We continue to see record daily numbers here in Montana, but many schools are seeing a different record number, an all-time low amount of substitute teachers ready to take the place of a sick teacher.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, teachers are scoring a lot of touchdowns, in a sense, in the classroom, making sure they are learning remote-learning - almost, in the process of doing so, not having a ‘summer.’
The same goes for substitute teachers, like Rick Gale.
Even he sees with the numbers of COVID-19, there’s a lot of space to fill.
“If we can’t answer that call, these schools may have to close because of the lack of teachers,” Gale says. “What I see is the support from the administrative team, from other teachers who are in the building in the same area where I might be stepping in.”
Rick Gale was a teacher for more than 20 years, long before COVID-19 was a thing.
Now, he’s one of the pool of substitutes ready to fill an empty spot at the Bozeman School District.
“There is a high demand for substitute teachers for a lot of reasons that we are all aware of,” Gale says. “When I walk into a classroom, I know what the expectations are from the regular teacher. The lessons are in place. It may be the A team or the B team, as I call them, but I will have a real good sense of what I need to do when I step into that classroom for that teacher.”
And he’s felt the demand at a real level.
“Over the last month, I’ve had the opportunity to be at Meadowlark, Whittier Elementary, both high schools, at the end of the day, what I hear from students is thank you,” Gale says. “Thank you for being here for our teacher who is out today. That goes a long way.”
“That sub becomes really important to keep things going,” Gale says.
According to school officials, like deputy superintendent Steve Johnson, the pool still sits at about 60 substitutes available.
’Available’ is the key term.
“We used to say we have enough substitutes,” Gale says. “They just need to say yes when we call them. Our pool is less than half of what it was last year.”
A pool at less-than-half is not ideal, according to Johnson.
That’s why Gale takes his calls, after considering, of course.
“I have. I have thought about my age,” Gale says. “I’m a senior citizen. I said I’m gonna do it. I’ll just make sure I follow the guidelines.”
And if the metric isn’t met and there aren’t enough subs to fill temporarily empty spaces, the schools might have to close their doors again.
For now, Gale says there is a learning curve to volunteering.
But as long as CDC guidelines are met, masks and all, he says it’s the students that keep him coming back.
“Those thanks for those students walking out the door...right there,” Gale says, patting his heart.
The school is still working to train anyone who is looking to fill a spot in the ways to do so online.