BENNINGTON — Getting substitute teachers can be tough any time, but during a pandemic, the task becomes that much more difficult. With different health protocols in place and concerns about the transmissible nature of the coronavirus, the number of available substitutes that have the credentials to fill in on a daily basis are way down.
“Usually we advertise through our website or the Banner and on our social media,” said Gloria Cahill, the human resources coordinator at the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union. “We put it out there that we need subs for teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, custodians and office staff. We’re always looking for subs, so we put in an ad every month and a half or so.”
Things changed this year. After schools were closed last March, they didn’t reopen in the SVSU district until the beginning of September. At first, the SVSU was going to be remote, so Cahill didn’t have any need for substitutes to fill in. But soon after school began in the first week of September, Cahill and Melissa Senecal, the director of Curriculum Instruction and Assessment, had to come up with a plan to find subs.
“We tried to reach out to our current subs,” Cahill said, who figured that there are about 35 to 40 substitutes at any given time during a regular school year. “We had to set up a meeting with the “new normal” to address concerns, address COVID policies and guidelines and address other safety concerns that they had going into a building before bringing the students back [in-person].”
Between the extra protocols and concerns about the transmissiblity of the virus, the original number of available substitutes was way down at the beginning of the school year.
“Some opted out, not completely, but they’ve put it off for now,” Cahill said. “It’s across the board — elementary, middle school, high school. We need subs on a daily basis and they aren’t coming in like we want, but given the circumstances we’ve accepted it.”
It didn’t take long — about a month — before students started to trickle back into in-person learning. Most have been in the hybrid learning model, two days in-person, three days remote. When that decision was made, Cahill was in a scramble, knowing that subs would be important in an ever-changing landscape.
“When we realized we were going to use subs, we had a Zoom meeting and supplied them with the guidelines for COVID,” Cahill said. “We discussed what we expected in the schools and different safety precautions. We also supplied face masks and face shields for all our subs.”
Cahill said that even though they didn’t need the daily substitutes at first, they still had to deal with school staff on leave. But to fill in for that, substitutes in the state of Vermont have to be trained and certified. And because of that, the numbers for long-term substitute teachers are even lower.
One of those long-term subs, Molly Sweet, has had four different placements since last spring.
Sweet graduated from Mount Anthony in 2015, went to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and earned her teaching license in Elementary Education in December 2019. She did her student teaching at Pownal Elementary.
After graduating, Sweet worked as a long-term sub in first grade at Pownal. Then she was placed at Bennington Elementary before schools closed in March. Between March and this school year, she said she helped a family member with remote learning and then in September was placed in Woodford to fill in for a teacher on leave.
She was there for three months before getting her current gig teaching first grade at Shaftsbury Elementary.
“I give our staff a lot of credit, they’ve had to step up and cover classes,” Cahill said. “I give our subs a huge thank you because if it wasn’t for them, like Molly, we probably would have had to be remote more than we have been.”
Before becoming a sub in the SVSU, candidates have to go through a training at Central Office (although that may be different now with the pandemic). There’s also paperwork and a background check.
To be a daily substitute, people have to have at least a high school degree. The pay goes up for people with their associate or bachelors degree or if someone is already certified to teach in Vermont.
“We have Frontline, which is an online system that subs can log in and see the schedule and if they know what days they can sub, they can pick them in advance,” Cahill said. “This year, they have an app on their phone and all they have to do is look to see if there are jobs available.”
If people have questions about becoming a sub in the district, email Cahill at firstname.lastname@example.org.