ELKTON — Cecil County Public Schools are actively recruiting new substitute teachers after the COVID-19 pandemic increased the need to replace teachers during an emergency and exacerbated a pre-existing shortage of substitutes.

“The need for substitutes has increased pretty dramatically, with the number of people who have to quarantine and the number of people who are staying home for COVID related issues,” said Sean Cannon, executive director for staff relations & human resources. “Our typical fill rate always falls short of 100 percent, which means other people in the school building need to give up their time to cover a teacher that’s out. The more we can get substitutes involved, the better off we’re going to be a system.”

A substitute teacher requires, at minimum, a high-school diploma, though the district prefers a two-year associate’s degree. There are three different types of substitute positions. There are paraeducators who provide support and assistance to teachers working with pre-k and special needs students, short-term substitutes who take over a class, usually for a day when a teacher is sick, and long-term substitutes who take over when a teacher becomes pregnant or suffers a lengthy illness.

In a meeting on Jan. 27, the school board increased the salaries for substitute teachers across the board, increasing the pay for non-degree short-term teachers to $16 an hour and a short-term substitute with a college degree to $23 an hour.

“We compete with Delaware, we compete with Pennsylvania, and we compete with Hartford county, not only for teachers but also for substitute teachers,” said Cannon. “We want to attract the most qualified, the most competent substitute staff that we can.”

Cannon said becoming a substitute, along with being a great way to supplement your income, is excellent training for people thinking of becoming full-time teachers. He said many substitutes have gone on to become full-time teachers.

Kari Buegel, a former CCPS teacher, left teaching to become a stay at home mom after two of her three children were born. When her children got older, Buegel became a substitute at Elk Neck Elementary School since it’s close to her home and provides plenty of work.

“As a substitute, you can work every single day,” said Buegel, who has taught at Elk Neck for around 6 years. “Even before COVID, just at Elk Neck, except for the holiday times and the beginning and end of the school year, I could work every single day.”

The most significant advantage of substitute work for Buegel is flexibility.

“My kids need me, and my family needs me. My husband works in Virginia and commutes every day. I keep our family together. I run our household,” said Buegel. “Substituting allows me to work and make extra income, but if I need to do something, my family comes first.”

Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Teigland said substitutes, like Buegel, can demonstrate their areas of interest, indicating what schools and grades they feel most comfortable with teaching.

“They’re not being thrown into a situation where their comfort level doesn’t match what they’re doing,” said Teigland.

Buegel said that though virtual teaching does have a learning curve, her pre-existing connection with students helped make the transition smoother. CCPS conducts a training course on how to run a virtual lesson.

Since Buegel only teaches at Elk Neck, she has built a strong connection with many of her students. She is a familiar face around the building, and students often come up to her to reminiscence about old assignments and other memories.

“Make a connection and have fun,” said Buegel. “That’s why you’re there. We sometimes forget that no matter what age they are, they’re just kids. As long as you have a rapport and have fun, everything is going to go well.”

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