Economic downturn diversifies substitute teaching pool

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Terrie Ann Black began substitute teaching at Fairview Elementary School five years ago, when she made the transition from stay-at-home mom to substitute teacher to bring in a supplementary income.

In December, Black’s husband, Terry, was laid off from Square D Co. He is now searching for a job while his wife teaches the maximum allowed 35 hours per week.

Terrie Ann Black, 49, said she is sure other applicants for substitute teaching are looking to supplement their income because of the recession. So far, she hasn’t had any problems finding subbing positions. “I sub enough at one building, at Fairview Elementary,” Black said. “I’m really blessed.”

Columbia Public Schools is the third largest employer in Columbia, employing 2,780 people, said Bobbie Pauley, director of classified personnel for the district. Of those employees, 1,543 are teachers, excluding substitutes. On any given school day, about 150 of the 250 approved substitutes can be found on the job in the district.

Pauley said the number of people applying to substitute teach is definitely up. Right now, she has about 200 applicants available for hiring — usually, it's half that many, and she believes the growth is directly related to the economic downturn.

"The obvious effect (of having more applicants) would be that we have more to choose from and interview for a position," Pauley said. Being able to place more highly qualified substitute teachers in schools positively affects students, parents and grandparents.

Pauley has noticed that applicants are taking the process seriously by turning in complete applications with accompanying paperwork.

“While we encourage each person to submit an application when they call, we are also telling them that we have slowed down on the hiring process,” Pauley said. “We cannot guarantee that they will be hired or interviewed.”

Pauley said the reason for this is that they do not want to hire more people than they have jobs for.

“In the 16 years that I have been with HR (human resources), I don’t remember ever telling anyone that before,” she said.

Not only is the number of applicants up, but there is a wider variety of applicants, Pauley said. Generally, applicants fall into one of two categories: the familiar core of people who are certified teachers and people currently pursuing teacher certification.

But many applicants now have multiple degrees and are professionals from other fields looking for a career change.

“Across the board, we’re getting every type of application you can think of,” Pauley said, specifically mentioning those coming from real estate, financial advisers and other areas that appear linked to the economy.

“We’re seeing a lot more professional people who typically would not apply for these positions,” Pauley said.

In Columbia, substitute teachers are paid $10 an hour, based on a seven-hour day. “In Columbia, that’s not bad,” she said.

Tom Bridewell has been substitute teaching for two years to pay for classes he takes as a part-time graduate student studying history at MU. Bridewell, who received his undergraduate degree in architecture, wanted to get back into education, and substitute teaching seemed like a good choice.

“It seemed like a good transitional job,” he said. “I have a firm commitment to education, so it’s not a stretch for me to be substitute teaching.”

He was surprised to hear that the number of applicants to sub are up, because he hadn’t noticed the increase on the job. “I am working more hours than fall semester to pay my bills,” he said. “I could work almost every day if I wanted to.”

Dee Campbell-Carter, 50, has served as a substitute teacher for about four years. Before that, she directed a day care for six years and was in social work for 25 years. Now, in addition to substitute teaching, she runs a business as a seamstress out of her home.

Campbell-Carter works almost every weekday as a substitute teacher, excluding Fridays. “Lately, sub jobs are half days as opposed to getting a full-day placement,” she said. “With the district in a financial crisis, staff takes off half days instead of full days."

Pauley said teachers are taking more half days rather than full days when they have scheduled a medical appointment.  "We see that there are more half-day absences for personal and family illness," she said.

Campbell-Carter is noticing a greater variety of ages and backgrounds among other substitutes. “When I started, my cohorts were college students and retirees," Campbell-Carter said, "Now it’s more middle-aged people needing supplementary jobs.”

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