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WEST JORDAN — As hundreds of thousands of students head back to the classroom this week, school districts are asking their communities to help fill the expected gaps in the classrooms this year by becoming substitute teachers.
"I'm learning kind of all sides of what a teacher is and what they have to deal with," Austin Lukens said.
Heading into the 2022-2023 school year there's no place Lukens would rather be than inside a classroom. He started substituting in 2019 and liked it so much he decided to go back to school himself to pursue becoming a licensed teacher.
And his timing couldn't have been better.
"For me, it's just good practice," Lukens said.
School districts have always relied on substitute teachers in the community. That need only became more desperate during the pandemic. At the height of COVID-19 and quarantines, Jordan School District, for example, said they needed about 300 substitute teachers every school day.
"(Students) are at school to learn. And they deserve that opportunity to learn the content in the classroom," said principal Bryan Veazie.
"Without a teacher in the classroom, that becomes very difficult."
Veazie is entering his fifth year as principal of Copper Hills High School in the Jordan School District. He remembers just last year the struggle to cover classes with teachers out sick and quarantining.
Administration staff and hall monitors stepped in to help. Teachers filled in during their prep periods. And sometimes they combined classes to make sure they were taken care of with an adult in the room.
I find it so gratifying to be a mentor for these students.
–Austin Lukens, substitute teacher
Veazie anticipates a sub shortage this new school year and he encouraged people in the community to "come and try it."
"Substitute teachers are critical and they're essential," Veazie said. "And they're a very valuable and important part of ensuring the consistency and quality of student learning."
Jordan School District anticipates needing up to 230 substitute teachers per day this school year.
Lukens plans to be in the classroom, taking advantage of the control he has over his work schedule as a substitute, as he works to get his license to be in the classroom full-time.
"I find it so gratifying to be a mentor for these students," Lukens said.
"For me teaching is — I'm going to die with a marker in my hand. That's where I'm at."
Jordan School District says they need to hire at least 50 or more substitute teachers for their substitute pool. The pay is $129 per day for entry-level positions — or those with an associate's degree — and $168 per day for licensed teachers.