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Substitute teachers: A foot in the classroom door for people changing careers

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

When the economy slowed and unemployment rose, people turned to Georgetown County’s largest employer, the school district.

Applicants for substitute teaching jobs rose from 66 to 99 last year, fueled by the numbers of people looking for opportunities to retrain for new careers or launch teaching careers.

Rosalyn Vereen, 30, decided to work on a degree in early childhood education when her 12-year-old son started coming home from school and acting out his day in his room.

“I’d love to make a difference like that in a child’s life, so I’m going to Winnsboro Tech,” said Vereen, a Georgetown resident.

Shalonda Sherald, 22, of Hemingway, also wanted to start a new career. She serves in the National Guard, but wants to become a teacher.

“I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and was interested in guidance, but after an internship in a school guidance office, I decided I wanted to teach,” she said.

Unless they have a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field, prospective substitutes must take a training class, said Shanika Stafford, the district’s substitute coordinator.

Potential substitutes attend a month-long course to learn about policies, procedures, classroom management and lesson planning. The class meets for three hours each week.

Substitutes with teacher training from other states often take the class to learn local and state policy, Stafford said.

“We may have some graduates who have done their student teaching but may have not taught in South Carolina. Even if it is their first time, it is beneficial to go through the class because they are provided with a manual about the policies the district requires,” she said.

All subs have to attend a three-hour orientation at the district office before they get their first assignment, and pass a state background check. While they all must attend the orientation session, substitutes get paid based on their education and experience levels. This year there are 196 active substitutes on the district payroll. Subs with a high school diploma $55 a day. A bachelor’s degree raises that to $60 a day. Subs who are certified to teach earn $65 a day.

If a substitute teacher works 20 consecutive days, her pay goes up $10 a day for each additional day, said Marthena Grate-Morant, the district human resources director.

If substitutes becomes permanent, they receive staff pay rather than teacher pay based on their years of experience and education, she said.

In the orientation, subs learn how the program operates, including pay grades and school rules.

It’s not as intensive as the month-long class where substitutes even learn how to address children and watch for signs of abuse and neglect, Stafford said.

In the month-long course, Vereen said she learned how to talk to children. “You don’t say, ‘do not.’ ”

She said for younger children, teachers should explain why a certain behavior is not beneficial.

“I’ve learned about safety procedures,” said Shatanna Grate, 26, of Georgetown. “If there is a lock-down, you take roll, and if you have all the students in the class, you put a green card under your door so it can be seen from the hallway. If you don’t have all the students, you put a red card under the door.”

Getting hands-on experience, however, will be the most beneficial, said Ebony Johnson, an early childhood education student at Horry-Georgetown Tech.

“I know it’s a lot of work, but I want to do it,” she said. “I want the experience of working with different grade levels, and I know once I get in there and do it over and over, I’ll get used to it.”

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