Substitute teachers maintain learning

Jennifer Murphy just began an assignment as a long-term substitute teacher at Kaneland High School.

They may not be Jack Black in “School of Rock” or Arnold Schwarznegger in “Kindergarten Cop,” but substitute teachers have a vital part to play in our classrooms.

Some call them unsung heroes, allowing students to keep learning when full-time teachers are away.

Jennifer Murphy just began an assignment as a long-term substitute teacher at Kaneland High School.

“Substitutes are crucial to the operation of a school year,” said Diana Hartmann, regional superintendent of the McHenry County Regional Office of Education. “There are many reasons to need a substitute, which include time off, sick time, meetings and professional development.”

The National Education Association, which advocates justice and excellence in public education, stresses the importance of substitute teachers, calling them educational bridges for when regular classroom teachers are absent. The association urges school districts to employ highly qualified individuals to fulfill these roles, but that’s proving to be far easier said than done.

Such individuals may be former teachers or those considering a career change. They may be recent college graduates who aren’t necessarily looking to teach full-time but are seeking a bridge to their future.

“Our substitute teachers are often recent college graduates, retired educators or professionals looking to keep busy, parents who have kids in our schools, and some are in the midst of changing their careers and interested in becoming a teacher,” said Chris Dvorak, superintendent of the La Salle, Marshall and Putnam County Regional Office of Education. “We have a good mix. We have noticed most retired educators are only going back to sub at the district they retired from.”

After receiving his master’s degree in public administration, Nick Partipilo became a substitute teacher and worked primarily at Corron Elementary School in St. Charles School District 303.

“I became a substitute teacher after discussing it with my stepfather, who has been a substitute teacher for nearly 15 years,” Partipilo said. “I subbed five days a week from January 2021 to June 2021. I did it because it was a good source of income. I have always respected teaching and considered it as a potential career. I felt fulfilled in the work that I did, and the hours were very good.”

Today, Partipilo is thriving as a municipal services analyst, but remains thankful for his time substitute teaching.

“I enjoyed knowing every day I was able to make students laugh and learn, and hopefully get them excited to continue learning,” he said. “It helped solidify to me that having a job whereI am doing something that genuinely helps somebody is a priority for me. That has helped me have a good working attitude in my current career.”

Jennifer Murphy, a substitute teacher at Kaneland High School in Maple Park, has a teaching degree and taught out of state for seven or eight years before relocating to Illinois and working as a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. After working as a paraprofessional in the Kaneland district for a few years she switched to substitute teaching.

Substitute teacher Jennifer Murphy works with Kaneland High School seniors Kirk Blanco and Abigail Burroughs. Murphy just began an assignment as a long-term substitute teacher at the school.

“I have worked every single day this year except for two days,” she said. “Subbing was a better fit for my family schedule, more compatible with after-school activities.”

Some substitutes stick around for years while for others, their time is brief. That’s the case with Plainfield’s Amy Pascale, who began working as a reading interventionist for Joliet Public Schools District 86 before becoming a substitute teacher this past year. She has since left to become a personal trainer.

“During [COVID-19] all the work went online which was challenging for me and the students so this past year I decided I was just going to sub,” she said. “I could still sub and one of the nice things about subbing is the convenience, you can pick up a day here or there.”

Those who like variety often find it with substitute teaching where every job is a bit different, just like the subject and class size. On some days it could be as simple as popping in a movie for the class to watch or handing out an assignment per their everyday teacher’s guidance. Other times, the substitute teacher will receive a detailed lesson plan and teach the class.

Jennifer Murphy just began an assignment as a long-term substitute teacher at Kaneland High School.

While there certainly are occasions where with no time to prep, the substitute has to improvise to maintain the attention of the kids with an activity or lesson related to the class type.

“A successful day for a substitute is when the lesson plan left by the teacher was completed, the students were working and engaged in the lesson and the substitute was able to remain positive and engage the students appropriately while maintaining the structure of the class period and or day,” Hartmann said. “It is ideal when substitutes learn the buildings they work in. This allows them to know schedules, norms, positive behavior management systems and the people in the building to partner with.”

Interestingly, substitute teachers enjoy the flexibility of choosing what days and where to work, but also have to be flexible once they arrive in the classroom.

“Subs are able to stand up to challenges to help address the needs that come on any given day when they come in,” Dvorak said. ”Sometimes a lesson plan is prepared, but that’s not always the case. They have to be able to punt then and keep the kids learning and keep students engaged to make sure learning is happening.”

Technology certainly has made it easier for substitutes in the way information and classroom exercises are administered.

“Since we’ve gone virtual, a lot of subs’ responsibilities are looking over the classroom and guiding the kids with Canvas [web-based learning management system] where the teacher uploads everything the kids need,” Murphy said. “The onus is put on the students to be responsible for their own work.”

Those interested in becoming a substitute teacher should visit for details.