When Newport Independent Superintendent Kelly Middleton graduated from college, he was a substitute teacher while seeking a full-time teaching job.
Nearly 30 years later, he says “it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
The challenge now facing Middleton and many other superintendents across the state is finding and keeping enough good substitute teachers.
“I think we’re like a lot of districts here just having trouble finding quality substitute teachers, and Newport’s no different. Maybe a little harder because we’re in an urban area,” he said, noting there are several other districts in close proximity to Newport.
“We had all the principals saying ‘We’ve got to have subs.’ Not just subs but quality subs because it’s a pretty bad day to be a school principal when you have four or five bad substitute teachers in a building, or less trained substitute teachers.”
Newport Independent substitute teacher Kelsey Bertsch goes over
an exercise with students in a middle school science class.
The district got proactive by researching the pay scales of nearby districts and the school board approved raising the pay from an $85-$110 per day range, depending on rank, to a $100-$125 scale. “(Substitute teaching)’s got to be worth at least a $100 a day,” Middleton said.
Allen County Schools is increasing its substitute teacher pay next school year after facing a shortage of substitute teachers last fall.
The district has already added about 20-25 new subs to its pool to combat the shortage. One avenue for hiring subs was attending Western Kentucky University’s job fair.
“We had a lot of folks who came by (our booth) with their resumes,” said Rick Fisher, the district’s director of instruction. “I just went through the list of resumes and called those people who had just graduated and asked them if they were interested in sub teaching positions.
“That was kind of a new approach for us to use the pool of people who had applied for a teaching job, to reach out to them and say ‘We don’t have a teaching job, but we have a sub job,’” Fisher said.
More than pay
After a district finds enough quality substitutes, the next challenge is keeping them and helping them be successful.
Allen County Schools does substitute teacher training in July and December.
“Most all our training work that we do with subs centers around effective teaching practices,” Fisher said. “Even if they are a certified teacher, it never hurts to work on your tool belt. We want everybody on the same page as to what we’re trying to accomplish, so that’s part of the orientation as well.”
Newport began a training program in December to help new substitutes be better prepared for the job by reviewing basic routines and procedures, and introducing them to school principals and district staff.
“We talked a lot about here are things you need to do,” Jeanetta Stacy, Newport’s supervisor of curriculum, said of the first training session. “I feel like they left with some tricks of the trade that they could take regardless of where they were in the district.”
Molly Miller graduated from college in December with a biology degree and wants to pursue a master of arts in teaching degree. She is now subbing at Newport and Ludlow Independent to gain some classroom experience. She said the training at Newport was beneficial.
“It gave me peace of mind going into my first day. I did the training before I stepped foot in a classroom,” she said. “For me, what I needed was logistics. It also helped me with some ideas for classroom management because I haven’t taken those education courses.”
Kyle Niederman, principal of Newport High School, said either he or an assistant principal checks on substitute teachers throughout the day to ensure they feel welcome and supported.
Linda Zacharias, who taught 24 years at Newport and has been subbing 15 years in the district, said that support is important, especially for someone new to a school or district.
“If you go into a building as a sub and you don’t get any support from the other teachers and administrators, you don’t want to go back there,” she said.
Many subs are younger people who have not found a teaching job. If they do well, eventually they will be hired. The substitute teaching job is a good way to impress the district.
“I think that’s probably right up there in terms of the highest priorities when you’re subbing,” Miller said. “Not only to get that experience so you have that under your belt but also to get a foot in the door because that’s so important, so crucial for school districts I think, not only on our side but on their side. They know who they’re getting when they hire a teacher who’s been a sub in their district before.”
Niederman said when he has a good sub, if he doesn’t have a job available he will contact principals at other schools to help the sub find a job.
That revolving door of younger substitute teachers is one reason Middleton likes to have retired teachers join the sub pool.
“I love for them to come back because they have all that experience and I think that’s a great tool and asset that we all can have and use,” Middleton said. “They bring a wealth of knowledge.”
Newport Independent has a full-time sub at each of its schools. Those four employees earn benefits and are available every day. On days they aren’t subbing, they have other responsibilities and are available if a teacher has to leave for an emergency.
“Me being here every day, I’ve got to learn personalities and build relationships with different groups of kids,” said Andrew Mitchell, one of the full-time subs. “When I come in I’m respected. … They know I’m not going to put up with them not doing work.”