For many districts, finding substitutes is a daily struggle.
Teachers are expected to give up their prep periods to fill in, classes are combined or students are placed in study halls. Teaching assistants, specialists like literacy instructors and even administrators are dispatched on an emergency basis. For 17 Southern Tier school districts, the situation has greatly improved thanks to a new partnership between SUNY Binghamton University and Broome-Tioga BOCES.
The Substitutes With A Purpose program allows graduate students in BU’s School of Education to serve as paid substitute teachers two days a week in participating districts — and then spend a third day of the week with a mentor teacher to observe, teach small group lessons and assist in the classroom. The SWAP program, which started out as a pilot for five graduate students to complete their necessary fieldwork requirement, has proven so popular that it’s grown to two dozen district placements.
“This creative model is a winwin for all,” said Maine-Endwell Superintendent Jason VanFossen. “New teachers receive clinical experience and are able to implement their learning, while the district receives the guaranteed services of a substitute teacher.”
If anything, at a time when enrollment in teacher prep programs is dwindling across the country, the challenge has been keeping up with the demand from area school districts that want to participate, said Andrea Decker, BU’s director of field education. The program is cost effective for districts because they receive state aid through a Broome-Tioga BOCES cost-sharing agreement. Decker, a member of United University Professions, heard about the funding mechanism from a colleague at SUNY Brockport, which has a similar immersion program.
“It’s really been a great program for our district and the college students,” said Deposit Teachers Association President Erin Wehrli. “It gives the future teachers a comprehensive field experience, a strong mentor and, of course, getting paid is a big plus when you’re a graduate student.”
Students gave the program rave reviews. “I thoroughly enjoyed the SWAP program,” said JoAnna Cockram, who was assigned to Deposit first as a SWAP participant and then as a student teacher. “Not only was I able to apply what I was learning in my college courses in the classroom, but I was also becoming a part of the school community. I gained invaluable relationships with administration, teachers, staff and students.” After graduating last year, she is now working as a substitute in the rural district.
“Being a substitute gave me a better feel for the whole community and it was such a great opportunity to be in all different level classes, from pre-K to fifth grade,” said student Jacqueline Luchetti, who will be graduating in May with a master’s degree in special education. “Subbing also really boosted my confidence for (this semester’s) student teaching. I’m a hands-on learner so this program was a perfect fit for me.”
Decker noted the rigorous commitment is not for everyone. Committing the time for three days in the field can be challenging and difficult to schedule. For others, the program has been a good recruitment tool.
“I remember one student specifically chose our program because he could count on getting paid as a substitute,” Decker said. “He also liked the idea that it was more clinical and less theoretical.”
Schools struggling with sub shortage
Ninety six percent of superintendents reported difficulty finding daily and long-term substitute teachers, according to a report by the New York State Educational Conference Board. The success rates for finding substitutes was as low as 59 percent, the report noted.
The ECB noted several factors: a drop in teacher prep program enrollments, a cap on how much retirees can earn and state regulations that limit subbing.
For the full ECB teacher shortage report, go to nysecb.org.