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Subs offer schools best alternative

Post Independent Photo/Kara K. Pearson
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Well into spring and without a cloud in sight, a snow day was out of the question Tuesday. But what could have been the next best thing befell a group of students at Glenwood Springs Middle School.

Teacher Jim Price urged an uncharacteristically chatty English Language Learners class to get to work. He’d handed out laminated yellow reading cards and told the students to pair up to practice reading and listening in English.

The kids moved slowly and joked with one another in Spanish.



On a typical day, Spanish is not allowed in the ELL classroom, but Tuesday was not a typical day ” Price was a substitute teacher.

“See, right now everybody’s speaking Spanish,” said Armando Rivas, an eighth-grader in Liz Howard’s ELL class.



“She won’t let us talk in Spanish,” he said. But with a substitute at the head of the class, “we can talk a little bit more,” he said.

And the kids did, enjoying the freedom that seems to come automatically with a substitute teacher.

That’s not to say the kids didn’t work, the 15 kids in the class worked and chatted through the period with little prodding.

And these days, the kids have to learn every day.

In years past, “a sub being there meant a free day,” said Mary Jay, the Roaring Fork School District’s substitute coordinator.

But standards-based education has put teachers on tight schedules, and they can’t afford to lose time just because they can’t make school one day, she said.

Teachers still give subs the occasional movie to show, but “it doesn’t happen much, if it all,” Jay said.

In many ways Price, a retiree with 20 years each in the Air Force and manufacturing management, is typical of substitute teachers in the Roaring Fork School District.

Most of the substitutes are retirees, mothers, full-time teaching hopefuls, or seasonal workers who sub on either end of the ski season, Jay said. Price subs not just for the money, but for the enjoyment and the chance to work with kids.

Price went through Howard’s lesson plan but spent the last few minutes of class on “his question of the day,” which he says often sticks with students.

On Tuesday, “the question of the day” was a highlight for the students, who were most attentive all day when Price quizzed them on geometry and geography.

“I like middle school because the teachers allow me to teach,” he said. Price has engineering and accounting degrees, so in math and sciences he fills in easily, and almost anyone can do English and social studies, he said.

Like Price, other subs bring something more than baby-sitting skills and the ability to follow a lesson plan to class.

“I think there are troubled students in our schools,” said Susan Gorman, who has subbed for a couple of years, but had to take a break this year for family reasons.

“I feel one of the things I can do is go in there and share what I’ve learned,” she said. Gorman focuses on self-worth, the value of education, and the need for boundaries, in addition to the preplanned lessons.

She has connected with kids. During a self-worth talk, one Carbondale seventh-grader asked her, “Is a person still valuable if he doesn’t have any friends?”

A different day a fifth-grader told Gorman about violent thoughts, she said.

“I, as a sub, can’t fix kids, but just to listen to them helps,” she said.

In both those cases, administrators and parents were aware of the children’s problems, she said.

Many of the 70-80 working subs in the Roaring Fork School District work primarily in one school, Jay said.

Price spends so much time in GSMS that he knew the kids’ names at the beginning of the period.

Of course, subbing is a difficult job, most of the teachers admitted.

“It’s always a challenge … but that’s what I enjoy,” said Skip Harlow, who subs between ski instructing in the winter and summer work at the Maroon Creek Golf Course.

Contact Ryan Graff: 945-8515, ext. 520

rgraff@postindependent.com


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