Substitute teachers help maintain in-person education amid pandemic


Nolan Russell

Mr. Dave Gaddis substitutes in the Bearden social studies department.

Substitute teachers have become increasingly necessary at Bearden this year due to complications caused by Covid-19, and several substitutes have become staples in classrooms.

The pandemic has amplified stress, fear, and anxiety among students and staff at Bearden, and substitute teachers are no exception. All those factors have made keeping classrooms supervised and engaged more challenging than ever.

Nobody has felt that stress more than East Mall secretary Ms. Amber Henry, as she supervises substitute coverage of absent teachers for the school. Ms. Henry coordinates the process of helping teachers secure specific substitutes to take over their classrooms for a specific amount of time.

“This year, making sure that all classes are covered with a teacher is much, much harder than it has been in the past,” Ms. Henry said. “Flu season was always the most difficult time of year to schedule subs, but even so, that would only last for a few weeks in February and March.

“But with Covid, not only are people sick with Covid, but they get quarantined, which knocks out a whole department of teachers at a time. So unlike the flu, this has lasted all year, and it doesn’t look like it is going to slow down.”

As of August 25, 2020, Knox County reportedly had 1,317 active substitutes in circulation, but only 5% to 10% of those registered end up working on a given day. Even so, Bearden is lucky to have recurring and dedicated substitute teachers that are eager to help in any way they can.

“I have had a great experience subbing at Bearden High School,” said Mr. Dave Gaddis, who retired from a long career on Bearden’s staff several years ago, but has continued to frequently serve as a substitute.

“Before Covid, all I had to do was log into [the online KCS substitute platform] and pick up a position, or I would work it out with a teacher beforehand, so getting a job for the day was easy.”

Due to the ever-present impact of Covid-19, an abundance of substitute teachers is essential in order to keep school districts open.

“I can usually tell when the superintendent will call off school depending on the amount of subs we have compared to the amount of teachers that have called out,” Ms. Henry said. “For example, when we have four subs in the building and ten teachers out and I have to get [assistant principal] Mr. [Russ] Wise or myself to cover a class, I am usually the biggest advocate in the school for us to be called out.”

Substitute teachers are not oblivious to the fact that they are a vital part of sustaining in-person learning.

“I feel more of an obligation to sub than I have in years past because of the pandemic,” Mr. Gaddis said.

The pandemic has left its mark on most areas of life, but it has not affected the positive impact that Bearden leaves on substitutes.

“I have been driving from Fountain City to Bearden for 37 years, and that is because I don’t think there is a better school in the county than Bearden High School,” Mr. Gaddis said.