Teachers substitute in new opportunities

The sun streams through the windows, lining the halls while laughter echoes through the classrooms. The sounds of hundreds of footsteps flow through the doors and someone sits at the teacher’s desk, one small packet laying before them, detailing today’s lessons.

A substitute teacher’s role is to fill in the gaps in schools when a teacher is unable to make a class. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 59,270 short-term substitutes currently work in California, the most in any state. While there are many reasons to become a substitute teacher, many have previously been teachers. Lisa Tribolet stopped her full-time job as a teacher when she had her three kids. But as they grew older and more independent, she decided that she wanted to return to the classroom.

Having taught at Redwood, Hall, Neil Cummins and the Cove, Lisa Tribolet finds that substitute teaching is not as scary as one might think. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Tribolet)

“If I worked as a full-time teacher [right now], taking days off would be challenging because then I’d have to come up with lesson plans and actually find a sub, which we’re short of right now. So this way [as a substitute], I can just take off days and go see a kindergarten performance or go on a field trip with my third grader,” Tribolet said.

While Tribolet decided to try the profession for the flexibility, Gary DeTore decided to substitute after retiring from teaching full-time at Redwood for 30 years. He has found that substitutes and teachers, while similar, have very different roles in the classroom. 

“Teachers have way more responsibility towards their colleagues, to the administration, to students with special needs, to contacting parents. A sub doesn’t have any of that. They just monitor the students and make sure they’re doing what their teachers assign them,” DeTore said.

Retiring at the end of this month, substitute and former teacher Gary DeTore has been working at Redwood for the past 30 years.


Like Tribloet and DeTore, Madeleine Metzger was also a teacher before becoming a consistent substitute for the Larkspur-Corte Madera School District. Metzger can enjoy being a substitute more easily than working full-time because she, like Detore, finds the burden of responsibility towards other teachers and students to be lighter. However, one of the most challenging parts of the job is its unpredictability.

“You’re there to provide stability and to get the kids to do their work based on the lesson plan that the teacher has left. [But], sometimes I go in and there’s no lesson plan, so you kind of have to wing it,” Metzger said.

After transitioning to being a substitute rather than a teacher, Madeleine Metzger enjoys the unpredictability of her job. (Photo courtesy of Madeleine Metzger)

Tribolet also struggled with maintaining control of an uncertain classroom when she first began substituting, especially when unfamiliar with class rules. However, because of her experience, she has become more comfortable and flexible with her job’s daily chaos, which greatly differs from the more rigid expectations when she was teaching full-time.

“[When I was a teacher,] I kind of expected the subs to do exactly what I wanted them to do. And now being on the other side of the fence, I realized that that’s totally unrealistic. Because you kind of have to read the crowd or someone might have a meltdown, you might have to deal with that and you might not get something done,” Tribolet said.

In addition to the difficulty of maintaining a class, it is often challenging for Tribloet and Metzger to build relationships with students, especially when they are only in a class for a few days. Metzger notices that having small conversations can help make genuine connections. For DeTore, asking questions is one of the most important parts of creating these relationships.

“I just try to be a real person. I try to talk to them, ask them questions individually. If somebody seems unhappy or something’s wrong, [I] go up to them and see if there’s anything I can do,” DeTore said.

After he completes his current job as a long-term substitute, DeTore plans to finally retire to spend more time with his grandkids, leaving Redwood in need of more substitute teachers. While working as a substitute may seem daunting, Tribolet recommends the position to interested individuals.

“[Being a substitute is] not as scary as people might think it is. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for being a sub and just walking into an unknown situation. But for the most part, the kids are pretty respectful. And I try to be very kind and show them respect. It’s not an exact science, but they show respect back and we get through the period doing whatever needs to be done,” Tribolet said.