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Wednesday, April 1, 2009 06:01 pm

Sub conscious

Despite national trend, Springfield area school districts don’t see increase in substitute teaching applicants

Substitute teacher Diana Berger leads a class in a group exercise.

“Oh, I’ll just sub.”

At some point, the thought of substitute teaching enters the mind of every unemployed worker and fresh-faced college graduate not sure of what to do with their life.

But these days, landing a substitute teaching gig isn’t as automatic as it used to be, depending on where you live.

With unemployment hovering around 8 percent nationally and trending upward, more and more jobless are looking to become substitute teachers.

So many, in fact, that some large metropolitan school districts, including Chicago, have stopped accepting substitute teacher applications altogether.

But Springfield, where the unemployment rate has risen but the overall economy has remained stable, appears to be bucking the substitute teaching trend as well.

Dr. Alexander Ikejiaku, director of human resources for District 186, says he has not observed an influx of substitute teacher applications.

However, there has been a 15 percent increase in applications for non-certified positions, such as in-school suspension supervisors, and a 10 percent jump in the number of inquiries from teachers in other districts who fear their jobs may be at risk, Ikejiaku says.

That’s more or less been the experience of Ball-Chatham School District as well, says Jo Hoheimer, who is in charge of that district’s subs.

“There are a lot of people who want to teach for us,” she says.

Dr. Ikejiaku also believes some would-be subs are scared off by the application process.

“A lot of times, once people hear the words ‘teaching certification’ they don’t even want to try it,” he says.

Substitute teachers in Illinois must be certified by the state, meaning they have to possess a bachelor’s degree and can’t have delinquent government student loans or child support payments. There’s also a $50 fee for a regional office of education to process the application.

Helen Tolan, Sangamon County’s regional superintendent and the person who signs each certificate once it’s approved, also has not noticed “a tremendous increase” in the number of applications her office has processed.

One reason for this is Springfield’s mostly professional and government workforce, which has so far been spared from wide-scale layoffs, Tolan says.

“We tend not to have the ups and downs. We don’t close plants because we don’t have many plants,” she says.

The experiences of Springfield-area school districts bucks a national trend of growing numbers of substitute teachers in urban and suburban areas.

In Early March, a study of school districts in 47 states, including Illinois, by the Utah State University-affiliated Substitute Teaching Institute of STEDI, LLC in Logan, Utah, found that urban and suburban districts reported significant increases in their substitute teacher pools. In addition, permanent teacher absenteeism is down — a signal that educators are fearful of losing their jobs.

“Many districts stated that substitute teachers are frustrated with the lack of work due to the increase in sub pool sizes and a reduction in absenteeism,” researchers write.

This is having a positive unintended consequence: people who turn to subbing realize that they like teaching.

Geoffrey Smith, director of STEDI’s substitute teaching division says that according to another survey of substitutes, now underway, 39 percent of substitute teachers want to remain subs and 43 percent say that they would like to teach permanently.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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