Guest Teaching as Civic Duty

Sandy Merz Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership

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Like jurors, substitute teachers should be drawn from the public as part of one’s civic duty, at least according to a colleague. Among other things, pulling subs from the public could create more awareness of life in our public schools, get the public more involved in education, and save money. The idea might fall into the category of things that are more fun to think about than actually do, so here I go.

There would have to be parameters about who would be eligible for “sub duty” and the conditions under which the subs would work. As a starting point, anyone over 21 with a clean criminal record could be put in a “sub pool.” Some of the same exceptions to jury duty, like English fluency, may apply. Classroom teachers would be exempt because then they’d need a sub. But other school district employees would not. Each member of the pool could be called on once a year to cover a teacher’s absence for no more than two consecutive days. I would limit the duty to sixth through twelfth grade.

The subs, or more accurately, the “guest teachers,” could have three options about what instruction to deliver: a lesson created by the teacher, a generic grade and subject lesson created by the districts, or a presentation created by the guests about their jobs.

Working in a school for a day or two would be eye-opening for many people whose connection with education may have stopped the day they got their diplomas, may be limited to visiting their children’s schools, or may be only informed by what they hear in the media. Who doubts that war stories about one’s adventures as a guest teacher would fill up dinner time and water cooler conversations? No doubt guest teachers would spend a lot of drive time thinking about their experiences.

As people from all walks of life spend time up close and personal in schools, many may choose to get more involved in public education. For example, after a day in a rundown school, an executive might suggest that his or her company’s philanthropic endeavors go toward improving the school’s physical condition. Another might encourage its employees to volunteer as aides or tutors. With a little imagination it’s easy to come up with scenarios in which community and school partnerships might bloom as a result of citizen guest teaching.

On an individual level, someone who’s looking for a change might decide to become a teacher after spending time in a school. That’s not too different from what happened to me.

Like juror’s, citizen guest teachers wouldn’t get paid more than a nominal amount. That would would save a lot of money. Currently, subs earn about $100/day. For every 1000 teachers who miss ten days of school in a year, a district using “guest teachers” would save $1,000,000. If the savings were targeted at a specific problem, like teacher retention, it could make a huge difference.

No doubt many objections will be made to this idea. Those who meet every innovation with, “That will never work” have already dismissed it, like they do everything else. But it’s just as easy to find other benefits not listed here, like a reduction of the front office mania when they can’t get subs and are scrambling to find teachers to cover classes on their planning periods. And for those who always say “Never” there are leaders who say, “This might work if…”

Ultimately, the questions to ask are, “Are we satisfied with the system we have in place?” and “Does this idea represent a feasible solution?” My answers would be N0 and Maybe.

Note: The conversation started when I told my colleague about the Take Your Legislator to School Program.


I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I've moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I'm a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

Comments 1

  1. Jess Ledbetter

    Hi, Sandy! This is a really thought-provoking topic. The idea made me smile, thinking about how much the “guest teachers” would learn about the challenge it actually takes to be a teacher. Someone recently told me a story about a parent who visited her class and declared that she realized how “easy” it must be to be a teacher (the visitor saw a classroom with excellent routines in place and students engaged in learning). The teacher was so surprised that the visitor didn’t think about all of the behind-the-scenes work it takes to keep such a classroom in motion. Perhaps teachers should be reaching out more often to ask community members to come to school for a day and see what teaching is all about. Great, creative post!

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