Mary Hummer is known throughout the mid-valley for never turning down a job.
“I substitute over 600 hours a year,” the Corvallis resident said. “I take, usually, about four jobs a week. I sub every single chance that I get.”
Sometimes those jobs involve teaching at two different schools for two different age groups on the same day.
Hummer’s determination earned her the title of Oregon Substitute Teacher of the Year for the 2019-2020 school year. The award is given out by the Oregon Substitute Teachers Association, a membership-based group that supports substitutes’ recognition, salaries, hours and more.
“I was thrilled,” Hummer said, regarding when she was honored this spring. “I ended up opening my mail and found out that way. I just started crying.”
The OSTA began honoring subs annually in 2000, according to award coordinator Sally Sue Cellers. Hummer was nominated by numerous educators for her work in Corvallis, Albany, Philomath and Monroe.
“She is willing to step up and work one-on-one with students in the most challenging of circumstances,” wrote College Hill High School testing coordinator Jennifer Smith in her nomination from April.
“She is always my first phone call when I know I need to be out,” wrote Sunrise Elementary teacher Amber Logan in her nomination, “and recently she is in such high demand that I need to contact her weeks in advance to snag her for a job!”
A longtime special education instructor, Hummer said she reluctantly turned to subbing when she realized she wanted to spend more time with family, especially her two daughters. Figuring out ways to help her most vulnerable students, she said, kept her up at night.
“It’s a very exhausting job, and I took time out of teaching to … be more involved with them,” she said. “And then I would go back to teaching because I would miss it.”
After about 15 years of special education punctuated with breaks, Hummer decided to go full-time into substitute teaching.
“I didn’t enjoy it the first year,” she said. But, eventually, she thought, “I can make this fun. If I’m having fun, the kids are having fun.”
The change of heart paid off, according to Hummer’s colleagues, who are more than happy to continually invite her to their classrooms. Hummer was honored by the Greater Albany Public Schools board in its Dec. 14 meeting for her work and as a formal recognition of her Substitute of the Year award.
“She was very deserving of this reward, and we were just really lucky as a district to have her,” said Sunrise Elementary teacher Susan Corder during the meeting, who also nominated Hummer back in April.
Corder said she first heard of Hummer through coworkers’ word of mouth.
“I was really impressed because I asked her, ‘Could you do these dates?’” Corder said of their first meeting. “And her response back to me was, ‘Well, why don't we try this one day and we'll see if I'm a good fit?’ That, right away, just told me ... she was going to do a really good job. It really meant something to her — the job she was doing.”
Almost four years later, the coronavirus pandemic hit and work was no longer plentiful.
“I went to the school on Friday the 13th (of March) and was told that schools had been closed,” she said. Suddenly, with only tutoring gigs available, she was only seeing around 10 hours of work per week.
Fortunately for her, Hummer was recently hired as a third grade teacher at Monroe Grade School.
“Substituting is awesome because every day there’s a new surprise,” she said. But she’s looking forward to “not getting up at 5:30 to see where the jobs are and feeling like you’re competing with so many other people.”
A substitute no more, Hummer said she’s curious to see who will win the award next year, especially due to the pandemic’s drastic changes to the 2020-2021 school year.
“Anybody that can keep up with the technology,” she said, “they deserve it.”
Nia Tariq can be reached at 541-812-6091. Follow her on Twitter @NiaTariq.