Lynne Bannon, Port High’s go-to substitute teacher, takes on any class, any subject
Conventional wisdom says being a substitute teacher can be a thankless calling.
If that assignment happens to be at a high school, the word “harrowing” may even come to mind.
Don’t share those biased views with Lynne Bannon, who has been a regular substitute teacher at Port Washington High School since 2003.
“I love it,” Bannon said when asked about the challenges of filling in for an absent teacher.
“High school is my preference because the kids are more engaged and capable of creative thinking.”
The way she embraces the challenge of taking over someone else’s class as a temporary fill-in, it would not be a stretch to consider Bannon the consummate sub.
Many school districts have trouble lining up qualified substitute teachers, which is one reason why Port-Saukville School District officials see Bannon as a treasured asset.
She brings a level of confidence and competence to every class she covers.
Last week, she wrapped up a three-week stint filling in for Joe Belknap, who was on paternity leave. Her assignment was to lead his communication and creative writing classes.
“As a sub, you often don’t know what you will be teaching from day to day, which is when lesson plans really come in handy,” Bannon said.
“In our district, each teacher is required to have a daily plan in the classroom in case of emergency. That makes it easier for the sub, but it is also a protection against a sub really mucking up a teacher’s plan for what needs to be covered.”
Bannon said the amount of advance assistance teachers provide in their absence varies.
“Some are very exacting in what they want covered when they are gone, and others — especially the ones who know me — allow a little more freedom. That really helps, because you never know if students are going to have trouble picking up a concept and need a little more time,” she said.
Detailed lesson plans can be a godsend when Bannon is covering a class outside her area of expertise.
“I don’t speak German,” she gave as an example.
Bannon noted the high demand for substitute teachers reflects the busy lives many educators have to fit their teaching careers around.
“There are some things, like maternity leave and scheduled surgeries, you can plan for,” she said, “but most of the time I am subbing because a teacher has to take care of a sick family member or has an outside appointment or scheduled in-service training during the school day.”
After a dozen years working as a sub, Bannon admits she is familiar with the teachers on the Port High staff as well as most of the students.
That familiarity pays off when students find her in front of their class.
Bannon said there is no sense of “anything goes” when she fills in for a day or longer, despite the stereotype of subs being fair game for any number of pranks or classroom stunts.
“I don’t know if it is a matter of my reputation preceding me, but if a student is inclined to act up with a sub they will usually be told by a classmate, ‘We can’t do that in Mrs. Bannon’s class,’” she said with a note of pride.
Although she has no permanent assignment, Bannon feels at home at Port High. She grew up in Port and graduated from the school in the 1970s.
Some time after her high-school days, she started pursuing a degree in interior design at the University of California-Berkeley.
“I loved the school and the course, but I didn’t really like the students in my classes. It didn’t take long before I realized if that was the kind of people I would be working with for the rest of my life, I didn’t want to continue,” Bannon said.
Instead, she began working as a general manager at her husband Mark’s construction business in San Francisco.
That business is now based in Port Washington.
Eventually, Bannon earned degrees in clinical psychology and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A lifelong learner, she is putting the finishing touches on a master’s degree from Cardinal Stritch University.
Although she worked in the retail sector for many years, Bannon said she seems to have found herself when she started substitute teaching.
There is something about the job that is even more appealing than the notion of having her own classes.
“I like the challenge of being able to fill different roles and having to think on your feet,” she said.
“I am having so much fun, and the students and staff are so supportive. They are always welcoming, kind and helpful.”
Bannon said an assignment at Thomas Jefferson Middle School early in her substitute teaching career convinced her that the high school was a better fit.
“I quickly learned I prefer working with students who are capable of abstract thinking, if I can put it diplomatically,” she said.
Although she loves the life, Bannon said she realizes being a substitute teacher is not for everyone.
“You have to have a passion for children and be open to flexibility,” she said.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has also raised the standard for substitute teachers, who must now be certified and pass full background checks, she added.
Bannon said subbing has freed her to devote time to her daughter Beatrice and 2-year-old granddaughter Violet.
She also has two grown sons, Mark and Henry.
After wrapping up a long-term sub assignment, like she did last Friday, Bannon said there is never a sense of finality.
“I’ve already got several teachers who want me to cover for them next week,” she said.