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Day in the life of a substitute: Educators talk staffing shortages during pandemic

Posted at 4:12 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 20:54:24-05

NAMPA, Idaho — The highly contagious omicron variant recently pushed some schools to their limits, exacerbating an already prevalent teacher shortage and forcing some schools to close if they couldn't find a substitute.

After several districts began asking the community for help, Idaho News 6 wondered — what does a day in the life of a substitute teacher look like?

Related: Treasure Valley school districts offer incentives for substitute teachers

For Jill Knapp, a substitute at Columbia High School, the day is filled with lesson plans and in-class activities.

Knapp started substitute teaching part-time six years ago, and would maybe go into a classroom three times a week. But when the pandemic hit, she said it became a full-time job.

"The need has gone up for subs in our district. All districts around us have suffered so much," Knapp said on Friday. "My goal was to keep the schools open. So, if that meant I needed to work full time, I'm going to do it. I put everything else on the side and focused on my family and my students."

Knapp helping a Columbia High School student in class on Friday.

Now, Knapp often substitutes five days a week. Students often find her at Columbia High School in Nampa, where she primarily teaches English and resource classes. However, like many other substitutes, Knapp also fills in for teachers during the prep periods.

Related: Twin Falls School District finding more substitute teachers

Columbia High School Vice Principal Nick Stern said substitutes like Knapp have played a significant role in keeping students in the classroom - especially when the traditional teachers are out sick or tending to personal matters.

"We’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have teachers who want to be here," Stern said. "It’s been difficult, we've had those days."

The pandemic has presented new challenges too education. Compounded with the already stressful high school experience, Stern said Columbia students greatly benefit from seeing a familiar face in class.

“Our kids have gone through a lot of traumatic experiences over the last couple years and so having that stable person in that classroom is so important to us at Columbia" he said. "They see that one teacher and say 'Oh good, I get to be with Ms Knapp or I get to be with this teacher."

Knapp feels having consistent substitute teachers in the classroom provides much-needed stability for Idaho's K-12 students.

"My school was my safe place, and I know my students need that too," she said. "I feel like when we don't have enough subs, and they don't have that consistency in the classroom, it's just not fair to them."

For more information on becoming a substitute teacher, speak with your local school district or apply online.