The pay is $14 an hour and requires keeping a classroom of potentially unruly pupils from descending into chaos, but hundreds of furloughed workers in northern Virginia are lining up for work as substitute teachers during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
At a job fair Tuesday, nearly 200 furloughed feds showed up for fingerprinting and orientation sessions on classroom management at a job fair organized by Fairfax County Public Schools, the nation's 10th largest school system, located just outside the nation's capital. Montgomery County, Maryland, held a similar job fair Tuesday, though not limited to substitute teaching.
A similar number turned out for an identical job fair last week, and school system officials say they are organizing a third job fair to meet demand.
Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the job fairs are being organized primarily as a show of support for federal workers. "We want to get you a paycheck for you and your family," he said.
But he said the furloughed feds can fill a real need In Fairfax County, where roughly 1,000 substitute teachers are needed on an average school day, and about 7 percent of those calls for substitutes go unfilled, requiring schools to combine classrooms for a day or reallocate teachers inside the school.
Brabrand said the federal workers also represent good role models in a school system that wants its students to be prepared for professional careers.
"You all are coming in with a set of skills, frankly, that are valuable to us," Brabrand said.
Fairfax County is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the nation; in the D.C. region, the average federal worker earns a six-figure salary. So many federal workers say they have savings and are not yet in dire need of a substitute paycheck.
Instead, many of the job applicants said they see substitute teaching as a way to stay busy and serve the community.
Christina Tayman of Alexandria, who works in the office of professional responsibility for Customs and Border Protection, said she has three kids in the school system and sees substitute teaching as a way to be involved in schools from a different perspective than as a parent.
"I just see the excitement in my kids' eyes when they come home from school, based on their interactions with teachers," she said. "I'd like to possibly be able to give to another kid that aha moment."
Tayman and other applicants said they are concerned the shutdown, now in its fourth week, will go on for weeks longer.
The school system says it's doing its best to expedite hiring — some of those who attended last week's job fair could be in the classroom by the end of this week.
During Tuesday's session, administrator Andrea Garris gave a crash course on classroom management — no hugs, no matter how cherubic the kindergartner may be. With older kids, never physically intervene to break up a fight, if one breaks out. Be aware that the kids are sizing you up the moment they enter the classroom, so set the right tone from the start.
"Even if you're not feeling it — maybe you have butterflies — project that confidence," she said.