It was the day before the last day of school at Buchanan Elementary, and students were waiting to be called to the front of the room to choose from a pile of items they had earned for good behavior.
Jesus Gomez Padilla grabbed a popsicle-shaped soap bubble dispenser. Breyana Lackey snagged two sticks of sidewalk chalk. Others selected rubber balls, sticky notes with colorful flowers on them, books or small bags of marshmallows.
Rubi Stein, who could have swept the entire contents of the tabletop into her backpack given all the credit tickets she had earned for good behavior, knew that Esther McCall, who had been substitute-teaching in her class since January, wasn’t just a treat-hander-outer.
“She tells us what’s right and what’s wrong, but not in a mean way,” Rubi explained. “She’s one of the unique teachers.”
Added Bryshon Parks: “She’s nice. She’s special. She taught us times and division.”
Had she known about them, McCall would probably take the compliments in stride. Even with a master’s degree in business with a minor in healthcare and a background in bookkeeping, she admitted she’s had plenty to learn.
“I found out I wasn’t smarter than a fifth-grader, at first,” she said, laughing. “I had to learn ways of doing math that are not new to them but were new to me.”
‘Not an Easy Job’
Others have certainly noticed her dedication.
Just before school was out for the year, McCall was named Michigan Substitute of the Year. She was honored by Clark Galloway, president of EDUStaff, at a Grand Rapids Public School Board meeting earlier this month.
“It’s not an easy job, to be a sub,” said Jodi Center, EDUStaff human resources director. “Those who do a great job, we want to honor.”
Center said more than 300 nomination forms were received, 19 of those from staff at Buchanan Elementary, a GRPS school where McCall has been teaching since 2009.
She stepped into long-term positions midway through the past two years to fill in when teachers had to take extended leaves. One nominator wrote that she is “a true asset to our team, and she always goes the extra mile with our students – as well as being a great collaborator.”
From another: “She is family and staff here at Buchanan Elementary. We would have been lost without her and the resources she brings. We are able to learn so much from her as an educator and as a graceful person.”
McCall previously worked as a bookkeeper, accounting analyst, and cost accountant at an auto-component manufacturing plant, as well as an automotive industry consultant who trained employees.
Corporate Skills Transfer
When she moved to Michigan from Illinois nearly a decade ago, the mother of two and grandmother of four was looking for something in the technology sector, but said she “lost my drive for corporate life.”
McCall said teaching was “not a huge transition” from employee training. “There are differences, of course, but it’s still the same (regarding) process, improvement, needs analysis. … Those are transferrable skills.”
Key to good subbing is organization, she said.
“I’m kind of obsessive about organization. I can’t come into a class and take over, of course, but if I can make some improvement…”
And subbing is rewarding, McCall said.
“It’s kept my mind sharp, for certain.”
This was the third year EDUStaff recognized a substitute of the year. The Michigan-based company now also operates in Arizona, Indiana and Oregon, and may expand the award to include other states, Center said.