ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — Samantha Wood is getting some additional teaching experience and filling a need for substitute teachers.

Wood is a junior at Northern State University and studying to be a teacher. This year she and the other teacher candidates have a new pre-teaching opportunity that can count toward their required field experience hours.

That experience can now be gained teaching in classrooms where substitutes are needed.

“Personally, I feel like I’m getting more of an experience,” Wood said explaining that the experience allows her to see all parts of teaching.

“I’m learning by experience, which is really awesome for me,” she said.

Wood said she was nervous about her first placement in the classroom, but said it was really exciting to see what the teacher had planned for the day and easy to jump in and keep class activities moving. And she can get creative with those activities.

“As a teacher candidate, I can put my own spin on it,” she said.

She’d been filling in various classrooms for more than two weeks now. She was already close to meeting her required field experience hours, but planned to continue working in classrooms, the Aberdeen American News reported,

“We’re calling it an alternative field experience,” said Andria Moon, associate dean for Northern’s Millicent Atkins School of Education. “We are ecstatic about this partnership. Schools do so much, we’re excited to give back to them through this opportunity.”

Moon said university staff knew there was an increased need for substitute teachers this year because older substitute teachers aren’t comfortable teaching in the classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In prior years, no one would have thought of this,” Moon said. “It wasn’t a need.”

While teacher candidates have subbed in classrooms in the past, she said, they didn’t have the opportunity to get credit for field experience until Northern called and asked if that was a possibility and got approval to do so.

“We want to give back to our community,” Moon said. “Those who are choosing, they are excited. Not every candidate is wiling, but those who are super confident. We’re proud of them and can vouch for their qualifications.”

A little more than a third of Northern’s teaching candidates eligible for the alternative teaching experience have taken advantage of the program.

Wood said sharing her experience in the classroom got her classmates interested.

“After I shared my experience they were asking me questions and more willing to try,” she said.

Becky Guffin, superintendent for Aberdeen’s public school district, agreed the need for substitute teachers is high this year. So far the district is managing, but there have been challenges and some creative solutions.

Because of COVID-19, she said, teachers aren’t just out for a day. South Dakota Department of Health recommendations include a two-week quarantine for someone who comes in close contact with a person who tests positive for the virus.

It can also be multiple days before the results of a COVID-19 test come back.

“The district has been able to fill the substitute need so far, but sometimes it takes more than one substitute,” Guffin said.

In some cases there’s one person who fills in the morning and another who fills in the afternoon. Sometimes, Guffin said, teachers give up their open planning period to cover another classroom. During planning periods, she said, teachers don’t typically have students in a classroom as they are planning ahead or getting caught up with work.

“When they don’t have students of their own, they work when they should be planning,” Guffin said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”

As for COVID-19 cases, she said, the district is seeing some, which was expected.

Multiple calls have gone out to parents of high school students alerting them that a student or students have tested positive. Middle school parents have also received calls, and at least one elementary school call has been made.

Since the high school is the largest group of students, Guffin said, it’s to be expected that there will more cases there. Teachers are prepared to be flexible for those students who are out for 10 to 14 days and have tests and work to make up.

She said there’s no set threshold that will trigger remote learning for the district.

The goals, Guffin said, is to keep the buildings staffed and operational.

“We’re holding our own,” she said. “It’s a very different year.”

For copyright information, check with the distributor of this item, Aberdeen American News.