Across the U.S., school districts are desperate to hire additional substitute teachers.
Some districts and states have gone so far as to lower or change the current requirements for substitutes, such as college credits or licensure in education. However, even these changes haven’t come fast enough to offset the lack of substitute teachers. The need for substitutes became even more apparent when the surge in the Omicron variant increased absences of many classroom teachers and school staff.
There is a community of individuals who have stepped up to fill this need and who have been actively participating in the substitute world – military spouses.
As a military spouse myself, I recognize the milspouses who are working in schools to fill the critical role of substitute teachers. I spoke with several of these spouses located in the U.S. and overseas to better understand what drives their desire to fill these substitute teacher roles and to learn about the current climate today. Some said they are doing it while they wait for a full-time classroom job to open up; others are testing out the waters to see if they like teaching. Then there are parents who have stepped up to sub in their children’s school because they simply know they need more substitutes.
The Accidental Substitute
When Angela’s family relocated near Fort Rutger, she found work tutoring, and substitute teaching wasn’t in her plan. But, when an opportunity fell in her lap for a long-term special education substitute position at a nearby school, she jumped at the opportunity.
Angela was recommended for the position precisely because of her experience working with special education students in the past. Substitute openings in special education are often difficult to fill because they require specific training and specialized knowledge. For Angela, substitute teaching has given her different tools in the classroom and allowed her to become more open-minded to different approaches and ideas in schools. Her goal now is to become a classroom teacher.
Angela’s advice to spouses accepting long-term substitute positions is to be “ready for the workload. You’re not going to get paid the same as a full-time teacher, yet you will be responsible for doing everything they do.” Overall, Angela believes that substitute teaching provides good experience for those entering the education field.
Always Wanted to be a Teacher
Army veteran and military spouse Julie has resided in Georgia since 2018. Her husband is stationed at Robins Air Force Base, and they live nearby with their two children. Julie was studying to be a teacher in college but felt called to serve in the military first. While a stay-at-home mom, Julie earned a Master’s degree in History.
She recently entered the education field as a traditional substitute. She attended teacher job fairs, and all of her interviewers suggested she start by subbing because, “we love to hire subs.” Substitute teaching has allowed Julie to fill a need in her community while also getting to know faculty, administration, and school culture at various schools in her district.
Julie acknowledges that her life experience as a military parent is valuable in classrooms with military-connected students. Another perk is that she sometimes subs at her kid’s school. This has allowed Julie to get to know the teachers and friends of her own children.
Julie is applying for full-time teaching positions for next year and has already had a positive response from administrators encouraging her to apply to their school, giving her an edge as she applies for future employment.
Filling the High Demand for Substitutes
In the Inland Northwest of Washington State, Navy spouse Naama is finalizing the process to become a substitute teacher in the elementary school where her three daughters attend. Naama is already employed part-time, and her decision to pursue substitute teaching was based on the desperate need she discovered at her local elementary school. One day, her oldest daughter came home and told her that their class, “had six different subs today.” No stranger to the classroom, Naama recognized that it was likely specialty school staff who were covering the different classes because they didn’t have a substitute.
Naama holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Education and started her career as a classroom teacher. After marrying her Navy spouse and navigating multiple PCS moves over a short period of time, Naama managed to stay in education as a substitute until her first child was born. Having lived overseas for the majority of her marriage, she quickly discovered how childcare on military bases is nearly impossible to secure unless you are dual-military or have excellent timing. Naama has focused instead on being a stay-at-home mom to her three girls and eased back into the workplace part-time.
Loves Being in the Classroom
Michelle has been a substitute teacher since last spring at a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school on Ramstein Air Base. Her journey to become a sub on base took over a year and a half, much longer than she expected. Even though Michelle is a certified teacher in several subjects stateside and holds a Master’s in Education, she has been unable to get her DoDEA licensure in all of the subject areas due to additional credit hour requirements. Michelle has chosen to continue substitute teaching while overseas to keep her resume current and because she loves being in the classroom with students.
Her advice to spouses in education is that subbing can be an excellent way to stay connected to the education system and get references from principals. Spouses are very hirable as teachers and substitutes because they bring a lot of resources from their lived experience.
Thankful for Substitutes
Olivia is a teacher at the intermediate school on Camp Lejeune. With her husband deployed, Olivia is the primary caregiver of her two children and hasn’t been able to return to her classroom since winter break due to COVID related daycare closures. Her school has relied on substitute teachers in her absence, many who are military spouses themselves.
According to Olivia, “military spouses are easy to work with because they have such empathy and understand the challenges [of military connected students].” Olivia said at her base, substitutes “keep the schools going.” While Olivia is complementary of the subs she has worked with, she said that they still don’t have enough substitutes.
Is Substitute Teaching for You?
I spent the first seven years of my career teaching high school. Part of that time, I served formally as a substitute teacher as a way to get my foot in the door in a particular school. I often subbed informally in colleague’s classes when there wasn’t a substitute to cover their classes that day.
I cannot emphasize enough the vital role substitute teachers play in the K-12 education system. Unfortunately, school districts across the country have been struggling to find qualified individuals to fill this role. Substitute teachers play a key role in keeping students engaged in schools and we need more of them now.