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October 14 2010


Subbing in two worlds…

Retirement is moving up on five months at the end of this month. On May 28 of this year I spent my last day in a classroom full of kids. Prior to that I skipped out on 28 years in TV news. Two totally different worlds – each with its own joys and disappointments.

And now I’m kinda considering becoming a substitute teacher – as much for the mental gymnastics as a chance to return to puberty (and of course, the cash).

And here the two worlds become even more divergent.

Way back in the 1970s and early 80s I was a vacation relief/sick leave photographer in the Bay area and Sacramento market. Wages were of course way different than they are now. Let me repeat that – way different.

As a daily call-in photog I made about $125 daily shooting news, $225 for public affairs/documentary and everywhere in between. I was expected to walk into a newsroom, grab the keys to a car and immediately head out on stories with reporters I may or may not have met before. Furthermore, I was expected to know how to get to locations, shoot a story, and get it back. Very simple. I was being paid to do a job and as a freelancer I made on average more than the daily wage of many staff. Why? Because there was an acknowledgement that I was not working every day and the higher daily wage was meant to compensate for that. It was management’s and the union’s way of keeping it fair. (And also a union ploy to ensure that management did not hire a staff of part timers who got no benefits.)

Fast forward to now.

As an eight year teacher I made approximately $37 an hour roughly. That was for a day that ran (officially) from 7am to 2:45pm. About seven and 3/4 hours of work.

Occasionally I subbed during my prep period for another teacher (this is the squirrelly part – I got paid to work while I was being paid to work).

But as a sub I will make only about $100-$110 a day. Yikes. Less than $15 an hour. Why the difference? Well, first off, substitute teachers are only required to have passed a state test and have a BA. But still…

Oh – and here’s another MAJOR difference. Remember above I said I was expected to walk on the job and do everything the staff photo I was replacing did? From my observation of teaching subs that is far far from what happens.

A common practice of sick or on leave teachers is the “VCR teaching plan.” Leave a movie and tell the sub to play it. Maybe make that a bit more palatable by having in loosely connected to the class content with a list of questions to be answered and handed in.

Then there’s the “read and respond” lesson plan. Read the class assignment and answer (once again) the list of questions.

Uh – so what does the sub actually do? With few exceptions (and trust me, I had to work to find good subs) they are babysitters. They meet the legal requirement to sit in a classroom full of students.

So….thirty years ago I made MORE working part time in news than I would today as a substitute teacher. And today less is expected of me. Sigh.

Addendum: this isn’t the full story of course. It is, as it must always be in real life, much more complex. But the above are the facts, generally. Substitute teachers are thrown into classrooms ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, in every subject imaginable. Some of them can actually teach (and again, trust me, I found them). But all too many are taking money for showing up and sitting.
My plan? Gonna make a short list of classes I can teach in and limit myself to them. My sanity and self respect aren’t worth what they’re paying otherwise.

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