By the time an East Valley student goes from kindergarten through high school, the equivalent of an entire year of his or her instruction will have been taught by a substitute teacher.
These classroom fill-ins can be anyone from retired engineers to stay-at-home moms or aspiring teachers. As long as they pay processing fees, clear fingerprint screenings and earn a bachelor’s degree, they’re free and clear to become substitutes in Arizona.
That concerns parents such as Joci Burgener of Mesa, who says every minute of classroom instruction counts these days.
"If all (substitutes) have to do is to be fingerprinted and have a degree, well, I have that," Burgener said. "That doesn’t necessarily make me qualified" to teach in a classroom.
According to the Arizona Department of Education, about 63,500 substitutes have substitute certificates, meeting minimum education requirements, while about 18,000 substitutes have higher certificates such as a teaching certificate. But that’s still not enough substitutes to fill growing demand.
Obtaining and retaining substitutes is a challenge most East Valley districts face due to a shortage of applicants and a substitute pool that’s growing thinner as districts expand.
Billie Enz, an administrator for the Arizona State University College of Education, said having a substitute without real teaching experience on a short-term basis won’t hinder a child’s learning. It’s the long-term situations that parents should pay attention to, she said.
Michael Helminski, principal at Kiva Elementary School in Scottsdale, said familiarity with a substitute’s skills is key when choosing a long-term substitute.
"We’ll send out e-mails to other principals saying we’re looking for a long-term, so we try to get some input from each other," he said.
Most East Valley school districts offer training for substitutes with tips on how to manage a classroom and what to do when there’s no lesson plan.