The nationwide need for more teachers and substitute teachers has been featured prominently in the news – but the breaking news in the Issaquah School District is the way that some of our parents and guardians have come to the rescue, working as substitute teachers, paraprofessionals and more. Cougar Ridge Principal Drew Terry lauded two parents who have saved the day at his building on more than one occasion, Dara Schaffer and Wendy Dubrow.
At the district level, the total number of absences on a few given days have surpassed last fall, when we set records with the high numbers of staff absences, said Donna Hood, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. “We loved last year’s subs so much (our) hiring teams hired many of them and they are now full-time ISD employees,” Hood said. The district has hired 72 certificated subs, and 35 paraprofessional subs since August – but we could still use more substitutes to strengthen our team because our subs get sick sometimes, too.
Schaffer, who also coordinates art docents at Cougar Ridge, is in the school often enough that she had heard multiple conversations among stressed teachers and staff about the frequent difficulty getting a sub when teachers or staff members were sick or home caring for family members. One day last year, she was in the school’s work room volunteering when a friend of hers who teaches at the school came in to use the copier.
“She got frustrated – because copiers are frustrating – and had a little tear. She said, ‘I’m sorry. My kids have been sick back-to-back, and my husband is sick today, and I’m trying to get sub plans together, but I also can’t get a sub,’” Schaffer recalled. Around that time, Terry talked at a PTSA meeting about the district’s need for emergency subs.
“It was enough for me to ask: What is this process?” Schaffer said.
“I didn’t have a teaching degree, but felt fairly confident that I could do it because of my work as an art docent," she continued. “This could be part of my support of public education, which I believe in so strongly. Sometimes that support means helping the ISF (Issaquah Schools Foundation) or the PTSA, or going in to make copies for teachers so that they can focus on a new curriculum.”
She and Dubrow have known one another since their own children were in preschool. “We had both come to the same conclusion," Schaffer said. “I’m fortunate at this phase in my life to have the hours to be able to give. I had a unique opportunity to do something to help.”
Her first substitute job was at Newcastle Elementary, where she filled in for the music teacher – a nice connection to her degree, which is in art and music. Fairly soon after starting, Schaffer filled a longer-term nine-day absence at Cougar Ridge, and before she knew it, she had subbed in all of the classrooms there at one time or another.
“It’s always rewarding. The children are so fun and curious and interesting,” she said. “I think it feels like an important part of the tapestry of our community.”
Schaffer said she is extremely grateful for the paraprofessionals at the schools, and that she hopes more parents will consider subbing for or applying for one of those critical roles; or consider completing the process to become a substitute teacher.
Cougar Ridge’s second parent who frequently saves the day by substitute teaching, Dubrow, has a dual master's degree in childhood education and special education, but hasn’t taught full time since her daughters were born.
“I never thought I would do day-off subbing,” she said. But like Schaffer, she heard the constant call for help from the district and Cougar Ridge. “I’m of the mindset of being part of the community – for all of us to do our duty when we’re called.”
At one point last year, Dubrow’s daughter came home from school and said that her class had 14 different subs in one day. “It was unprecedented times,” and that desperate call for help encouraged her to complete the process to become a sub with the district.
“I have loved being in the building,” said Dubrow, who also runs the Green Team at Cougar Ridge, where her daughters attend.
“The kids love us being there. My girls are so proud of me, and the staff are so appreciative. Even staff I didn’t know at first would walk by and say ‘Thank you for being in the building.’”
She said she hopes more parents will step forward if they have the time and ability to help.
“In elementary school when our kids still want to be around us, it’s so heartwarming,” Dubrow said. “The kids will say ‘You’re such a good sub,’ or ‘Thank you for being here,’ and those little comments go such a long way in making me feel appreciated and fulfilled. … It just feels so good to be able to help.”
While the district does not have a large number of parents and guardians who are teacher subs, we estimate that 60-70% of our paraprofessional subs are parents or grandparents.
“We love that our parents step in to help out when they can,” said Tricia Neill, the district’s HR Specialist for Substitute Services. “There is a lot of flexibility in subbing, which allows for them to work around their family’s schedule.
The general process to become a teacher or paraprofessional sub is to complete an application, then apply to the sub pool (we have one pool for teacher subs and one pool for paraprofessional subs). Next, applicants will receive a call from the sub office to begin processing, which includes fingerprinting, sub certification for teacher subs, paid SafeSchools training and then orientation. If someone applies but doesn’t hear back from the district, it is generally because they did not fully complete the application.
Positions are available for half-day, full-day and long-term positions. Substitutes get to choose their own schedule and location each day, and only work the days that they are available. The minimum requirement to be a substitute teacher is a bachelor’s degree in any field, and the pay range is $29.62-$31.62 per hour, plus accrued sick leave.
In the photo above, students show parent and substitute teacher Wendy Dubrow their answers to a math problem. Below, parent and substitute teacher Dara Schaffer teaches a class at Cougar Ridge Elementary School.