‘I’m actually helping kids’: Emergency substitute teacher describes what it’s like being in the classroom

SPOKANE, Wash. – The need for people to help teach students during this COVID surge is dire. So much, that Spokane Public Schools is paying an extra $50 a day to hopefully get more substitutes to work.

Both certificated substitutes and emergency substitutes will be getting paid $200 a day instead of $150 starting February 1. The school board approved the change in Wednesday night’s meeting.

The difference between a certificated and an emergency substitute is that the latter does not have a teaching certificate through the state.

Emergency subs only need to have a four-year degree if they want to work through SPS. Applicants also need to pass a background check and go through an emergency certification through the state.

The subbing rate for both certificated and emergency will go back to $150 if the Washington State COVID-19 state of emergency expires before the end of the school year.

While emergency substitute Donald Simpson is happy about the pay raise, he feels even more rewarded by helping kids.

“I actually love this. I do this because I enjoy it more than anything. The bonus last night is going to definitely help over the summer. I’m not going to complain about that one,” he said.

Simpson found out he loved substitute teaching when he started four years ago. He says he went back to get a degree in social work during his mid-life. He ended up doing a work-study at On Track Academy and fell in love with helping students in the classroom.

“I feel like I’m actually helping kids,” he said.

SPS needs more people like Simpson. Staffing shortages are at a critical point because of this COVID-19 surge. The district needs more substitutes filling in when staff is absent.

Of the 424 certificated substitutes the district has only 30 percent are taking jobs in schools, the district said in a board agenda. The district previously told 4 News Now it wants its sub-pool to be around 700 to 800 people, too.

Some people can’t take subbing jobs for various reasons. Zack Zappone said he just recently started his job as a council member at the start of this year.

Zappone is contracted to teach two-morning classes at North Central High. In the fall, he’d substitute in the afternoon.

“There’s such a need for substitute teachers. We also needed someone in the building for subs almost every day, so I’d almost take afternoon jobs,” he said.

However, since he’s been elected to the city council, he can no longer substitute in the afternoons. He says he wants to try and find time to help out since he enjoys subbing, but it’s hard with his schedule.

“There’s definitely a big issue,” he said about the substitute situation.

Zappone liked substituting classes, being able to learn new things and getting different experiences through those classrooms.

Simpson could say the same. This week he subbed for P.E. Last week, he helped out in a fifth-grade classroom. On Friday, he’ll be in a middle school.

“I literally know this is what I’m going to do until I retire. I really enjoy this a lot,” he told 4 News Now.

While Simpson said he wants to be an emergency substitute for years, he doesn’t want to become a full-time teacher. He enjoys the flexibility of being a substitute, being able to choose which schools he can teach in as well as taking time off whenever he needs it.

Right now, though, he’s booked through April to sub at various schools.

“You get to work with our future. They’re amazing,” he said. “They’re amazing kids. it’s enjoyable.”

>You can find substitute jobs with Spokane Public Schools here.

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