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March 11. 2013 11:22PM

Substitute teacher: Nashua's system is broken

NASHUA - District substitute teacher Howard Coffman appeared before the Board of Education Monday night and said many students in the district have difficulty saying the Pledge of Allegiance correctly, don't know why we celebrate on July 4, and are being taught from books that have inaccurate information.

Coffman, who appeared at the request of board member Sandra Ziehm, said substitutes in the district deal with an almost institutionalized disrespect from students, teachers and administration, and are underpaid compared to surrounding districts.

"Currently, and clearly this is my opinion, subs are perceived by administration and teachers as a necessary evil, we are viewed as nonprofessionals of which very little is expected. As a result, teachers leave busy work for students like a movie, or a word search, and students usually ignore assignments and don't take the sub-led class seriously," Coffman said.

As such, in his four years as a substitute teacher in the district, Coffman said he has come to the conclusion that time students spend with substitutes is time wasted.

"I think this is constitutes lost teaching hours," Coffman told the board.

To combat this problem, Coffman recommended what he called a paradigm shift as to how the district runs its substitute program.

As it stands, substitutes can work across the district's schools in one day, teaching French in a middle school in the morning and math in the afternoon at a high school, something Coffman said can run substitutes ragged. Instead, he suggested assigning substitutes to specific schools and grades, so that they can establish lasting relationships with the building's teachers and students.

Coffman also suggested giving substitutes added professional and curriculum training, reimbursement for money for gas spent traveling between schools, and increasing pay for substitutes to make the district more competitive with surrounding towns.

By doing these things, Coffman said the district would signal to teachers and students that subs are not necessary evils, but assets.

"Integrating subs into a teacher team would ensure teaching continues when teachers are absent while helping to eliminate behavior problems associated with subs," Coffman said.

He said student attitudes toward substitutes haven't changed since he was a student, with "lying, horse play, bullying and a lack of respect experienced by subs from students."

Coffman also gave his observations on the district to the board, saying that every middle school class in the district says the Pledge of Allegiance incorrectly, eighth-graders are being taught about the Constitution from books that are inaccurate, and fourth-graders have no idea who wrote the Declaration of Independence.

To help pay for his recommendations, Coffman said it is his belief that individual teachers who are absent or the teacher's union should pay for the employment of substitutes.

"There is no reasonable reason why the school district should have to pay twice, once for a sick day and secondly for substitute coverage for contracted service," he said.

While the board remained silent on Coffman's remarks, he received a round of applause from the board when he finished.


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