Get to know five substitutes for Substitute Educators Day

November 17, 2022

In honor of Nov. 18 being Substitute Educators Day, here’s a look at five different substitutes and how each entered the field of education.

Harriet Ristevski

Shehzil Imran

Inspired by her own French teacher, Madam Hughes, from her junior year of high school, Harriet Ristevski taught French as a career for 30 years in both the Richardson and Plano school districts. She has now been substituting for about nine years.

“[Madam Hughes] just did such a good job teaching us that I [grew to] love French,” Ristevski said. “I thought the [teaching] field was intellectual and fun. I loved teaching because I usually had excellent students that really wanted to learn the language.”

After attending Sweet Briar College in Virginia and finishing her degree at the University of Texas, Ristevski lived with a French family in France in 1970. Through boarding with the family, she gained knowledge of the country’s history and found a greater appreciation for France’s food and scenery. 

“I had a wonderful experience [in France],” Ristevski said. “I learned a lot about the culture and my French improved [as well]. I had a wonderful French mother [who would take] us on walks in the town and show us the history.”

While in France, Ristevski met her now-husband, Gino, who is a substitute as well. After getting to know him for a couple of years, the two got married in the United States.

“I’m really grateful [for being given] the ability to learn and teach French,” Ristevski said. “I’m [also thankful] to all the students and teachers that I had, [as well as] my family, friends, parents and my husband.”

Mandi Lutz

Shehzil Imran

After being a secretary in Suite B for five years, Mandi Lutz is now a long-term Spanish substitute. Her love for the language grew through trips she took to Venezuela with her family as a child, as well as visits to Mexico and Costa Rica later on in life, which she said were fun opportunities to see other cultures and how different people live.

“When I was a little girl, my parents divorced and my father lived in Venezuela, so in the summers we’d [visit],” Lutz said. “As a child, I was very frustrated that people were talking in front of me and I didn’t know what they were saying. I vowed to myself that I would learn to speak Spanish, so I took it in high school and college and got my minor in it.”

Lutz decided to begin substituting in hopes of having more flexibility to travel with her husband and further pursue her new-found interest in acting.

“I started acting the summer before I resigned [from being a secretary],” Lutz said. “My sister told me to get on this website [so we could go] on acting jobs together [but] she was like, ‘I don’t want to do that, I’m afraid now.’ I just kept doing it on my own because [I thought it was] fun – you get to meet new people [and] watch the whole process behind the scenes. It’s really cool.”

Lutz taught journalism and Spanish at Mesquite High School before taking a break from the field after having a baby. She’s now been at Hebron for about 10 years and said she loves being around the students and watching how they grow into young adults. 

“It’s situations where you feel like you’re turning the lights on for somebody and like you fostered them through their education [so they can] make a goal and achieve it,” Lutz said. “That [makes it] worth getting out of bed in the morning.”

Kim McSwain

Shehzil Imran

Re-entering the education field last year after a 14-year gap to raise her children, Kim McSwain was originally an early elementary school teacher for six years.

“I loved my first grade teacher, and ever since [then], I always wanted to grow up and be like Ms. Schultz,” McSwain said. “When I look back on [that year], I just have [a] picture of this young, happy, positive and engaging teacher who I loved to go to school and learn from.” 

Though being back in the field after years has required some adjustments, McSwain said there were certain aspects of educating that she really missed.

“I don’t have that consistency of seeing the [students] every day and developing relationships – you can’t do that as a sub,” McSwain said. “I missed my ‘teacher-friends:’ that [daily] adult friendship and support, and I also missed the kids. Just their sheer, raw love of learning and watching them grow is awesome.”

Even though McSwain currently does not have a plan to go back to full-time teaching due to the demand of raising three kids, she said being back in the classroom has changed her overall perspective.

“I have always said [I wouldn’t go back to full-time teaching,] but the more I sub and [am] back in the classroom, the more [I enjoy] having the camaraderie of the faculty members,” McSwain said. “I like being here, [and] I hope to inspire [students] to be open, transparent and positive people.”

Zackery Haynie

Shehzil Imran

From majoring in history at the University of Central Arkansas to more recently tutoring online, Zackery Haynie has been substituting as a long-term special education aide since the beginning of the 22-23 school year.

“My partner works in a group home with adults with special needs and she’s always [talking] about being short-staffed,” Haynie said. “The first time I looked on the sub job board, there were seven openings for a special education aide.”

Though being a long-term substitute requires a bit more responsibility, Haynie said it is nice knowing there’s a little less weight on his shoulders, since he is in the process of earning his teaching certificate.

“I really enjoy this work,” Haynie said. “Most of the time, it does not feel like a job, it feels like I’m hanging out with my friends. My favorite part is recognizing progress has been made, especially from the first day of school to now.”

Haynie said he is not sure if he will continue to specialize in special education after getting his teaching certificate, but he wants to remain in a similar environment and continue to help people.

“Most of the kids [I work with] cannot help but be genuine,” Haynie said. “I think they appreciate [that] we give them extra time, patience and [compassion], which at my level is all you really need to do. I think this is something everyone [should] try, [even by just] joining Circle of Friends. Help is always needed, and I think a lot of [the] kids [would] benefit from [others] their age having that same eagerness and patience.”

Kim Khanh Nguyen

*Nguyen declined taking a photo*

After selling the dry-cleaning business she owned for over ten years, Kim Khanh Nguyen began working for LISD in 2018 as an AVID tutor and is now a permanent substitute for English 2. 

“My family comes from a long line of educators [and] my daughter kept on [asking], ‘Mom, why don’t you sub?,’” Nguyen said. “But [teaching kids wasn’t in my line of interest]. When I sold the business, I wanted to focus back on my family and myself. I was trying to figure out if I wanted to go back to corporate or have a more flexible job.”

Nguyen started her business when her oldest child, now a junior, was six months old. Nguyen said she felt as if she was not as present for her children as she should have been, and thought substituting was a good way to be closer to them since they both attend Hebron. 

“[My children] were with me physically, but they weren’t with me emotionally,” Nguyen said. “It’s nice to be able to go to school and get home with [my] kids. Since [being] here, [I’ve understood] my childrens’ actions more [and] realized there’s a lot of things I didn’t do as a parent [before].” 

Nguyen said that she now plans to continue in the field of education and is trying to get certified in math. 

“All I [want of] my students and children is that, once they leave this school, [they are] able to stay on their own feet and be independent adults,” Nguyen said. “We have to find that comfortable [balance] because you’ve got to be able to express yourself and voice your opinion in a respectable and civilized manner.”

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  • N

    NBNov 18, 2022 at 10:10 AM

    Dear reporter, nice job in highlighting these people who are so important to our schools, yet are very rarely celebrated. I enjoyed reading more about them.

  • V

    Vicki OlivierNov 17, 2022 at 10:04 PM

    I am so proud to know each one of these subs and what they bring to our diverse culture at Hebron. Great article!