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How a wedding planner became an uncertified Michigan teacher for $15 an hour

Kennesha Crawford

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A rising number of Michigan public schools are staffing classrooms with long-term substitutes with as little as 60 college credits and no formal education training. Bridge examines the implications of this practice for the state’s already-struggling schools. 

Wednesday


​Thursday

Kennesha Crawford, a wedding and event planner and actress, taught fifth-grade math and science last school year at Redford Service Learning Academy near Detroit. 

Rita Carter has worked as a long-term substitute for several years. Like Crawford, Carter has an “extended daily” substitute permit but she worked for months in the same Highland Park classroom. Carter’s most recent job before becoming a long-term sub: an assistant basketball coach at Adrian College.

“That’s basically teaching,” Carter said.

Welcome to the world of Michigan long-term substitute teaching, where uncertified teachers often are in charge of classes for a full year, some earning roughly the equivalent of a job at a fast-food restaurant.

Check how many long-term substitutes are in your school district or charter

Carter and Crawford said they care deeply about their students and believe they are offering as good of an education as is offered by certified teachers. But they said they’ve seen many long-term subs shuffle in and out of classrooms, leaving children with no permanent teacher, let alone a teacher with a background in education.

Two years ago, Crawford worked for most of the school year at a Redford middle school teaching a class she created called “life skills and creative studies.”

She said she was paid $85 for a full school day, with no pay over winter break, spring break or snow days.

“I was making more working nights as a security guard at Little Caesars Arena at $14 an hour,” said Crawford, who has a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Wayne State University.

She said she stayed at the school “for the kids. I didn’t want to leave them like everybody else did, all those teachers who go in and out, in and out. The turnover hurts the children.”

Last school year, she taught fifth-grade math and science and earned $125 a day -‒ roughly $15 an hour. She said she received no training for the class beyond a school orientation that dealt with issues like dress code.

Carter, who has a master’s degree in organizational leadership, said she taught a class of 32 fifth-graders in Highland Park last year. “I was supposed to have a paraprofessional (typically someone without a teaching certificate who helps out the primary classroom teacher), but teachers quit,” leaving her on her own most days, Carter said. 

Neither Carter nor Crawford have taken steps to become a certified teacher, which would include taking education classes through a one-year, alternative certification program. Carter said she may begin work toward certification if she returns to a classroom this fall.

Despite saying she has little interest in becoming a certified teacher, Crawford said she’s been offered several long-term substitute positions for the coming school year. Crawford said she is undecided about returning to the classroom because of the pay.

Both said they feel they are as good at teaching as certified teachers.

“Long-term subs are providing a better education than the certified [teachers],” Carter said. “It’s been my experience that [long-term subs] are more committed to the children. They enjoy the teaching element, rather than [teaching] to a contract.”

“I felt I was more equipped to teach” than some veteran teachers, Crawford said. “Teaching is more than the information you have; [students] need to know you’re compassionate.”

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