By Mark Rountree
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Jim Elliott has a college degree in education but only worked as a classroom teacher for three years, and that was 50 years ago in New Mexico.
Elliott, who would spend 32 years of his working life as an FBI agent, returned to the classroom as a substitute teacher 14 years ago in McAlester, and has been working as a substitute for seven years in Stillwater.
On Wednesday, Elliott was working as a substitute teacher for Tommie Grant’s geometry class at Stillwater High School.
“It’s as much a hobby as anything,” said the 74-year-old Elliott. “I enjoy the kids.”
“Mr. Elliott makes geometry come alive,” sophomore Carly Sumpter said. “He subbed for us a little while ago too and he helped me so much. I had a question, and he taught me how to do it because I got kind of confused. He helped me with the question and how to solve it.”
Grant said substitute teachers usually have a good experience in the classroom if the full-time teacher has laid a solid groundwork.
“It’s good to know you are leaving your kids with a qualified adult,” Grant said. “You know they can teach and help maintain that sense of security, making sure they are doing their work and making sure the day is going as normally as possible when you are gone.”
Elliott is one of 103 substitute teachers employed by Stillwater Public Schools, and the district is looking for more.
“We are looking to get our sub list bigger so that the fill rate for everyday absences gets filled, because right now they are not getting filled,” said Melissa Sestak, who oversees and coordinates the substitute teachers in the district. “The bigger the list, the better. Not everybody can work the same days.”
On Tuesday, there were 26 absences in the district for various reasons. Twenty-two of those absences were filled by substitutes while four classes were left without a sub. In those situations, other teachers will fill in for an absent teacher during their planning period and be compensated for their extra-duty work.
Noncertified substitutes earn $50 for a full day and $25 for a half day. Certified substitutes earn $65 for a full day and $25 for a half day.
“One of the benefits of (being a substitute teacher) is the flexibility,” said Kellee Brown, public information officer for the district. “They can work when they want to, and they can have a chance to make a difference in students’ lives.”
New substitutes check in with the front office upon arriving at school. They receive information about what is expected from them. They are then directed to the classroom, where they find instructions, lesson plans and any other relevant notes from the full-time teacher. People who are regular substitutes know the routine, Brown said, and they simply check in at the office and go to the classroom.
People choose to work as a substitute teacher for any number of reasons. Some might be looking to get more experience in the classroom while pursuing a degree in education, while others might be looking to supplement their income.
The district works closely with the College of Education at Oklahoma State University to recruit students who intend to enter the education field.
Anyone interested in applying for a substitute teaching position can do so by visiting www.stillwaterschools.com and click on job openings.
Candidates must go through a background check that includes fingerprints. Substitutes prepare for the classroom work by watching a series of four tutorials.
Sestak said candidates must be 18 years old, pass the background check and complete the tutorials.
“We want to have high-quality substitutes in our classroom,” Brown said. “We want to continue the rigor even in the absence of the teacher.”