Replacement Players 

With jobs scarce, substitute teaching is a popular option.

Why the surge? The job market. Whether from layoffs, the economy, or graduation without a job ahead, people who haven’t subbed before are jumping in. Substitute teaching appears to be the hot new temporary job for the college-educated.

But those called to sub — out of a pool of about 1,500 in Henrico, 1,300 in Chesterfield and 800 in Richmond — often find that teaching isn’t all they thought. Substituting is “tougher than being a teacher in a lot of ways,” said Harold Fitrer, director of human resources for the Richmond public schools. “You walk in and it’s something new every day.”

To Kari Hatfield, her first time teaching second grade in Chesterfield County for a day meant keeping her energy up, making sure the pupils got where they needed to go.

“I had to count three to four times before I was sure everybody made it back to the classroom after lunch or recess,” she said. She was pleasantly surprised by how bright the children were. “Some of them were answering questions that I could not answer.”

The detailed lesson plans left by the regular teacher gave the day more structure. Hatfield, an master’s degree candidate in theater pedagogy at Virginia Commonwealth University, hopes to teach college when she graduates.

Stephanie Crute, a recent James Madison University graduate subbing for all three school systems, didn’t realize how needy grade schoolers could be. “That’s not where I’m at . . . having to tell them to be quiet 50 times,” she said.

Though it’s been seven years since James Battle’s first substitute experience, he still remembers what he went through just trying to take roll.

“Students would have their friend come in. ... and pretend they were part of the classroom,” he says. “I’d get that a lot when I would go into high schools, students in the room who don’t belong.”

Battle finds he’s more comfortable teaching grade school where he believes he has more of an impact. A sharp dresser, he likes being a positive role model. Now on a yearlong assignment teaching fifth grade, he does everything a teacher does — without benefits. The pay, $62 to $75 a day, is less than half of a teacher’s, though long-term subs, working 30 days or more in the same class, make as much as $176 a day.

Battle studies on weekends toward teacher certification at Virginia Union University. The Richmond school system pays his tuition in exchange for a three-year teaching commitment.

Sakina Scruggs went in blind to her first teaching assignment, with no plans, not knowing what to do. Laid off in August from a weekly Richmond paper, she’s still hoping to find a job in journalism. She received the call to substitute on Labor Day for the first day of school.

She nervously walked into the 11th-grade English class at Community High, thinking, “they’re not going to listen. They’re not going to respect me.”

To her amazement, it wasn’t like that at all. The first day she got to know the students. By day three, she was following lesson plans, reading the Standards of Learning binder, as if she were the full-time teacher. When the permanent teacher arrived on Friday, Scruggs “got upset that it was time to leave.”

Substitutes, unlike teachers, must move from class to class, school to school. It’s part of the gig. When you’re in the SubFinder system, there’s something new every day. Potential substitues submit their profiles — what schools, grades and subjects they want to teach — to SubFinder. The computerized system calls them from 6 a.m. to noon and from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. trying to match what schools need. After three tries, the system calls the next person.

Ann Kretsinger, who has subbed for 10 years, reports directly to Manchester High, where her daughter is enrolled. SubFinder doesn’t call her. The office contacts her personally.

With all her experience, she still struggles to be patient. Her worst experience involved a 10th-grade classroom. She was standing outside the door when a fight broke out — two boys tussled over a chair. By the time she got into the room, they were on the floor.

“I went over there and got in the middle of it,” Kretsinger remembers. “It probably wasn’t the smartest thing, pulling them apart. They were bigger than me. ... I learned later I should have pressed the panic button. I should have immediately called the office and had them removed.”

Still, she wouldn’t choose any other work. “I love it,” she said, “because every day is different. I get to meet different people, different kids, and I set my own schedule.” S

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