Becca Henderson substitute teaches a class at May Roberts Elementary School in Ontario School District, Thursday, Oct. 7. (The Enterprise/LILIANA FRANKEL)

ONTARIO – Becca Henderson became a substitute teacher in a season of high demand.

Officials at the Malheur Education Service District say that the list of available substitute teachers, already short before the pandemic, has shrunk by half since March of last year, to only about 61 substitutes for all of Malheur County.

For now Henderson, who has seven years of experience, is content with the job, finding a better work-life balance than her previous position as a full-time seventh-grade English teacher in Parma. 

“In the past I spent a lot of evenings and weekends planning and prepping for my students’ success,” Henderson said.

As a substitute, “I can leave at the end of the day, no planning involved.”

Henderson said the process to become a substitute, which she began over this past summer, wasn’t difficult. She described the Malheur Education Service District officials who oversee the process as “really kind and friendly.”

She said she had easily made her way through general training videos and even heavier material like a training on detecting child abuse and one on Covid safety. 

Henderson’s assignments since August have all been in the Ontario School District, where she chooses to work because of its proximity to her home in Idaho. She said that she appreciates the safety measures Ontario is taking to protect students and staff against Covid. 

“I have felt supported as far as students wearing masks and social distancing,” Henderson said.

Most of her assignments are between a half-day and four days long. Henderson is usually notified anywhere between a week ahead of time to the morning-of to be ready to teach any subject at any grade level. 

The job has its challenges.

Henderson said that among those was the attitude sometimes adopted by students towards substitutes, that they are easy to fool or don’t deserve the same respect as a full-time teacher. 

“It can be difficult going into a classroom where the students don’t know you and don’t know your expectations, and trying to quickly establish those expectations and try to steer away from the typical mindset of an adolescent thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a sub,’” she said.

Henderson described a recent situation when some students switched seats to be closer to friends, assuming she would not notice because she is not their regular teacher. When Henderson caught on to what was happening, she reminded the students that their seating chart exists as a public health measure, to allow for contact tracing during Covid.

The students then went obediently back to their assigned seats. 

“I think the kids are aware of the magnitude of the Covid restrictions and also that it’s a privilege to be in-person learning,” she said. “I think the kids have a respect for that.”

Henderson said that she has not had to teach a class remotely yet. Students who are quarantined by the Ontario School District are given materials to work on at their own pace at home so teachers don’t have to divide their attention between classrooms and virtual teaching.

Henderson noted that her part-time job doesn’t come with benefits like health insurance. 

Otherwise, the job has “perks” she enjoys, she said. Work-life balance is a factor; she normally works about four days a week, and says the digital application the Education Service District uses for scheduling is user-friendly.

She also enjoys the appreciation she feels from other educators.

“All the administrators I’ve worked with have been really friendly and also appreciative of substitute teachers,” she said. 

In the future, Henderson said she would consider returning to full time teaching, since she still loves to teach. But for now, she is content.

“I think it works good where if you’re wanting a job where you don’t take home work and there’s set hours, I’m able to do that and still teach,” she said.

Anyone with a four-year degree is now eligible to become a substitute teacher in Malheur County. The job pays up to $195 a day. 

Interested candidates can call 541-473-4821 or email [email protected] to learn more about teaching opportunities.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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