My view: Let former teachers be substitutes

By Tania James

Published: Thursday, Jan. 27 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

I am a 21-year veteran school teacher for Granite School District. The following is a true story.

My fever was 102. I was really in no condition to teach a classroom of 27 fifth- and sixth-graders. But I still wondered if I should just suck it up and head into school anyway. The reason? I knew that my students would be in the care of a substitute.

Taking the place of a regular classroom teacher is at best a difficult job. But in the past I have been blessed to have good people whom I could call on when I was not able to be at school. The best substitutes I have ever used have been retired teachers. They know how to control the kids and keep the learning happening. However, in the Legislature's zeal to "fix" the state retirement system, they have banned retired teachers from being employed in any capacity in our schools.

Instead of allowing seasoned and trained professionals to be in the classroom when a teacher is out, our lawmakers would prefer to see our state's children in the care of some Joe Blow off the street. For the life of me, I can't understand the thinking here. Retired teachers certainly did not come back to work in the school system to make a financial killing. Heaven knows what a pittance substitute teachers make. Instead, my former colleagues seemed to enjoy returning to the classroom on a limited basis just to once again be with children. But now our lawmakers have written off that priceless source of manpower.

This same legislation also bars well-seasoned and retired professionals from serving as part-time mentors and/or advisors. Over time, the state of Utah has invested a small fortune to employ and train dedicated, hard-working teachers. In that process, they have created a work force with a treasure trove of experience. Now all that know-how has been boxed up, marked "taboo" and shoved out of reach from an already compromised education system. What a loss!

It is my deepest hope that our lawmakers in the midst of all their education tinkering will amend SB63 and allow retired teachers to work part-time for the pubic school system. Those of us still in the trenches and the children of our state would definitely benefit.

Oh, by the way. I really was too sick to go to work. That evening I found out my "substitute" had literally put his feet up on my desk, read the newspaper and then taken a nap. Thank goodness for co-workers who kept checking on my class and for one sixth-grade girl who took over. The next morning my thermometer only registered 100 so I sucked it up, took some Tylenol and reported back to the classroom.

Tania James, a resident of West Jordan, teaches in the Granite School District.

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