Substitutes save the day


Photo by A. Guinn

Monica Ayers substitutes for Mike Brady’s English class. She sits behind a wall of plastic, taking serious precautions during the pandemic.

Nina Scroggin, Anna Guinn, and Nicole Eldridge

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it is no secret that this school year has been unlike any other. Wearing masks and keeping an immense amount of distance between yourself, friends and teachers has now become the norm. Though many students and teachers have settled into the new procedures at Noblesville High School, one task remains troublesome for faculty at NHS: finding enough substitutes to fill the role of teacher in classrooms. 

As the beginning of the school year approached, Noblesville rushed to find substitute teachers with the right amount of background knowledge and education to teach certain subjects in which teachers decided to go fully virtual to conduct their classrooms.

“Noblesville had a plan in place to have a substitute present in my classroom from day one, and they went above and beyond in finding someone with a background in the discipline I teach,” English teacher Mike Brady, said.

Monica Ayers, the current substitute teacher for Brady’s English class, has been a substitute teacher for the past five years. It was JoAnn Brolsma, the secretary to the principal, that had the task of locating a returning substitute that was qualified for an assigned class.

“On my end, it seemed very organized,” Ayers said. “Mrs. Brolsma simply told me that I would be subbing for Mr. Brady.”

JoAnn Brolsma is Principal Craig McCaffrey’s secretary. She spends a portion of each school day deciding and organizing where certain substitutes will be placed for each class.

“Each day I come in early to see how many subs we are short.  Once I figure out each block that needs to be covered, I start placing other subs that are on prep, calling on IA’s, or teachers,” Brolsma said.

Though the task of finding multiple substitutes to cover classes can seem stressful in a time like this, Frontline Education Absence Management helps to organize the process of substitute searching. It notifies substitutes about opportunities available.

“Substitutes choose where they would like to sub through our Frontline system.  Teachers put in their absence ahead of time in Frontline and then subs are notified of an opening,” Brolsma said.

When the opportunity presented itself to fill in for Brady’s English class, Ayers was happy to help, as English has always been one of her passions.

“Since I majored in English during college, it’s always my first choice, and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to help that department out over the past few years,” Ayers said.

Though English is one of Ayers more passionate subjects, hopping from classroom to classroom is the norm. The stress substitutes face while throwing themselves in a new environment so frequently is almost unimaginable to those with a set routine. This year’s changes have definitely made an impact on substitutes well being.

“The biggest change is that I know where I’ll be 75% of each day,” Ayers said.

Since the pandemic, new procedures and protocols to keep students safe have been issued to teachers. Though some of these new procedures were found to be odd at first, they are now deemed “normal.”

“Cleaning desks between each passing period throws a curve ball into the schedule, but like most things, if you do it frequently, it just becomes normal and routine,” Ayers said.

Although the pandemic has created new challenges and routines for teachers and substitutes, this school year has allowed Ayers to look at things from a brighter perspective.

“I still do regular substitute duties like take attendance and approve passes. It’s nice having a key to the room instead of tracking someone down to open my classroom,” Ayers said, “It’s nice having a place to leave supplies. It’s nice having a laptop provided to us to take attendance.”

Despite the challenges and obstacles that this year has presented, being a substitute has provided many benefits in which Ayers greatly appreciates.

“Being a permanent substitute affords me the consistency that I crave, and I enjoy having the same classes and students every week,” Ayers said.

As the year progresses, substitutes and teachers are finding ways to effectively communicate with one another in order to educate students.

“Mr. Brady and I converse via email. He’s quick to answer if I have a question or concern. We agreed early on that it’s not necessary to check in with each other every day, but I’ll sometimes get that email ‘I haven’t heard from you so I’m assuming all is well.’ I feel that I’m well-supported by him,” Ayers said.

Brady and Ayers are not the only teachers finding ways to effectively communicate. Debbie Marcum, currently a permanent substitute for Stephanie Gilbert’s history class, tells of how she not only communicates with Gilbert, but her students as well.

“I text with Mrs. Gilbert during class so she knows attendance and any technical or communication problems that might arise,” Marcum said, “My connection with the students is primarily through classroom management.  I am not the subject matter teacher, I am here to help students. I help facilitate tests, make-up, attendance, passes, safety drills,  cleaning desks, anything a student would need during the block.”

With forty years of experience substitute teaching for Noblesville Schools, Marcum feels as if NHS is her “home away from home.” Marcum’s familiarity with the school and routine allows her to organize the classroom in a way that leaves her feeling stress-free.

“I routinely put the objective for each of the classes on the board, and set up the Zoom on the screen so that the teacher is in the front of the classroom.  While the students primarily use their ipads, the teacher at the front of the room, even though on the screen, seems a bit more normal,” Marcum said.

It is evident that this year has brought many challenges to classrooms across the nation. However, facing challenges are the best opportunities to learn and grow. 

“I hope that students are learning that adaptation is a part of life. I hope students are learning the value of their education and that they have ownership in their success, be it learning from home or in the classroom,” Marcum said.

Marcum hopes that students regain knowledge based understandings of education outside of a classroom setting.

“I appreciate it when everyone is working together towards the same goal, and that’s not only what we’re doing in my classroom, but all students and teachers at NHS. It’s a strange one, but still a great year to be a Miller,” said Brady.