FASTA the Better
years ago a handful of people gathered over coffee in the living
room of Shirley Kirsten '68
and discussed the status of substitute teachers in Fresno, California.
With wages of just $65 a day and no health benefits, Shirley
and her colleagues decided that substitute teachers needed to
take action and organize. Their goal? To earn the respect, benefits,
and wages to which they were entitled.
efforts resulted in the formation of an organization called
FASTA, the Fresno Area Substitute Teachers Association, with
a quirky motto: "The FASTA the Better." Attempts to organize
some 700 substitute teachers were resisted by both the Fresno
Unified School District and the Fresno Teachers Association,
which represents 4,000 full-time teachers. "The district gave
us a lot of difficulties," Shirley said. "They obviously didn't
want us to organize." Despite the obstacles, FASTA succeeded
in bargaining their daily pay up to $84 or $94 per day, depending
on the assignment, though they still lack health benefits.
writer, concert pianist, and mother of six, Shirley began substitute
teaching after her son's class went through four substitute
math teachers in one year. As the daughter of a woman who once
chained herself to a New York City hotel pillar to protest working
conditions, the granddaughter of a man who helped organize garment
district workers, and an Oberlin student during the turbulent
late '60s, political activism has always surrounded and inspired
have not stopped at the local level. On July 14, Shirley delivered
her political lesson
plan to about 70 participants in the first National Conference
for Substitute Teachers held in Washington, D.C.--largely a
result of substitute teachers who had met via the Internet.
"We have been
isolated for too long, and we now need to get together under one
umbrella," Shirley said in the conference's keynote speech, "and
that umbrella is that we demand respect and health benefits and
message and the larger conference come at a time of one of the
most severe shortages of substitute teachers in memory. On any
given day, up to 10 percent of the nation's classrooms are overseen
by substitute teachers. The shortage has led some school districts
to raise wages, but more often the requirements to sub have been
lowered; in half the states, a high school diploma is all that's
needed. Of approximately 800,000 substitute teachers nationwide,
only about 2 percent belong to organized bargaining units. The
national conference was the first step to changing the negative
ways in which substitute teachers are regarded and has alerted
national attention to a long overlooked problem.
of the most important outcomes of the conference has been the newly
formed National Substitute Teacher Alliance (NSTA) of which Shirley
is president. With an executive board with representatives from
14 states, the alliance has adopted a Bill of Rights for Substitute
Teachers based upon the model of the Michigan Professional Substitute
Teachers' Association. The provisions include higher wages, access
to due proccess, employer-provided health services, and unbaised
consideration for contractual employment when available. As Shirley
notes, the organization is about more than just receiving higher
wages; it's about substitute teachers receiving the dignity and
respect they have earned as professional educators.
Ray is a senior English major with a concentration
in women's studies.