In need of more substitute teachers, the Cloquet School District took to appreciating the ones it has Wednesday, Aug. 21, during its first ever training for substitutes.
With around 70 people on the district’s substitute list, there are still days when there aren’t enough substitutes to fill needed positions since many of those people are licensed in other districts as well, said Churchill Elementary teacher Ashlee Lennartson, who also serves on a district subcommittee working to address substitute needs and shortages.
“They're part of our day-to-day operation. A school system needs substitute teachers,” Lennartson said. “They just allow us to be gone when we're sick or when our kids are sick or when we have a family vacation. They're a big part of allowing us to be able to leave and know that things are going to be OK when we're gone.”
This is why Lennartson thinks it’s so important they feel supported and appreciated through efforts like the “welcome back” training.
Angela Garbett, who teaches special education at Cloquet Area Alternative Education Programs and serves on the subcommittee with Lennartson, said the four training sessions offered were intended to provide information to help substitutes feel more comfortable in the schools.
They included a session on addressing challenging behaviors, active shooter response training, a technology training and a session on licensure updates.
The Minnesota Department of Education issues short-call licenses and long-call licenses. The difference is that a short-call substitute cannot replace the same teacher for more than 15 consecutive days in a row, while long-call substitutes can.
Short-call substitute need a short-call substitute license, but not a teaching license. A long-call substitute does need a teaching license.
Short-call substitutes still need to have an undergraduate degree in any area, said Matt Krafthefer, who teaches at Cloquet High School and chairs the continuing education committee, said exceptions can be made for people with other credentials.
Since licenses need to be renewed every few years, Krafthefer’s job is to make sure people know what training options are available to keep their license up to date.
“It’s not too much to take care of, but it’s something you’ve got to take care of,” Krafthefer said of the renewal process for short-call substitutes, which needs to take place every three years.
Substitutes who attended the training received continuing education credits that count toward license renewal. About 25 people attended the training.
School districts across the state, including Cloquet, have been facing a shortage in substitute teachers for a number of years, particularly short-call substitutes who fill in on short notice.
Superintendent Michael Cary said it’s a side effect of a strong economy because people qualified for the job might choose a full-time position instead.
“It's been pretty common everywhere I've ever been, that you talk to people who say, ‘When the economy is doing poorly we have plenty of subs, when the economy is doing really well subs are hard to come by,’” Cary said.
Still, Cloquet substitutes find much to like about their jobs, and the flexibility it awards is one of them. For those handling health needs, subbing allows people to only take jobs on days they're fit to do so.
Being able to pick and choose when to work also comes in handy for parents like Ashley Keppers, who’s a mother to three kids. As a former teacher, she also thinks substituting can be a suitable gig for recent college graduates.
“It’s a good opportunity to get your foot in the door,” Keppers said.
Substitutes in the district pick up jobs using an app called Absence Management. When a teacher knows they’re going to need someone to fill in for them, they put it into the system and then the system sends notifications to substitutes. Users of the app can also set restrictions on what sorts of jobs they’ll be notified about.
Mark Finnila is a retired military flight instructor who takes subbing jobs when he’s not teaching at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College two days a week. He sets his app to only notify him of jobs only at Churchill and Washington Elementary.
“One thing for me that's neat is that in the elementary schools you get to run the curriculum, so you're actually doing the teaching the teacher would have done,” Finnila said.
Despite the sub-shortage, there are still jobs that get taken in a flash, said retired Carlton English teacher and Cloquet substitute, Denis Sauter.
“If it's a good job you'll hear a ding and before I can get my finger on it someone else will have gotten it,” Sauter said.
For Sauter and Finnila, substituting during retirement is a way to stay in touch with what they enjoy: teaching and kids. Sauter jumps at the chance to take jobs in the music classrooms.
“I love music,” he said. “If I’m in band or orchestra or choir, I get to listen to them.”