The days of running a laboratory at the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute are over for Dr. Dennis Canfield. Now, he wears a different hat as a substitute teacher.

He never planned to teach younger children, but growing up poor he says he found the value of education.

Dr. Dennis Canfield, a substitute teacher, reads over the instructions for the day at Northern Hills Elementary
Dr. Dennis Canfield Serves as a Substitute at Northern Hills Elementary School

“I feel like I had something to offer,” said Canfield, whose background includes serving as a  Vietnam medic and professor. “Education is the most important thing in the world.”

Canfield is among a growing number of retirees, parents, and professionals with flexible schedules who are substitute teaching for Edmond schools.

“Right now, we have an average substitute fill rate of 92%, a gain of more than 10% from the previous year,” said Randy Decker, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources for the district.

The district attributes the improved substitute fill rate to a concentrated education campaign and marketing efforts.

“When we looked at our substitute shortage over the last five years we observed that it resembled the teacher shortage and we realized that we needed to do something different to attract and keep quality substitutes,” Decker said.

The district started by getting the word out which included placing signs and posters at every school and leveraging traditional and social media to let the community know of the need.  Administrators also spoke to numerous parent and community groups about the shortage and how serving as a substitute can provide benefits to the entire community.

“If we can’t find a substitute for a class, teachers must fill in during their breaks or planning period, or administrators must step away from other important duties which drain resources and diminishes overall effectiveness,” said Decker. “We shared with patrons how important their role is in filling that gap,” said Decker.   

The district also initiated incentives for substitutes such as bonuses of $200 for working at least 50 days each semester and drawings for prizes such as iPads throughout the year.

“We discovered that around 275 substitutes chose to teach an average of one day a month last year. At that rate, around 30 to 40 classrooms, on average, would have no substitute which negatively impacts instruction,” Decker said. “We had to get creative to find ways to fix that problem.” 

One easy and affordable way the district is attracting more substitutes is ensuring that school sites are doing all they can to make them feel welcome and comfortable. 

“We are increasing our efforts to provide detailed lesson plans and everything substitutes need to be successful in the classroom,” said Decker. “We want substitutes to feel as welcomed and included in the school environment as all other employees. 

The district provides the training necessary to become a substitute. Individuals wishing to substitute teach must be 21 years-of-age or have 45 hours of college credit. The pay for certified substitutes is $70 a day, with non-certified substitutes being paid $60 a day. Substitute Requirements 

“It’s a great option for many parents, part-time college students, and retirees,” noted Decker.    

For Canfield, he says it’s about being a part of something bigger than himself.  

“I wanted to contribute to our children’s future,” he said.