Despite low pay, Washington County substitute teachers love what they do

Stock image | Photo by shironosov/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — With Utah ranking far behind most states in wages, substitute teaching may seem like an unfavorable job. But for some Southern Utah substitute teachers, the job is much more than a paycheck.

A teacher and his students in their classroom at Coral Canyon Elementary School, Washington City, Utah, Sept. 17, 2018 | File photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

When emergencies arise for teachers in the classroom or they decide to take a sick day, substitute teachers are the ones to step up to the plate and resume those teachers’ responsibilities. And frequently, they’re called last minute.

In order to better understand the job and why people choose to become a substitute teacher, St. George News interviewed substitute teachers in the Washington County area. Some have less than five years of experience and some have more than a decade of experience.

The pay isn’t glamorous, but the job is

The average salary for a substitute teacher in Utah is around $26,000 a year, according to data from USA Wage, which is around 50 percent less than the average salary of the highest paying city for substitute teachers — Anchorage, Alaska.

Ogden-Clearfield was the only Utah city made the list of 100 “Highest paying cities for substitute teachers,” ranking No. 31 with an average salary of a little more than $40,000. According to 2016 data, St. George had an average salary of $23,000 for substitute teachers.

Even with 13 years of experience as a substitute teacher, Candace Harris said without her husband’s income, she wouldn’t be able to make an affordable living. However, she expressed that she doesn’t substitute teach for the pay. At first, it offered extra money when both of her kids were in school. She thought she would quit the job after her kids graduated, but she continued on because she enjoys it.

“I like to feel needed,” Harris said. “It’s like they need me, and I like that.”

To find jobs in the Washington County area, substitute teachers go through Educational Staffing Solutions, a company that specializes in placing staff in daily, long-term and permanent K-12 school district positions, including substitute teachers, paraprofessionals and other school support staff. In Utah, there is no statewide licensing for substitute teaching, according to Teach Utah, making requirements vary by school district. However, the pay does vary based on if a substitute teacher is certified or not.

Through ESS, substitute teachers in Washington County make $85 per day if they’re certified and $75 per day if they’re not. The pay remains the same, even if a substitute teacher is working a longer school day.

“If you’re at a high school or middle school, it’s not as bad because you’re only (working) usually about 4 1/2 hours,” Harris said, who is a noncertified substitute teacher. “In elementary or intermediate schools … you’re working more because you don’t have a prep hour, so you’re working more time for the same amount of pay.”

Despite the low pay, Harris and other substitute teachers say the flexibility and variety of the job far outweighs their wages.

Kristin Long, who is a senior enrolled in the teaching program at Dixie State University, has been substitute teaching for 11 years. She started subbing when the youngest of her eight children was in first grade, and she’s had the chance to be a substitute teacher for most of her children.

Long said she chose to become a substitute teacher because with some of her kids out of the house or at school all day, she had extra time on her hands and wanted to get herself “back out there.”

“I didn’t have any intention of going back to school and becoming a teacher at that point,” she said. “I loved the idea of being able to say no if I had something going on in my own personal life or if I wanted to go on a field trip with my son.”

Besides the schedule flexibility, Long was also enticed by the variety of subjects she’s had the opportunity to teach. Long has taught classes from language arts and math to auto shop and Japanese.

“I feel like I got such an education through subbing.”

Substitute teaching also allows you to build up a clientele – much like the beauty and hair industry. Because Long and Harris have been substitute teaching for more than a decade, most of their jobs come from requests, instead of looking for jobs through ESS.

“Most of mine are requests,” Harris said. “Teachers usually know who they’re getting, and they know I can do the work, instead of just putting in a movie.”

Quality substitute teachers are not just babysitters

As a parent, Kendra Johnson, who has been substitute teaching in the Washington County area for four years, said the job is nearly perfect. But in her four years of teaching and building up a clientele, she’s heard her fair share of horror stories about substitute teachers.

Johnson shared a story with St. George News of when she was pulled into a class because the substitute teacher who was called to teach the class couldn’t make it until a certain time. When the teacher finally showed up, she said the substitute teacher had two large dogs with her, which Johnson said is inappropriate for school.

“That’s a really dramatic example of what could happen,” she said, “but fairly often, I feel like you end up with teachers who, because it is easy to get hired and you don’t have to have very much education, I think you end up with a lot of people who do this because they have to, and they kind of just do the minimum.”

Stock image | Photo by dolgacho/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Instead, Johnson said quality substitute teachers should make sure what they do in the classroom is valuable. When possible, Johnson said she tries to do exactly what the teacher wants done while he or she is absent. However, when emergencies arise and a lesson plan isn’t already arranged, Johnson said she has prepared activities and assignments.

“I have what I call a bag of tricks,” she said. “In it there are different things that I think are valuable that I can kind of do with any classroom.”

For example, Johnson has origami and other art lessons for art classes. For elementary students, she has books and small writing assignments to go along with them.

Both Johnson and Harris agreed that when substitute teachers are doing what they’re supposed to do, they bring value to the classroom. Johnson said substitute teachers offer continuity.

“Just because the way life is, teachers cannot be in the classroom every single day,” Johnson said. “But if we are able to come in and prepare things and carry out the plans, then students not only get the continuity, but their education isn’t interrupted.”

The job can also be challenging because substitute teachers have to know every subject and be able to teach any grade, Harris said, whereas normal teachers just need to know one subject, like math or science.

“If you’re a good substitute teacher who’s actually going to teach while the teacher is gone, you really have to know everything and be able to teach everything from gym to science to home economics,” Harris said.

Overall, Johnson said the stereotypical substitute teacher, who’s shown in TV shows as being mean and grumpy, isn’t an accurate portrayal of who substitutes are.

“Education is really important and the days where you have a teacher who is just a babysitter, it’s kind of a waste of days,” Johnson said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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  • Henry January 5, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    I find it reprehensible that we pay our public servants, including teachers, substitute teachers, law enforcement, fire/emt’s, social workers, administrative workers, etc the lowest amounts in the country. It’s impossible to attract qualified candidates to sustain the oh-so desired growth if we don’t show them that we value them. It’s a struggle to rent, much less buy, a home on the $23,000 per year average salary quoted by this article, and raising a family is out of the realm of possibility. A woman quoted in the article says she teaches because she enjoys to do so; while it’s important that our teachers enjoy what they’re doing, it’s equally important that we pay them what they’re worth. With all of the development in Washington County, it’s time that we lead the state of Utah in compensation for our workers – and hopefully, pay in the private sector will increase accordingly. More pay, more available money to buy homes, goods & services.

    • tazzman January 5, 2019 at 2:48 pm

      Henry, that is also why so many teachers choose to work in nearby Clark County, Nevada.

  • NorthwesternWildcats January 5, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    Imagine the $30+ billion (or more) the gop wants for a wall (no way going to be 5 billion) went to giving teachers a raise. They wouldn’t have to take on second jobs like my kids teachers and we could get quality teachers and not just anyone that has a degree and passes a licensing test. Let them compete to give our kids the best education they can get instead of barely squeaking by.

  • Comment January 5, 2019 at 11:31 pm

    A long time ago there was a time in my life when I considered becoming a teacher. But, years ago, after I took on a job where I was working with children for quite a few hours each day, I realized that I just could not handle interacting with children for that amount of time each day in that capacity. I just did not have the patience for it. And it’s no better with tweens and teens. A lot of people teach that should not be teaching. The dropout rate for teachers is also one of the highest of any industry. For those who stick with it, and who are able to continue to be passionate and effective teachers for years and years, I respect them a lot. It’s not an easy job.

  • Mike P January 6, 2019 at 10:13 am

    Maybe we should give the Teachers ALL Washington Counties tax revenue , then we could raise taxes so we could pay the Police departments ALL that new money, then we could raise the taxes again so we could pay the Fire departments ALL that new money, then we could raise taxes again so we could pay ALL city employees ALL that new money, and THEN, we can start it all over again!…..see where this goes?

    • Comment January 6, 2019 at 1:14 pm

      we know where it goes, michael. after all that we claim we have to be a sanctuary state because if we enforce the laws the price of tomatoes will be so high no one but millionaires will be able to buy them. Ounce for ounce the tomatoes will cost more than gold. A catastrophic world shortage of tomatoes and every other kind of produce will ensue. Mass starvation will be the trade-off for deporting illegals. And all lawns will become overgrown because no one will be able to afford non-hispanic landscapers. A massive shortage of auto-body shops, so there’ll be an epidemic of dented cars. Total chaos…


      • Mike P January 6, 2019 at 2:45 pm

        NOOOOOOOOOOOO Not the Tomatoes!

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