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Filling in the gaps: Substitute teachers find variety of ways into field

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By Kelly Cantrall

As the last local school sets to embark on summer break, substitute teachers and full-time staff step back to enjoy a break before the August start date nears.

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With teachers in local districts receiving three personal days and 10 sick days a year, substitute teachers are called on every day to fill in gaps. Subs get into the line of work for a multitude of reasons, but typically stay for one common one: They enjoy time with students.

Laura McKinney, a substitute in Hardin County Schools, began looking for a new career after retiring from the U.S. Army in 1994. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1996, still searching for what she wanted to pursue. McKinney has relatives who are teachers and she was attracted by the ability to “impact the future,” she said.

McKinney began working with HCS as a full-time substitute, which since has been transformed into a “first-line” substitute position, which reflects the pay she receives from the district.

McKinney spent a large portion of this spring semester as a substitute for a North Hardin High School teacher on maternity leave. She’s taken long-term positions scuh as these in the past, and she works most days and at all grade levels.

Moninda Coyle, a substitute for Elizabethtown Independent Schools, taught for seven years before taking time off to raise a family. After several years, Coyle needed to take some steps to renew her teaching certificate and working as a substitute for a set number of days was one way to do it.

“That was 30 years ago and I’m still doing it,” she said, chuckling.

Coyle had substituted at all grade levels and for several days a week, but she now only works at Elizabethtown High School a couple times a week, despite teaching elementary school in her former career.

“It was so different than the elementary,” she said. She enjoys the high school students a lot, she said.

“That’s just a great age to be around,” she said.

Joe Bennett just finished his first year as a substitute teacher. Bennett is the youth minister at College Heights Methodist Church in Elizabethtown and knew of several other youth ministers visiting schools to build relationships with their youth groups. Bennett decided working as a substitute would be a good way to do that. He works on Fridays in middle and high schools in HCS.

It’s “just a way to connect with kids. I just enjoy it, to be honest,” he said.

Bennett had never taught K-12 before, though he does work as an adjunct professor for Campbellsville University. Bennett said he nervously recalled how substitutes were received when he was in school.

“I definitely didn’t know what to expect,” he said.

But he’s never had any bad incidents, and the skills needed for his full-time job overlap with his substitute work.

“If it wasn’t fun, I probably wouldn’t do it,” he said.

McKinney enjoys children and believes a person needs to want to teach to be effective. She likes seeing possibilities in students with whom she works, she said in an email.

“So being part of the mechanism that directly impacts our future is exhilarating and keeps me motivated,” she said.

Substitute teaching keeps Coyle in the classroom, but works on a flexible schedule. It fit her needs so well she never considered going back to being a full-time teacher.

Coyle particularly is attached to her school district, as she attended school in the EIS district and taught there full-time for part of her seven-year career.

“I just really enjoy and care about the Elizabethtown Independent school district,” she said.

Bennett said he enjoys his time in the classroom, but the experience has made him appreciate teachers more.

“Doing that every day, from August to May, that’s a hard job,” he said.

McKinney has contemplated becoming a certified teacher, but so far has decided to stay with substitute work. She needs to take the Praxis examinations to become certified.

“If it’s my time to go out and do it, I will,” she said.

Coyle said she has, at times, thought about calling it quits for good in substitute teaching, but never follows through on that idea.

“It’s something I still enjoy doing,” she said.

Bennett plans to sub next school year as he continues his work as a youth minister. He said he thought he could be a teacher, but is happy with his position at the church.

“I think I could, but I understand how tough it is,” he said.

Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747.