TribLIVE

| State

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Consistency critical component in students' success, experts say

Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Garrett Graff, a substitute teacher at Norwin High School, conducts class on Thursday, December 6, 2012.

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.
Related Stories

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 10:34 p.m.
 

For as long as she can remember, Grace Pesselato has had a plan: She would graduate from high school, work hard in college and pursue a veterinary career.

But her plan hit a snag: college chemistry.

The University of Pittsburgh junior said chemistry has been her Achilles heel since high school when her regular teacher, whom she called “awesome,” took an extended leave and a substitute took over her class.

Pesselato said the substitute lacked a chemistry background, so the students did not receive the instruction the full-time teacher outlined in a lesson plan

Years later, “I still struggle with (chemistry),” said Pesselato, who does not believe she was adequately prepared for college-level coursework.

Consistency at all levels of education is vital, said Nancy Waymack of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy group.

“Having a teacher absent one or two days throughout the year in a way that's planned ... (the students) could very well have a very successful learning day,” she said. “But certainly ... if a teacher's habitually absent ... then it's much less likely that the children are going to be able to have a consistent effective learning experience.”

Raegen Miller studied teacher absenteeism for eight years and authored a widely cited report for the Washington-based Center for American Progress. “There's some pretty good evidence ... that more absence leads to lower achievement,” she said.

The study cites other research showing that every 10 absences lower mathematics achievement by the same amount as having a novice teacher versus an experienced one, Miller said.

The quality, training and creativity of a substitute also play a role, said Garrett Graff of Shadyside, who substitutes in 10 local districts.

Graff, with a degree in social studies and history, covers classes ranging from math to English to home economics, “which is incredibly intimidating because it's not your specialization.”

But he said, “There's no sense in wasting a day,” so he tries to make sure “he's teaching the kids at least something.”

Still, he knows there are substitutes who simply pass out a packet of papers left by the full-time teacher, then read their own books.

Graff said he learned classroom management skills and how to set up impromptu lesson plans in college and tries to use whatever knowledge he has when substituting.

Because substitutes are used so widely, training them has taken a front seat in recent years.

STEDI.org, a national organization focused on training substitute teachers, works with interested districts, said Director Geoffrey Smith. The group, which provides a free online course, has the lofty goal of training every substitute in the nation by 2013.

“The better they know that they can do the job, the better they actually perform,” he said.

Click here to see teacher absentee rates for all districts.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Pennsylvania

  1. Evidence for charge not found in Pa. case
  2. 2001 same-sex union recognized despite partner’s death
  3. Lawrence power plant being converted to gas from coal
  4. Va. trucker hit  Mega Millions jackpot in Pa.
  5. Pennsylvania Senator Casey pushes for railroad bridge inspectors
  6. Medical pot has advocate in Pennsylvania House
  7. Technology races ahead of Pennsylvania wiretap law
  8. Probe continues in fatal shooting in Sharon hospital parking lot
  9. Feds accuse Philadelphia congressman Fattah of corruption
  10. Transportation Chief: 5 Airlines probed for price-gouging
  11. Teen could spend 10 years in prison for role in injuring Ohio teacher