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Retiree finds reward as he (temporarily) leads a classroom

Taking a break from studies, substitute teacher Michael Morrisey entertains students by sharing a chapter from a novel they’re currently reading. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “In the morning, we have all the kids together in the cafeteria,” said Michael Morrisey, substitute teacher at Holy Name of Jesus Grade School here. “And these little pre-K kids are calling me Mr. Tall Man.”

Mr. Tall Man is having the experience of a lifetime as he adventures into retirement by substitute teaching.

As the former executive director of the archdiocese’s School Advancement Program, Morrisey knew the need for teachers was great.

He’s since learned the path to becoming a substitute is surprisingly simple.

Above all, he knows now that the rewards are immeasurable.

“How can you affect the world in the best and most positive way?” he reflected. “It would be by working with kids.”

Michael Morrisey, also known as Mr. Tall Man at Holy Name of Jesus School in Kansas City, Kansas, is spending part of his retirement as a substitute teacher at the school. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

Principals across the archdiocese are hoping the opportunity to be a substitute teacher appeals to people looking for a positive way to use their time, especially retirees.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracks public schools, almost 80% had trouble filling teacher openings for this school year.

“We as a diocese have felt this teacher shortage in regards to qualified candidates, too, for sure,” said archdiocesan school office research/data manager Amy Lanham. “Since January 2023, we have had 204 [teacher] openings across the archdiocese.”

With a commitment to the highest quality of education for its students, the archdiocese has worked to fill these openings.

Now it’s reaching out to those with a heart for helping children to substitute teach.

“Teachers have to be gone sometimes,” said Holy Name of Jesus principal Randy Smith. “Having an outstanding substitute makes a big difference — not only for the culture of the classroom, but for the academic piece as well.”

Morrisey and his wife Patty have supported Holy Name of Jesus School for years.

Smith talked with Morrisey about the lack of substitutes when his fifth grade teacher had to take a leave of absence.

“And I thought, ‘I can do that,’” recalled Morrisey. “My background is education. That’s what I studied to do, I just never did it; I went into business instead.

“In my mind, it was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.”

Michael Aguirre (left), Juliano Seyedi and Ivan Garcia enjoy a moment of camaraderie as Holy Name of Jesus students in Kansas City, Kansas, gather in the cafeteria to begin their day with prayer. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

In addition to having 60 hours of college credit, substitute teachers must take certain steps to qualify through the state of Kansas and the archdiocese. (See below)

But Morrisey found the process uncomplicated.

“I guess from start to finish,” he said, “it would probably be less than two weeks for me to get that license.”

After a license is obtained, substitutes for the archdiocese must complete a background screening and be Virtus-trained (that is, complete a sexual abuse awareness workshop).

Once they’re in a classroom, substitutes will find a wealth of support.

“From a substitute standpoint,” said Smith, “it’s rewarding because they’re being supported by the school.

“The faculty and staff make them feel welcome — like they’re a part of that school — even though they may only be there for one day that week.”

Michael Morrisey reads a book to a classroom of students at Holy Name of Jesus School. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

Lesson plans are prepared ahead of time for substitutes and students know the routines and procedures.

“It’s like anything you try new,” said Smith. “At first, you’re going to be a little nervous about it, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it.”

Morrisey has a class of 12 students and finds his greatest challenge is simply making a positive impression in the time he is with them.

“I’m going to help you in three areas,” he recalled telling his students. “Spirituality, which certainly is foremost; academics; and social skills. When I’m out of here in six weeks, you’re going to be better.”

“With that understanding,” he added, “it doesn’t really make any difference what you’re teaching; those are the core values on how we want to help these kids.”

His own experience has convinced Morrisey that there are many people throughout the archdiocese who might enjoy a stint as a substitute teacher.

“There is a need,” he said, “not just at Holy Name, but everywhere.

“And I know there are people out there who could do this if they are just made aware of the opportunity.”

“It can be very rewarding,” added Smith, “especially if they have a love for Jesus Christ in their hearts.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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