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Another Voice: Substitute teachers in Buffalo deserve better treatment

Another Voice: Substitute teachers in Buffalo deserve better treatment

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For this longtime substitute teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools, figuring out how to teach remotely has come with a very steep learning curve.

For example, teaching social studies to a third-grade class online, I asked the students to look up and define the word “continent.” After giving them time to work, I asked for a volunteer to share the meaning. The first student read in a strong voice: “Continent: ability to control the bladder and bowels.”

Lesson one: Don’t assume all the students have their textbooks at home. My intention was that they use the glossary in the textbook. My volunteer had to rely on the internet.

Classroom teachers were trained in remote teaching. Substitutes – not so much, until cursory training was offered in January, five months into this school year. One half-day, albeit paid, of self-directed instruction, primarily for mandated sexual harassment training. We were also informed that courses about remote learning are now available online. In other words, if you want to learn how to do your new job, do it on your own time.

The district is in non-compliance with our employment contract, which specifies a professional development committee be established, in partnership, to provide continuing education to the membership. The union is eager to go forward, while those in control drag their feet. As a professional, I am willing to accept responsibility for acquiring knowledge to advance my skills, but how much should be expected of us without support and compensation?

Substitutes United Buffalo, an affiliate of New York State United Teachers, is the union charged to support and represent our membership. There has been a leadership void within this organization for some time. All Buffalo substitute teachers can help to reinvigorate our union by visiting the website and participating in elections.

In reference to the reopening of schools to students, it was stated by the district that substitutes would be assigned to each school, with training being provided in-house. These assignments were eventually put in place, but to expect in-house training is not realistic. There’s nobody sitting on their hands in the schools, looking to expand their job description to include “Substitute teacher IT trainer.”

At a recent Board of Education meeting, an official said there are some 800 fully trained substitute teachers ready to assist in the district. This assumption is wildly inaccurate. Not only are the substitutes inadequately trained, classroom computers are not equipped for remote learning.

The contract teachers use their district laptops, but principals were told that no more devices are available. As a result, subs are forced to bring in their personal laptops, in violation of the acceptable use policy for technology.

Teachers and administrators depend on qualified substitute teachers to provide superior education. Substitute teachers wish to be fully qualified members of the team. We are professionals who deserve to be treated as such.

Susan Peters, of Buffalo, works as a substitute teacher.

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