Day in the life: Vermont’s substitute teachers

Substitute teachers are still needed in Vermont, as absences from sickness leave gaps in the classroom.
Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 8:43 AM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - The pandemic may be waning, but substitute teachers are still needed in high demand across Vermont as absences leave gaps in the classroom.

“I just love working with the kids and I connect with the community and the flexibility of it,” said Kelly Connaughton.

Connaughton has been a substitute teacher in the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union for seven years. She signed up for the gig after enjoying volunteering with her kid’s classes and field trips. “You get to pick and choose, so you can decide if you’re working that day, that week. And they have an app so it makes it really easy,” said Connaughton.

She says she’ll work a scheduled day or she’ll fill in for meetings and last-minute absences. During the past two school years, she says there were opportunities to sub every day. This year, there are consistent openings throughout the district.

RNSU Superintendent Kristin Hubert says while there’s a handful of subs ready to go like Connaughton, there aren’t nearly enough to cover the daily need. That means full-time teachers and non-licensed support staff have been stepping up. Hubert says there used to be full-time substitutes in the district, but not this year. Some moved to full-time teaching positions, and the district was also hoping there would be less of a need. “One of our elementary schools and our middle and high school has seen a decent amount of illness again,” said Hubert. “Not all of it is COVID, some of it is a lot of other things, but so that’s kind of why we’re back to maybe we do want to see if any of our subs are willing to be those full-time subs. It’s a budgetary conversation.”

At Spaulding High School in the Barre Unified Union School District, there are five permanent subs and around 30 floaters. They’re on call every day and accept or decline the offer. “They build that rapport with the kids, they know the building better, they know the departments better. It just, it’s a more seamless transition,” said Jake Trepanier, the district’s sub-coordinator. He says this year is a bit more complicated when it comes to filling the puzzle. “We’re starting to see half those absences are also classroom teachers because of these unplanned illnesses, COVID. You never plan COVID, so with that, it’s stretched just then. And then we hit days where we hit close to 30.”

What kind of people make great subs? Spaulding Co-Principal Luke Aither says they tap into a pool of parents, relatives, and recent college grads, to name a few. “People who, like kids. They’re coming in, they’re flexible. That’s really important because we’re never sure exactly what the day is going to look like,” said Aither.

Districts recruit through word-of-mouth, social media, and websites like Handshake and School Spring. According to the newsletter 802Ed, there are 511 substitute openings throughout the state, with 11 of those being permanent substitute positions.