NC has no regulations governing substitute teachers

March 12, 2019

After being a stay-at-home mom for 13 years, Laura Kilcrease wanted a change. She decided to apply to be a substitute teacher in the Wake County Public School System. The job had a lot of perks. She could work when she wanted, make extra money for her family, and be on a similar schedule as her three children.

She submitted an application and included her college transcript to show she had a bachelor’s degree in psychology. What Kilcrease didn’t know is that a college degree is not required to be a substitute teacher in Wake County schools. The school system does not even require a high school diploma.

“I thought you had to have a college degree to be a substitute teacher,” a surprised Kilcrease told WRAL News during an interview at Abbotts Creek Elementary School, where she was working as a sub.

A WRAL investigation found that rules for substitute teachers vary by school system in North Carolina. Other than their pay, subs are not regulated by the state. Substitutes with a teaching license make a minimum of $103 per day, while unlicensed subs make a minimum of $80 per day, according to the state salary manual. But how they are vetted, hired and reviewed is up to local school systems.

To sub in Wake County public schools, candidates are required to complete a six- to seven-hour Substitute Effective Teacher Training course online or a 20-hour Effective Teacher Training course at a local community college. They must also attend a half-day orientation at district headquarters and undergo a background and reference check.

After inquiries from WRAL, Wake schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten said the district “is looking into its internal processes to determine if a college degree or high school diploma should be a requirement.”

While Wake County doesn’t require subs to have a high school diploma, other school systems do. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools requires subs be at least 21 years old and hold an associate’s degree or 48 semester hours of college credit courses with a C or higher. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools requires subs be at least 18 years old and hold a high school diploma or GED and have at least 60 college credit hours. Durham Public Schools’ subs must have any one of the following: a teaching license, a minimum of 48 college credits hours or successful ACT WorkKeys scores.

After several North Carolina substitute teachers were fired or resigned in recent months for alleged inappropriate behavior, WRAL News asked local school systems about their hiring requirements, screening process and and performance reviews for substitute teachers. Some of their answers varied.

In Wake County, a sub at Rand Road Elementary School in Garner resigned last month after she allegedly made offensive comments to a group of 10 year olds and told one student he was “going to go to jail.” In Richmond County last month, a substitute teacher allegedly told students she would kill all of them, prompting the school district to let her go. In December, a Wake County sub was arrested and charged with hitting a student.

North Carolina currently has no statewide requirements for hiring, screening or reviewing subs, according to Tom Tomberlin, director of educator recruitment and support for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

“That is all handled at the local level,” he told WRAL News by email.

Although the state doesn’t have any requirements for subs, some education leaders say they would be open to it.

“I think a baseline regulation by the state would be good,” said Jason Kennedy, Wake County schools’ recruitment director. “That’s something that all of us can kind of go by to make sure and ensure that we’re hiring the best people possible to put in front of our our students.”

The North Carolina Association of Educators would also likely support state regulations for subs, according to President Mark Jewell, but he understands why districts have varying rules.

“It’s very hard to get substitute teachers,” he said. “When you can’t fill classrooms now with certified teachers, let alone with substitutes, it’s supply and demand.”

Jewell said he was surprised to see how North Carolina handled subs when he moved from West Virginia more than 20 years ago to take a teaching job here. At the time, he said, West Virginia required subs to have a teaching license.

“It was a very tight job market (in West Virginia) and in order to get into the system you had to first get onto the substitute list, kind of like you were on an interview,” he said. “I think they have lessened it somewhat where you have to have just a college degree, but at one time it was a teaching license.”

The rules vary in other states as well. In South Carolina, each school district determines its own requirements and pay scales for substitute teachers. Some districts require valid teaching certificates, bachelors degrees or specific training. The state of South Carolina only regulates certified teachers.

In Virginia, subs must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or have passed a high school equivalency exam. Local school boards can set their own pay and qualifications, above what the state requires. School boards are required to ensure that long-term subs exceed the state’s baseline employment qualifications.

Jewell, NCAE’s president, said he would like to see more qualified candidates serving as subs in North Carolina.

“I think we would want to see educators, someone with a teaching license and certainly a college degree to be able to be in the classroom. But preferably somebody with a teaching license,” he said.

Wake County’s public school system has 6,501 registered subs, but not all of them are currently working. Some are teachers or other school employees who sub during their breaks. Of the total subs, 3,414 – or 53 percent – have a teaching license, while 3,087 – or 47 percent – are not certified teachers. It’s unknown how many do not have a high school diploma, because WCPSS does not track that information.

“We’re always, always looking for good substitutes who can come in,” Kennedy said.

Wake schools uses a program called Absence Management to fill classroom vacancies. Teachers log in to the program and note when they will be out. If they have already communicated with a sub they’d like to use, they can assign that person. If they do not have a sub lined up, the job is open to the general pool. Subs can open their Absence Management account and select what jobs they would like to work. For long-term teacher absences, principals try to find subs with a teaching degree or background in that subject, but it’s not mandatory.

If a Wake County school has a problem with a sub, the principal can ask the district’s human resources department to put the sub on the school’s “Do Not Use” list. Once a sub is placed on that list at three schools, they are fired. Depending on the offense, they can be let go sooner.

“With a system as large as ours, we get ‘Do Not Use’ requests quite often, actually,” Kennedy said, noting that the reasons run the gamut but often involve tardiness or problems managing the classroom. “We want to make sure that we have someone in the classroom that’s in front of the students that’s going to be responsible, that they are going to take the substitute position that they have chosen very, very seriously.”

In Wake County, subs do not receive performance reviews. However, in Durham, schools can provide feedback about substitutes and rate their performance. No matter how they are reviewed, subs know they’re doing a good job if schools ask them to come back, says Kilcrease, who subs in Wake County schools.

“But other than that, no, there isn’t really any like direct feedback unless you have that established relationship,” she said.

Kilcrease is not sure subs should be regulated by the state. In her experience, local school leaders know what’s best for students.

“Each school district has its own community, and every community operates differently. And so who better to know how to operate in that community than the people who are living it and have been elected to make decisions,” she said. “I think the job itself kind of vets people who aren’t really good at it.... They’re going to get into the classroom and quickly realize that it’s not for them and not come back.”

Kilcrease feels confident the job is right for her.

“I was shocked about the amount of just love that you get from the kids and how they remember you,” she said. “They all come in and hug you every day and (say), ‘Mrs. Kilcrease, are you in my classroom?’ So, I love it.”

WRAL News emailed four local school systems to find out how they vet, hire and review substitute teachers. Wake, Durham and Chapel-Hill-Carrboro City schools’ responses are below. Orange County Schools did not respond.

Approximately how many substitute teachers does your school system have?

Wake County Public School System Total number of subs as of 2/22/19 - 6,501

Durham Public Schools We currently have 1,081 substitutes in the system.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools CHCCS currently has 325 active substitute teachers.

Do subs need a high school or college degree?

Wake County Public School System No, they just need to meet our minimum requirements which is completion of the Substitute Effective Teacher Training course or hold a state-issued teaching license.

Durham Public Schools DPS subs are required to have any one of the following: a teaching license; a minimum of 48 college credits hours; or successful WorkKeys scores.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Eligibility to work as a substitute teacher requires that an individual be at least 18 years old and hold a high school diploma or its equivalency (GED) and have at least 60 college credit hours. Teacher licensure is not required. Prospective substitutes complete an application and hiring approval process. They attend an orientation session for new substitutes prior to beginning employment with the district.

Do subs need to have a background in the subject they’re teaching (ex: math, music, science, etc.)? What about long-term subs?

Wake County Public School System No, unless a particular class is required to have a certified sub (certified meaning they hold a state-issued teaching license). Schools make every attempt to find a sub who is certified in the area that they will be teaching, however it is not required. The school will determine which sub they will place in the long-term position.

Durham Public Schools Day-to-day substitutes covering short-term absences are not required to have a background in the subject they are teaching. In these cases, the absent teacher provides lesson plans and notes. We make our best effort to recruit licensed teachers (in many cases retirees or individuals degreed in the subject area they are teaching) for long-term absences – typically those that last 10 days or longer.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Priority is given to substitutes who have a background in the area of the assignment for long-term substitutes, and to the degree possible, for day-to-day substitute assignments as well.

Can teachers or schools choose which subs they want?

Wake County Public School System Teachers/schools can directly assign a sub to an absence.

Durham Public Schools Our substitute software system does allow for schools and/or teachers to choose subs. We make every effort to honor these requests based on school need and substitute availability.

How do teachers request subs, and how do subs accept a request?

Wake County Public School System We use a program called Absence Management for teachers to manage absences/vacancies and for subs fulfill those absences/vacancies. Teachers will login to the program and create the absence. If they have already communicated with the sub they would like to use, they will then assign that sub. If they do not have a sub lined up, the teacher will submit the absence to the general pool for any sub to fulfill. Substitute teachers login to their Absence Management account and select what jobs they would like to work.

Durham Public Schools We use an online software system through Frontline Technologies (Aesop). Upon hire, teachers receive login information and instructions on posting absences. Also upon hire, substitutes are trained on how to accept requests online or through the phone.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Sub assignments are coordinated through an online absence management system that allows substitutes to view and accept assignments. They also have the option of determining their preferred work locations. Schools have the capability to maintain a list of their building’s preferred substitutes.

After a sub is hired, how is their performance reviewed?

Wake County Public School System Subs do not receive yearly performance reviews.

Durham Public Schools Our software system allows users to provide feedback on substitute performance. Users can also rate substitute performance using the software. School administrators can, of course, communicate directly with HR regarding substitute performance as well.

Who handles complaints about subs? Are those complaints shared with the district and other schools?

Wake County Public School System Both the school and the district. Not typically.

Durham Public Schools Substitute complaints are handled both at the school level, and through HR if warranted.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Questions or concerns surrounding substitute performance are handled confidentially by the Division of Human Resources.

Can a sub be fired from one school but still sub at another?

Wake County Public School System We have in place what we call Do Not Use Requests. If a school would like to have sub blocked from subbing in their school they can submit a Do No Use request to the sub office for review. Once approved the sub will be blocked from accepting jobs at that school. The sub will still be allowed to sub in all other WCPSS Schools. Once a sub receives multiple Do Not Use requests from multiple schools, they will no longer be able to serve as a substitute teacher with WCPSS.

Durham Public Schools If substitute is terminated, it is at the district level. However, a substitute may be excluded from a school’s listing. Likewise, substitutes may also opt-out of certain schools and choose not to accept assignments based on their preferences.

Is there anything else that’s helpful to know?

Durham Public Schools DPS has a thorough and rigorous selection and onboarding process for all of our hires, including substitutes. Our substitutes are an asset to our students and schools. If a teacher needs to be absent, we want them to feel comfortable and confident that their class is being covered by a competent professional. We have a rich and varied listing of substitutes from our community, including retirees, college and graduate students, student interns, and those who simply want to give back to the community. Many of our current employees began their careers as substitutes and were later hired as permanent employees. We are grateful to the substitutes who serve in our district!