Debbie Hepper in the art room at O.M.  Tiffany

ABERDEEN, S.D. – When Aberdeen Public Schools teacher Debbie Hepper retired, she was ready to leave behind what she calls the “adulting” aspects of the profession—but she wasn’t quite ready to leave the classroom. 

“I was tired of the meetings,” Hepper said, “but I love the kids.” 

Now as a long-term substitute teacher with the school district, Hepper has found a way to have the best of both worlds. 

“This is a great gig,” she said. “I get to do the kid stuff, but I don't have all the stuff I was not terribly excited about.” 

Nov. 13-17 is the National Education Association’s American Education Week, and one of the themes is celebrating the work of substitute teachers like Hepper. 

Hepper spent 20 years at May Overby Elementary School, teaching kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade. Prior to that, she taught for 10 years in Redfield. 

Since retiring in 2020, Hepper has subbed at all the Aberdeen Public School District’s schools. Currently, she’s filling in as substitute art teacher at O.M. Tiffany and Simmons elementary schools during a colleague’s maternity leave. 

As a former teacher, Hepper understands just how important subs are. 

“When I taught, getting a good sub or a sub that you thought would do what you had planned was so important,” she said. 

Now, she said, “I try really hard to be a good sub.” 

A good substitute teacher, she said, is someone who is honest, responsible and flexible. 

For Hepper, the best part of subbing is the same as the reason she went into teaching: the kids.

“Seeing the kids on the outside and having them remember you,” she said. “Just laughing with them. Sharing jokes with them.” 

Another favorite aspect is when kids are working on an assignment and she sees the moment they finally understand it. 

“That's just the best,” she said. “You could bottle and sell that if you could.” 

While some people don’t prefer the longer subbing assignments because there’s less flexibility, Hepper said she likes the fact that she gets to know the kids better. 

The district always needs substitute teachers, Hepper said, and she recommends subbing to anyone—especially people who enjoy working with kids. 

“Just do your best,” she said. “Go in with an open mind and just know that you're there to support that teacher.” 

Most importantly, follow the instructions left by the teacher. 

“Do what they want you to do,” she said. “They understand if you have to be flexible, but it's just hard when they write out all these things for them to do and somebody just doesn't do it. Just follow what's there.” 

Hepper doesn’t expect to be done subbing anytime soon. After this assignment, she will return to May Overby to sub during another colleague’s maternity leave. 

“I never intended or thought I would sub this much,” Hepper said. But now, “I’m kind of lost when I don't sub.” 

About the Aberdeen Public School District 

The Aberdeen Public School District provides a comprehensive educational program to approximately 4,200 students in grades K-12, with a mission of empowering all students to succeed in a changing world. Our students receive the knowledge and skills necessary to reach their potential in a global community through high expectations of academic achievement; diverse educational opportunities; and community involvement in a safe, supportive environment. Learn more at