhardt said he has been getting the call just about every day. He signed up for all grades, all subjects. "They use an automated system that calls you either the night before or early in the morning," Reinhardt said. "I work a lot in the high school, but I've been everywhere." The new system is called Disc, which is a database of all those available to sub in the district. It lists their education, and which schools and subjects they prefer. Maureen O'Brien is the district's technical specialist. She explained that this is the first year using the system, which makes life much easier for all involved. "If a teacher is sick, he or she calls into the system to input the information," O'Brien said. "If the absence is pre-arranged, such as with a conference, the information can be input up to 21 days in advance." Then the system makes its calls and can fill that vacancy far in advance. The system automatically matches credentials — calling certified substitutes first. If the need is for a math teacher in the high school, it first finds a certified math sub. If one is not found, it goes to the next level, which is someone who listed an interest in math, then someone who wants to teach in the high school. A long-term substitute, someone hired for four weeks or more, must be certified. As for the babysitting part, now teachers may enter their teaching plans on the computer system for the sub to retrieve. Reinhardt said he teaches his classes, but in the high school he does more than teach: he connects with the kids. "I'm just six years older than the seniors," said Reinhardt. "I get them talking about current events and how they affect their lives. Lots of kids see me and think they don't have to work. They know now that's not the case. I get them involved in discussions." Even nurses in the district used to have to scramble around for a replacement when they were absent. Not the case anymore with Disc. January and February are the months most subs are needed, Niedzielski said. Naturally it is because of illness. But there are other times during the year when more subs are needed — like November, January and May when state test scoring is done. How does the district attract substitutes? They are always advertising, Niedzielski said, and recruiting at undergraduate schools to see if they have December graduates who would be interested in substitute teaching. "We have a need right now for science and English," he said. Non-certified substitutes must have a minimum of 60 college credits; to be considered certified, a sub must have New York State certification. A classroom aide must have 12 college credits and all school nurses must be registered nurses. Security aides must have a school security aide certification. "There is a lot more to it than there was years ago," Niedzielski said. Substitute teaching can lead to permanent jobs. Many people who are considering a career in teaching get their feet wet by signing on as a substitute, which pays $75 a day for non-certified and $80 for certified. They may think they would like to spend their days with six-year-olds but after teaching in the high school, their interest may change. Or not. "Subs do get hired," Niedzielski said. "Some individuals will substitute teach and that will help them to know if they want to do it as a full-time job."