EXCHANGE: Decatur offers sessions to help 'guest teachers'
DECATUR, Ill. -- Ellen Berger wasn't the least bit tired of teaching when she retired after 36 years.
The first thing she did was sign up to be a substitute teacher, which she's been doing for seven years.
"It's the best of both worlds," said Berger. "I don't have to do any paperwork. I just have the kids, which are my favorite part. I never thought of (leaving teaching for good) for a second. It keeps me involved, and if I can help kids, I'm there."
The Decatur School District has changed the terminology for substitutes to "guest teacher" in an effort to make those substitutes feel welcome and part of the staff, said Hilda Nicholls, a member of the district's Aspiring Principal Leadership Institute.
"It's more of an extension of the teacher instead of something isolated by itself," Nicholls said. "It feels more inclusive and more inviting to call them a guest teacher."
With 57 unfilled openings in Decatur schools, guest teachers are a critical piece in the puzzle, Nicholls said. The district is among those across the state dealing with a teacher shortage, and many of the guest teachers wind up serving in long-term roles.
The aspiring principals' group created a series of professional development sessions to provide guest teachers with training. Though a significant number of substitutes are, like Berger, retired teachers, many are not and have no specific training in teaching.
"I've had a little practice," Berger said with a laugh. "I never had any trouble with discipline. I always had a straightforward routine and the kids responded to that."
To be a substitute teacher in Illinois, a candidate must have a bachelor's degree and obtain a substitute teaching license unless the person already holds a professional educator license. The cost to apply for a substitute teaching license is $50 and requires a transcript from the applicant's accredited university. Once the applicant has that license, he or she must register it with the Regional Office of Education for it to be valid and for the applicant to be eligible for employment. The registration also costs $50.
Applicants must also have an original "statement of good health" signed by a physician that is no more than a year old. Substitutes must also pay $65 for fingerprinting and a background check. Once all that is complete, the regional office will mail a substitute teacher authorization letter and copies of the background check and physical to the applicant to use in applying for substitute positions and that information must be provided to each district office where the applicant would like to work.
"We just had our first (professional development) session," Nicholls said. "There was one on classroom management, one on building relationships and one that I did on self-care, and yoga was included in mine. We sent out invitations to all of the guest teachers we had on our list at (human resources)."
The plan is to offer these sessions periodically on topics that the members of the leadership institute think might be beneficial, and they also are open to suggestions from the guest teachers themselves.
Some have asked for crisis prevention training, helpful for certification which is required in case a staff member must restrain a violent student.
"You have to carry them a certain way, and there has to be a team involved, if you have to carry a student to prevent them from hurting themselves or someone else," Nicholls said. "Some teachers are certified in that, especially in the social/emotional development program or other programs in the district where there might be issues that arise. Having a guest teacher that is certified in those areas would be handy."
There are plenty of times, Nicholls said, when guest teachers have never been in a classroom and there is no formal training provided. As long as they meet the state's requirements, they can work as a substitute. That's why the APLI members wanted to offer training.
"The whole point of this, really, was to give the most support to the adults who come in and have never been in a classroom before (as the teacher)," she said.
Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/2VGOw78
Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com