The way Lisa Ludwikoski sees it, there's nothing about the job she does that makes her stand out against the countless peers she's come across in the field of education. Over the course of her teaching career, the last 10 years of which have been spent as a substitute up and down the central Willamette Valley, Ludwikoski has come into contact with numerous educators over a wide spectrum of districts, each with their own challenges, skills and personalities.
"I've been through 10 different districts in the valley and seen all sorts of different people and seen other substitutes, and they're phenomenal teachers," Ludwikoski said. "I think if you look at the substitutes and the teachers I've run into, I'm not doing anything different."
Not so, according to Gervais Elementary School Principal Creighton Helms, who brought Ludwikoski on board early last year to help shore up a staffing shortage and serve as a long-term substitute kindergarten teacher. Following the end of the 2017-18 school year, Ludwikoski was honored as one of two 2018 Oregon Substitute Teachers of the Year by the Oregon Substitute Teachers Association.
"I think in my experience, you come across people who teach because it's their job, but then you come across people who teach because that is what they're born to do," Helms said. "This is definitely that person who just walks into that school building and she is a teacher down to her DNA."
Ludwikoski started out as a full-time teacher in Colorado before moving to Oregon where she shifted her career to homeschool her eight children. She re-entered the workforce about 10 years ago as a substitute.
Ludwikoski had served the previous year within the Gervais School District as a long-term substitute both as a music teacher and in English language development at the middle school. She had been a frequent substitute within Gervais throughout the past decade.
When Gervais Elementary School received an influx of kindergarten registrations toward the beginning of the school year that forced Helms to open up a third kindergarten classroom and seek out a long-term substitute to fill the position for the year, Ludwikoski was an obvious choice.
"So week six of the school year I took over an empty classroom with bare walls," she said. "I had 72 hours to get the thing up and going. I had kids from three different classrooms coming in and not a lot of experience with early childhood."
It was going to be a challenge for sure, but that's part of what drew Ludwikoski to the position. Although she's most comfortable teaching older elementary and middle school students, Ludwikoski's work has spanned every conceivable spectrum in the K-12 system, from kindergarten to AP chemistry to woodshop. The challenge was part of the fun.
But that wasn't all. She has worked within the Gervais School District for a long time, knows many staff members and understands the unique c hallenges and dedicated professionals that work every day to make the community a better place. With substitute teachers in short supply these days, she knew that Gervais was in a tight spot, and she was in a position to help.
"I was happy to be part of the solution," Ludwikoski said. "That made me feel good. By coming in and doing this, knowing these teachers and doing this, it was going to be a much better educational environment."
And that's precisely why she was so worthy of the Substitute of the Year award, Helms said. Ludwikoski was so eager to help the district. She wasn't just a substitute, she became a full-fledged member of the Gervais Elementary School team, making herself available the same as full-time staff members, collaborating with her teaching partners in the kindergarten classrooms and going above and beyond everything that was expected of her.
"The way in which she dove into teaming with the other kindergarten teachers, and gave her self extra duty when she didn't really have to," Helms said, "that's one of the beautiful things about it. She doesn't just bring a passion for educating other people's kids," it's her passion for helping others across the board that made her stand out.
Ludwikoski contends that the award is as much a reflection of the Gervais School District than anything else, that she was set up to succeed not because of any extraordinary effort on her part, but due to the combined efforts of those within the district who work there every day to make Gervais Elementary a positive learning environment.
"I'm happy that any kind of recognition I might get reflects back on Creighton, the school and all the support I got from the teachers here, and the school board, which is phenomenal," Ludwikoski said. "I consider that as just being part of the district."
While Ludwikoski said she is humbled and honored by the recognition she received, she admits it's a bit awkward to be singled out amid all the quality educators she has come across in her lifetime of teaching.
"I've gotten to know them, and I don't believe in any way that I stand out beyond anything they do, and that's what makes this a little bit embarrassing and a humbling," she said. "I think being a teacher is who you are. To have someone recognize you or call you out in that sense is a little embarrassing, because it's not something I did in my mind. It's who you are.
"It's an honor, don't get me wrong," she continued. "I am happy that being nominated came through this district. I really am passionate about being here."
So passionate, in fact, that when the opportunity to become a full-time staff member was presented to her over the summer, it didn't take her long to mull it over before accepting the position. The district was looking at another full roster of kindergarten students coming up for the 2018-19 school year and needed to make the position a permanent one. Ludwikoski was once again the obvious choice.
"I asked her and she thought about it for a bit and came back and said absolutely," Helms said. "Her personality, her engagement, her warmth, her intelligence…she could be a really good fit with those kindergarteners."
But after she took the job, there were several retirements and reshuffling of staff positions, which led to an open fourth-grade classroom. Helms asked if she'd like to move back to teaching older students and she quickly took the post. It was a fitting close to a chapter of her life which she expected not to address until the last of her kids graduated — the youngest two are students at St. John Bosco High School.
"When I started this year, it was just going to be for one year — I'll be at Gervais. I'll help solve the problem," Ludwikoski said. "By the end of the year, I'm like, 'OK, I'm back in full time,' and very happily so."