The “Subs” That Go Above


Photo by: Raegan Calvo

Substitutes have become familiar faces in the halls and classrooms of Potomac Falls, but what exactly does the job entail and why should we be so appreciative of the people who are willing to fill in wherever needed?

The substitute teachers at Potomac Falls have become common faces, with “site” substitutes coming to the school every morning willing to pick up whatever jobs they are needed for. Without the presence of site subs, teachers would have a nearly impossible time finding someone to watch over their students. 

The pandemic saw the progression of both a substitute and teacher shortage. Teachers became “exhausted and underpaid” since the start of the pandemic, due to the difficulty of teaching students virtually, according to The Guardian. With the decreased demand for substitutes during the virtual year, many school systems had a hard time finding substitutes once school returned to in-person learning. Since fully returning to school from the “virtual year” of 2020-2021, finding a substitute teacher to cover a classroom has become increasingly difficult. According to The Atlantic, school administrators were begging parents and college students to consider a job with substitute teaching. With the newly increased vulnerability with teachers becoming sick and having to take time off of work, there is a high demand for people who can step in when a teacher is not available. 

Administrative Assistant, Cathie Shapiro, is in charge of coordinating sub jobs at Potomac Falls. Shapiro has noted that the process of finding an adequate number of substitutes for the number of absent teachers has become harder since COVID, saying “Subs are choosing very carefully which jobs they pick up, which results in never having enough subs on busy days. Some days we don’t have anyone pick up a job.” This school year, however, is better than last year in comparison to finding substitutes. 

The site substitutes who work at Potomac Falls have become loyal to their roles here, with some returning for their third year. “We have about four to six other subs that like to work here and pick up jobs. So, we are doing well,” said Shapiro. Compared to other schools in the county, Potomac Falls has a healthy rotation of substitute teachers.

The process of a substitute teacher being assigned a job is completed through countywide software and with the coordination of Shapiro. Outside subs pick up jobs from SmartFind, our sub software system, and then I assign our site subs to the jobs that don’t get picked up. I try to give our site subs the subjects that they really enjoy subbing for. Everyone has their favorites,” said Shapiro.

The typical day for a sub looks like taking attendance, carrying out any instructions given by a teacher, and maintaining the overall order of a classroom. An added perk of the gig is the ability to get to know a wide array of students due to the freedom of being able to sit in on any class. “Subs that work here all the time tell me what a great school we have and how nice our students are,” said Shapiro.

Janet Endres and Russell Hall are two site subs that have become familiar faces in the hallways and classrooms here. Endres has been a substitute at Potomac Falls for nearly 15 years, starting the job after her children graduated from the school in 2008. 

Endres feels motivated each day by the students at Potomac Falls and their enthusiasm for learning. She describes the school as having a lot of “smart people,” particularly teachers, on their staff. “I enjoy their intellectual humor,” said Endres. 

Substitute Russel Hall says that the most difficult aspect of being a substitute teacher is “being a butcher of names.” “I would also say trying to pronounce 60 to 80 different names right a day is also a difficult task,” said Hall. Hall was given the idea of becoming a substitute teacher by his family members after trying a variety of other jobs.

Hall believes that the best way to show appreciation to your substitute teachers is to simply respect them and their time. “Sometimes nothing is needed to be said to be appreciated. If the class goes smoothly and everyone is working on what we’re supposed to be working on, then that’s enough for me from students,” said Hall.

A typical day for Hall looks like coming into school a half hour early to  find out who he will be subbing for the day. Once that is established, he takes a look at the lesson plans for the day. Once students arrive he takes attendance, making sure that he gets all the names right, then he encourages the students to get to work. “Teachers usually have a block for planning, so if there are jobs still not filled for the day, I am given a job for that block during the teacher’s planning,” said Hall.

Outside of school, Hall can be described as an avid movie lover. “I enjoy most genres of films, but I tend to watch more horror movies and sub genres like 1970s paranoia thrillers, like Marathon Man, The Parallax View, or The Conversation,” said Hall. Hall was able to express this interest to students and land himself a role as a judge in the annual Potomac Falls film festival last year.

Endres says that one of the most upsetting aspects of subbing is seeing a rotation of students come and go with each graduating class. To perk up both the spirit of her and her students, Endres started her “Senior Blanket Project.”

About seven years ago, I started my Senior Blanket Project to celebrate good students or students doing the right things. Students don’t realize that I’m always paying attention -even though they don’t think I am. I see that student who gets their lesson and sits quietly through class and does their work. Or those students who I see volunteer to help another student or a teacher, and I keep a mental record.  As their graduation approaches, I purchase fleece fabric that I think matches their personality, hem the fleece, and wrap it up with a handwritten note explaining their qualities that I admire and why I chose them – a little piece of Potomac Falls to take with them,” said Endres. 

Endres’ blanket project has allowed her to switch her mindset about the students who graduate from Potomac Falls. She went from purely missing them to realizing that they would always have a special memory and gift from her to them. One year, Endres handed out 27 personalized blankets to a group of seniors. Endres also shows appreciation to her students in smaller ways, by handing out cookies or cupcakes to groups of especially well behaved students.

Endres’ contributions to the school community do not end there. She has always been a dedicated member. “I was the soccer team manager, every classroom ‘mom,’ basketball league secretary, team parent/photographer/banquet organizer, on top of running my children to every one of their sports.  When my children graduated from Potomac Falls, I received a varsity letter for my contributions – sports pins from golf, swimming, track and field, and cross-country – very busy, but I’d do it all over in a heartbeat,” said Endres.

Her contributions to Potomac Falls and around the local community led to her being awarded “Substitute of the Year” by the Loudoun County School Board in 2016.

Although they might not have distinct classrooms of their own, subs are always trying their best to make personal connections with students. Students and teachers alike are lucky to have the dedication and willingness to help that substitute teachers offer.