Friday, January 27, 2017

Parachute Teachers

Every student has had the experience of coming to class to find a substitute teacher who struggles to present the lessons the regular teacher has left behind and who may have difficulty keeping the class engaged -- or even under control. Let's stop right here and acknowledge that there are many, many excellent substitute teachers. They have the difficult task of walking into someone else's classroom, with a lesson plan that may not be sufficiently detailed, and for which they have had no time to prepare. They are often underpaid - the national daily rate is about $105, although in New York City, substitute teachers receive $168.54 per day.

The Winter 2017 issue of Ed., the magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, looks at a program designed to improve the lot of both substitute teachers and the students in their care. It notes that as of May 2015, some 625,750 substitute teachers were hired annually to fill in when regular teachers were out and that during a school year of 180 days, on average, teachers are absent between 9-10 days. Districts differ in how they match substitutes with open classroom slots, but no matter what the system, it doesn't always work, which can leave classes uncovered and result in disbursing students to other classrooms or having administrators needing to fill in to cover classes.

Enter Parachute Teachers, a Boston based initiative described as Uber for substitute teachers. As founder Sarah Cherry Rice noted, "Boston has an incredible ecosystem of people who have expertise and who want to be in schools, but there hasn't been a clear pathway to come into schools." What Parachute Teachers does is match individuals who have their own expertise and interests with open classroom spots. The substitutes present their own material -- music, computer coding, food and nutrition, just to name some examples -- often using experiments and practical lessons. Parachute Teachers does background checks, offers training, and does the scheduling for participating schools, with the added flexibility for regular teachers of having someone available to cover for just part of a day, if needed, something that is not generally available in the traditional substitute teacher model.

Presently, Parachute Teachers is in its second year of operation in Boston with about 150 participating substitutes. It will be interesting to see if and how this program expands.

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