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The sub: One day at a time

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

At 6:30 a.m., Allyson Ladd’s phone rings. It’s the Georgetown County School District. A teacher is sick, and they need her to teach a class.

Ladd, 25, who began substitute teaching in October, never knows where she’ll teach or who’s class she’ll be in, but she is always up and ready to go.

“Teaching is my passion,” said the Waccamaw High School graduate.

After Ladd received a degree in communications and psychology from Clemson University, she thought she’d continue her education. Her goal was to become a clinical psychologist working with children, but the real world and a paid position enticed her into a 9-to-5 job.

For three years Ladd worked at GS magazine in Myrtle Beach.

When all the employees were laid off last summer, Ladd decided she’d return to her original career plan: working in schools. So she became part of a 33 percent increase in substitute applicants in Georgetown County schools.

The district accepted her into its teacher training program, a month-long class held at Howard Adult Center in Georgetown. She was familiar with Waccamaw schools so Ladd asked to be placed in any grade or school on the Waccamaw Neck.

The district accepted her request, and since October, she’s subbed in grades four through 12.

It’s unusual for her to know where she’ll be in advance, but on this particular day Tammy Williams, a Waccamaw Intermediate School teacher, knew she’d be absent. The district called Ladd, and she arrived ready to take over.

After going over the schedule, class seating charts and worksheets with Ladd, Williams gave the fourth-graders last-minute instructions.

“Don’t do anything that you know you can’t do,” she said.

Williams said she always leaves detailed instructions for substitutes.

“When you’re having a sub, probably one of the most important things is that she has the important information,” she said. “If you have children who have allergies or medical conditions, you want to leave that information. I like to leave detailed plans.”

In addition to a seating chart, class roster and schedule, Williams also leaves a list of students who have special classroom duties such as saying the pledge or answering the phone. Classroom rules hang on her walls, and if the substitute has a problem, Williams’ buddy teacher is next door.

“The buddy teacher always knows when a teacher is going to be out,” she said. “And the sub always knows the teacher’s name.”

Not all teachers ask for a follow-up report, but Ladd said she always provides one. She’ll let them know how students behaved, what they did in class, and in general, how the day went.

“If I were a teacher, I just know I’d like to know what was occurring, and if there were any major misbehaviors,” Ladd said.

“I always make sure to let them know that they behaved.”

After Williams left, students followed Ladd’s instructions and lined up for lunch. Praising them every minute or two for good behavior, Ladd walked with them to the lunchroom where she ate while monitoring the children.

After lunch, the class lined up again and walked to the playground.

As she watched the class play, Ladd said it’s unusual for a sub to have lunchroom and playground duty. Usually during this time she’ll go over lesson plans or reteach subjects to herself so she can teach them to a class.

When students returned to the classroom, Ladd handed out worksheets, read the instructions aloud and let students know she would come to their desk if they had any questions.

“Ya’ll are so quiet. Mrs. Williams would be proud of ya’ll,” Ladd said as she walked around the class.

After students finished each worksheet, Ladd asked one student to read their answers aloud before moving on to the next worksheet. Each time she made sure to remind students to put their names on their papers.

“I know some teachers that would take off [points] if you don’t write your name on your paper,” she told them.

In response, a student asked if she took off points.

“It depends,” she answered.

Students said they’ll test a substitute teacher’s boundaries after they get comfortable with one, but with Ladd, they stayed well-behaved because they said they liked her.

“They know when you want to be there,” she said. ‘They can sense your attitude.”

Ladd said she definitely wants to be in the schools since she’s working on her teaching certification.

“This has been a wonderful experience,” she said. “I’ve been able to teach at all different levels. You learn so much more in the classroom.”

She also gets some funny questions from students.

“Today I had one boy ask me if I was from the wild West,” Ladd said.

She thinks her Southern accent deceives some students into thinking she is what one called, “a real-life cowgirl.”

“Every day is a new experience,” Ladd said.

Ladd is just one of the district’s substitute teachers who applied for a job teaching after losing a job or deciding to look into a career change.

Each month, a group of potential subs sits in Anna Marie Ford’s class at Howard Adult Center. The 12 hours of training over four days covers classroom management, emergency procedures and lessons on how to interact with students of all ages.

They come because they’re changing careers or because they were inspired to make a differnce in the lives of children. Most dream of being teachers and having their own class one day, according to Ford.

But becoming a substitute teacher requires more form individuals than showing up for a class, filling out an application and having a good interview. Applicants also have to pass a background check.

A background check isn't required in South Carolina, but it could become standard procedure if the state legislature passes S-978 this session.

Introduced by state Sen. Paul Campbell of Berkeley County, the legislation is part of ongoing state-led efforts to create a heightened culture of safety and security in state schools.

“We’ve got to protect our children under all circumstances,” Campbell said. “Background checks on good people who need jobs will give positive results. They will also keep unqualified or unsuitable people from applying.”

Not only would the bill require districts to perform background checks, but it would also prohibit school districts from hiring substitute teachers convicted of violent crimes. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division would teach districts how to interpret the reports.

Making a policy that the majority of state school districts already follow into a state law could save the district money, said Marthena Grate Morant, director of district human resources.

Georgetown pays SLED $8 for each report, but if the checks are required by law, Morant thinks it would be nice if the government forfeited the fees, especially since Georgetown County School District had more new subs in 2009 than in 2008, and paid $792 to the state for background checks.

What substitutes give back to the district, trainees say, is more than the almost $800 the district pays for their background checks.

Subs are in the schools because they want to help children learn, trainees said. They also believe their passion can make a difference in the life of a child, even if they only see that child one day.

To learn more about substitute training and the people who want to teach Georgetown County children, read the March 11 edition of the Coastal Observer.

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