Katie Windsor and Michelle Alba-Lim have been substitute teachers in Douglas County for a few years, stepping into classrooms throughout the county to cover vacations, illnesses and a host of other circumstances for educators.
“Each class is different. Each school is very different. And each teacher, you know the person you’re subbing for, is very different,” Alba-Lim said, who is known to students as Michelle Dagel.
Alba-Lim and Windsor enjoy the diversity, and both are signed up to teach preschool to 12th grade in most schools in the county.
“You have to have that kind of laid back, go with the flow mentality,” Windsor said. “Because you’re not going to be perfect. You’re not going to get everything done that day. And so, just to have that good sense of humor and kindheartedness, I think that is so important. It mean so much not only to the kids, but to the staff and the school as well.”
While many of the teachers leave lesson plans and notes for the substitutes, sometimes there are emergencies and there are no notes or limited notes.
Windsor and Alba-Lim both said they rely on the students to guide them through the routines of the day-to-day and on things that are displayed throughout the classroom to guide them.
“You really have to be aware you really have to be flexible and my best resource, are the smart kids. Some teachers are really helpful, because they’ll have in their notes, they’ll say, ‘Really reliable kids,’” Alba-Lim said.
Teachers will sometimes also mark the students who have special needs or just need a little added attention for a variety of reasons, which Alba-Lim finds helpful.
She makes it point to address those students and give them special tasks, such as asking them to be a role model for other students or praising them in front of their peers to help build self-esteem.
Windsor uses her own experience to relate to students who might be acting out. When she was in high school she was expelled from Douglas High School and Roseburg High School in the same year.
“I used to smoke pot and I used to drink and I used to sleep around and I used to skip classes,” she said. “I walked into my drama class at Roseburg High and I took my backpack and I chucked it right at the teacher’s face.
“Now, I’ll be 36 next month. And I can very much relate, to a point. Some subs might be like, ‘You’re out. Leave the room,’ whereas I’ll actually give them a chance.”
But in the same breath as she relates to the students, she’ll list off what she has accomplished since then and how a change in attitude can help students achieve their goals.
“When people look at me they would never have guessed, I had been that kind of person,” Windsor said. “And that’s where I’m able to use that and I can tell them, ‘Yeah, that was me. Now I’m going to get a master’s degree. Now I have six kids. Now I have this or that. I get it, it is hard. It is hard. But, there is so much more out there than just right now in this moment.’ So many kids have potential. It’s unreal, and people don’t always give them the credit or the time — so I try to.”
In most of Douglas County, substitute teachers and school districts are connected through the Douglas Education Service District, which provides substitute services for Yoncalla, North Douglas, Elkton, Oakland, Sutherlin, Roseburg, Glide, Winston/Dillard, Camas Valley, South Umpqua, Riddle, Days Creek and Glendale.
“We depend on substitute teachers to provide continuity to students’ learning. We appreciate all of our substitutes and work hard to ensure safe working environments by following all necessary guidance,” said Holly Hill, director of human resources at Douglas Education Service District. “The opportunity for substitute teachers is both flexible and rewarding.”
The education service districts is looking to find even more substitute teachers this year, as the demand has grown. People with a bachelor’s degree can apply for the position and gross up to $211 per day, with increases for long-term assignments. Eligible licensed substitutes can participate in the Oregon Public Employee Retirement System.
Applicants can become a substitute with a restricted license, a process that Douglas Education Service District will help with.
“Oh my gosh, substitute teaching is the most incredible job,” Alba-Lim said. “It’s like a gig, you know, it’s like Ubers and Lyft, because you can choose your schedule.”
Windsor added that the pay was great.
Alba-Lim has a master’s degree in education and Windsor is working on hers, but neither wants to become a full-time teacher. Instead they prefer the flexibility and responsibility of their substitute position.
“I have the most respect for teachers,” Windsor said. “Because if you think about it, not only are you guiding these children for eight, nine hours a day: You are the one that puts together the curriculum. You’ve got these kids with different disabilities and different cultures all in one classroom. And it’s your duty to help those kids succeed. The daunting task of that, and the meetings and the phone calls and the homework and all that. I’m just like, ‘Forget it.’”
Alba-Lim used to be a full-time teacher in her native country of the Philippines and enjoys teaching, but she also enjoys gardening, traveling and being in charge of her own schedule.
Alba-Lim also enjoys leaving detailed notes for the teacher whose class she took over, sometimes up to three pages in notes. To let the teacher know how things went and how the students behaved, what the class did.
At the end of her note she always leaves her cellphone number, in case they have any additional questions. The question she gets asked most often: If she can come back and substitute again.