Starting over every day: Life as a substitute teacher

There are 7.3 million teachers in America -- among them are countless substitute teachers who haven't always been portrayed in the best light, but what subs do in their day-to-day work life is a lot more than most of us realize.

We've all been thinking a lot about teachers in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

The holidays are a time we give them gifts, our way of saying thanks for looking out for our children each day-- sometimes, as we now know -- at great risk.  

There are 7.3 million teachers in this country according to census data. Among them are countless substitute teachers who haven't always been portrayed in the best light in films and on TV. But what these real life subs do in their day-to-day work life is a lot more than most of us realize.

Laurel Benedict and Tyler Parsons are perfect examples. Benedict is a former full time teacher now substituting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Parsons was a sub until this summer, when he got hired on full time by his small district outside San Antonio, Texas.

"I'm in a district where I have random calls, so I go from high school calculus to second grade elementary school," says Benedict. "You have to have quite a bit of patience, love for children, and flexibility."

Both Parsons and Bendict had to take on outside work to supplement their incomes from substitute teaching. In Parsons' district, substitutes earn about $80 a day so he took on a second job as a valet.

But Parsons says the hardest part of subbing is that there's little continuity, "you start over every single day, feeling that community can be difficult."

When it comes to feeling secure, being in a new environment every day can make things difficult. Benedict relies on school maps, emergency protocols, and district-wide drills to prepare herself.

Parsons adds that in an emergency, he remembers that there are others around to help, "you're not alone," he says.

About the author

Veteran journalist Tony Cox has joined American Public Media as guest host of Marketplace Money.

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