In the midst of a nationwide shortage of substitute teachers, Burnet County school districts say they have enough — for now.
However, the number of available substitutes was down at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year for Marble Falls Independent School District and Burnet Consolidated ISD.
“We’re always recruiting substitutes. There’s never a magic number of how many we need,” said MFISD Director of Human Resources Betsy Russell.
The national shortage has been driven by COVID-19 restrictions and the fact that many substitutes are retired teachers who fall in the high-risk category for the disease. Those older, more experienced teachers have been opting out this year, not wanting to expose themselves to classrooms full of students, even when following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to stem the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Part-time, on-call teachers play an essential role in providing continuous education. They step in when needed to keep students on task, whether a teacher’s absence has been planned for days or happens unexpectedly, said BCISD Director of Human Resources Michele Gilmore.
“Our teachers are like anyone else. They get sick or their kids get sick,” Gilmore said. “We need someone who can step in at a moment’s notice. And they are teaching, helping the students.”
Barbara Bengston has been substituting in the Marble Falls school district since she moved to the area in 2009 to be near her daughters. She pointed out that substitutes can make a big difference in students’ lives and build relationships with them, even when not in the class with them every day.
Known as “Ms. B,” the 76-year-old substitute is often stopped on her way into Marble Falls High School by students wanting to know where she’s going, hoping she was assigned to their class.
Last year, when she turned 75, some of the students and staff even held a celebration for her.
Being a successful substitute teacher, Bengston said, comes down to attitude. If you approach each class and each student with a respectful and loving attitude, things will generally work out, and the students will respond and appreciate you.
“If you go in being kind and gentle, but firm, then the kids are accommodating,” she said. “You have to show respect to get respect.”
Flexibility is a big benefit for substitute teachers, Gilmore pointed out.
“They can actually, when they become a substitute, go in and set up their system to choose the campuses or where they prefer,” she said.
Substitutes can also select days that work best for them. College students and parents with kids in school can adapt their substitute teaching schedules to fit their own.
Requirements for substitute teaching include a high school diploma. Those with a higher education can earn more money.
Applicants also must pass a background check. Once through the application process, the districts offer training to get substitutes up to speed on protocols. BCISD holds monthly trainings.
Some substitutes have teaching experience, but others don’t. It doesn’t matter, Russell said. What matters is that they have a love for children and a desire to help them.
“Mostly, we’re looking for someone who wants to make a difference,” she said.
“We look for someone who has a love for kids, and they have to have a listening ear,” Gilmore added.
Bengston encouraged anyone who enjoys working with young people to consider becoming a substitute teacher.
“We never have enough subs, especially during flu season and when coaches have to be away for athletic events,” she said. “There are many people in the community who could have a positive and rewarding experience by sharing their knowledge and talents with our young people while inspiring them to be the best they can be in whatever career they choose.”