So you want to be a substitute teacher? There's a lot more to it than filling out an application and waiting by the phone.
"Sub teaching is a challenge, a great challenge," said Neil Young, director of personnel, who started as a substitute teacher in Lodi Unified School District. "I learned to enjoy it a lot as I met a lot of kids in a lot of grades."
The number of substitutes hired by the district on any given day varies due to the time of year or day of the week. On average, 50 are needed daily to fill in for sick teachers, although that does not include those out on long-term medical leave, according to Young.
The district is increasing the number of available substitute teachers, especially in tight budget years like those they've experienced since 2008. Subs are more affordable, as they are not part of a union and do not receive compensation such as sick days, medical benefits or retirement.
Elisabeth Newman Hensel said that for her, becoming a substitute wasn't that difficult.
She paid about $50 to take the California Basic Educational Skills Test (commonly known as the CBEST), which she said is fairly easy to pass if one graduated high school and college. It covers basic math and reading.
The sub pays $55 annually to keep her required emergency 30-day substitute credential current.
"I only applied to Lodi and don't have any trouble getting work," Hensel said. "The time and effort it would take me to substitute in Stockton is not worth the extra money to me — although they do pay more than the Lodi district."
Background checks, more
There are several steps to becoming a substitute teacher in Lodi Unified, which has recently begun accepting new applications.
First, there's a list of qualifications before one can even apply to be a sub. Among them are passing both the CBEST and a mandatory background check.
Emilie Leyva, who just graduated with her teaching degree, has already been fingerprinted several times since she's volunteered in her children's classrooms and applied for a credentialing program. The Lodi resident is aware she will have to do it again for every district in which she applies to be a substitute teacher.
"This seems really wasteful to me and is inconvenient if you are working in different areas," Hensel said of the cost.
But the reason is based on a state law that requires the employer — each school district, for example — to run its own background checks to have on record, according to Young.
The processed information only goes to the requesting agency.
"Even if they are collected in a central hub, I have no problem doing it over and over if it means more protection for the children," Leyva said. "As a parent, I am happy that they are being cautious of who they let work in the classroom."
Prospective employees must make an appointment and bring not only a valid driver's license plus another form of identification, but also a cashier's check or money order payable to the district. On a recent weekday, personnel assistant Nou Sha processed six applicants.
Fingerprints usually take three to 14 working days to clear, and once that happens, new substitutes receive a PIN to receive jobs.
Before taking on a position, temporary teachers must attend a district substitute orientation. They are typically held monthly and led by Young.
He discusses with participants what to expect when entering a class the first time, as well as how to handle different grade levels.
Hensel said she has had a pretty good experience overall as a substitute. For the most part, she said, the students are respectful and other teachers welcoming.
"Sometimes, students expect me to be easy and let them get away with stuff. I try to be very up-front about being strict and not putting up with any goofing off," she said, adding that she's not opposed to writing referrals or sending a student to the office.
Something funny that happens a lot, especially at the middle school level, is a student will enter the room, see Hensel there and be really confused.
"They will often look at me and say something like, 'You're not my teacher?' It's like, 'Yeah, duh!' It's really funny and it happens all the time. I don't know why it confuses them so much."
Shortage of subs
Earlier this year, Lodi Unified addressed a shortage of substitute teachers that could be called in at any given time.
Some schools were seeing as much as 60 percent of their sub positions going unfilled, forcing students to be shuffled among classrooms and taught by full-time teachers in oversized classrooms. Teachers on their preparatory periods were being called in for overtime.
At the time, staff said on days immediately following holidays or mandatory days of teacher training, the district could be short as many as 50 substitutes. Most of the time there weren't enough available, but sometimes substitutes just weren't showing up for work.
The district's substitute teacher list also includes teachers who lost their jobs due to layoffs. Many of those are seeking long-term sub positions and are at the top of the daily call list.
Those who take on a position for at least 21 days during a 60-school day period will receive the same pay they received as permanent teachers last school year.
Day-to-day substitutes earn $100 while long-term positions filled by those other than former employees get between $120 and $150 per day.
There are currently 1,113 substitutes qualified to teach in Lodi Unified, but some are inactive. Those may have outdated credentials, inoperable phone numbers or are temporarily unavailable, according to Young.
The actual figure of active substitutes available at any time is 300, with dozens in the process of signing up.
Although she is still finishing up her credentialing program, Leyva hopes to substitute in the meantime. She was eligible to substitute a year ago, but had been taking classes full-time so did not have the opportunity.
"Also, Lodi was not accepting substitute applications at the time. I hope to have success finding some subbing jobs in LUSD, but I hear it is much easier in Stockton," she said, turning her attention to the price she's paid on her path to ultimately becoming a teacher.
"I think the costs are more than fair. The CBEST was only $40. A couple days of subbing would make up for all the fees I have had to pay," she said.
For Hensel, being a substitute teacher is a perfect fit. Since she's a mother to young children, she said she needs flexibility and good hours.
Suzanne Schreiner, too, needs flexibility, as she serves as her aging mother's primary transportation to doctor's appointments. Unlike Hensel, Schreiner's children are older and she is looking to supplement her husband's salary.
Young is thankful for willing substitutes like Schreiner.
"They get called at 5:30 in the morning, go to school where they don't know any of the students," he said. "Then they're basically at the helm of the ship, taking it through rough waters and through calm waters."
Until recently, the district had stopped accepting applications for substitutes. The reason may have been somewhat political in the past couple of years, Assistant Superintendent Michael McKilligan said earlier this year.
After all, the district was laying off a record-high number of teachers who, if they didn't find work elsewhere would be willing to fill in when needed.
District retirees, too, have been more available in recent years, thus eliminating the need for new substitute hires, according to McKilligan.
There are currently 40 retired teachers signed up to substitute.
Also, the district was increasingly accepting applications for substitutes who ended up declining all work offered by the district, then filed successfully for unemployment, he said.
Others applied to Lodi Unified, but took subbing jobs elsewhere that possibly pay more per diem.
Since receiving direction from the board, there are 32 new sub applications in process, according to the district's personnel department.
"We have some pretty courageous people," Young said of substitutes, adding that their willingness to fill in for a regular teacher is a gift to the district and its students' families. "You become a savior to that classroom on any given day."
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at email@example.com.