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Super subs: Familiar faces offer classroom consistency

Kenowa Hills — Teacher Erica Finkler’s third-graders at Zinser Elementary know they can’t pull the wool over the eyes of substitute teacher Erika Holleran.

During a recent science lesson with magnets, Holleran taught her temporary students about how forces repel and attract. She assisted small groups with setting up their experiments and offered help if they got stuck on a step. 

When third-grader Brooks Vandam struggled to tie a string around a paperclip, Holleran quickly tied a small knot, allowing Brooks and his partner, Graham Campbell, to continue with the experiment. 

Brooks inquired, “Are you a wizard or something?” 

While Holleran is not a wizard, she’s pretty good at making magic happen at Zinser. Not only is she the third-graders’ permanent substitute during Finkler’s maternity leave, but earlier this year, she subbed down the hall for second-grade teacher Alyssa Dean. 

And, in April, she will take over subbing for Jamie Hehrer’s kindergartners, covering a third maternity leave this school year.

Teachers and students rely on Holleran to keep their classroom curriculum moving forward, as one of Zinser’s two floating substitute teachers.

A Familiar Face

Between experiments, third-grader Cora Mitchell explained how she already knew her substitute teacher. 

“I had Ms. Holleran when I was in first grade and my teacher’s wife had a baby,” she said. “She’s very nice and I’m friends with her kids.”

Four years ago, Holleran’s youngest child started preschool and she decided to start subbing at Zinser, her neighborhood school.

“I subbed when (Erica Finkler) took her (first maternity) leave, and had a lot of fun,” Holleran said. “I enjoyed doing this on a regular basis and being in the same classroom every day.” 

Unlike a substitute that only comes in for one day, her status as a permanent sub means Holleran always knows where her class stands in their curriculum. 

“It’s great because I know the school’s policies and my resources, and the students know that I know,” she said. “Other teachers and students trust me and I’m getting to know so many of the kids from different grades.”

Superintendent Jerry Hopkins said students benefit from having a familiar face in their classroom when their teacher is absent or on an extended leave.

“Students view our floater substitutes as part of our school staff since they are in their classrooms and school every day,” he said. “They have the ability to build positive relationships with students across various grade levels and subject areas.”

Doing it All

Before this year of subbing for three (nicely scheduled) maternity leaves, Holleran was a floater sub, filling in for teachers as needed each day.

Principal Ross Willick said Zinser’s floating subs have been a vital part of the school’s community. 

“As a principal, one of the most stressful parts of the job is when you come in for the day and don’t know who is covering all of your positions,” he said. 

Zinser Elementary’s full-time floating substitute teachers Erika Holleran, left, and Pete Brown (courtesy)

If all classrooms are covered, Holleran and Zinser’s second floater sub, Pete Brown, follow a schedule of which grade level to offer extra assistance each week. 

“We don’t know until the day of where we’re needed,” Brown said. “If every position is filled, we’re an extra set of hands for teachers and staff.”

Willick said Brown can often be found helping parapros, cafeteria workers and students in need of a frisbee rescue.

“Mr. Brown has really become a part of our staff, our do-it-all guy,” Willick said. “He comes to sporting events, he’s been in our talent show, and if kids lose balls or frisbees on the roof, he’ll go up and get them.” 

Several Kenowa Hills buildings utilize floaters and permanent subs, supported by building principals and the superintendent.

“Dedicated floater substitute teachers are a win-win-win solution to addressing an important need,” Hopkins said. “They understand school routines and are able to provide consistency and showcase their skills and talents.”  

Read more from Kenowa Hills: 
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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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