Sunday, September 6, 2009

Words to Live By

"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." Pablo Picasso

The idea of becoming a substitute teacher scared me to death. Calls at 5:30AM? Thrown into strange situations, with subjects I wasn't familiar with, and disciplining unruly kids? Not for me.

For the previous four years, I worked in the same classroom as a teaching assistant. I took the job to keep my foot in the door while my children were small. I had previously received my Social Studies certification in New York, when my first child was small. Having the certification was supposed to be like insurance, and then I'd make a claim whenever I needed it. It didn't quite work that way. First I had to transfer my certification from New York to Massachusetts, which was more complicated than I imagined (And more difficult than it ought to be). Then when I began looking for work, there weren't many jobs out there, and some of the Social Studies positions had turned into Humanities jobs. Should I take the Humanities test, and then Humanities classes? When were all those baby boomers retiring anyway? In the Cambridge Public Schools, they either stuck around, became building or daily substitutes, or some their positions were absorbed by other faculty when several baby boomers finally retired.

The assistant principal at my school suggested that I become a substitute as a way to become known in the district. Besides, if experience in the upper grades was what I was lacking, being a substitute was the best way to remedy that. Then when I finally had my own classroom, there would be nothing the students could dish out that I wouldn't be able to handle.

That all made sense, but I was reluctant. It was too bad that I particularly loved the group of fifth-graders I'd be leaving. For the past several years, I had enjoyed teaching Social Studies, Reading Workshop, Poetry Workshop, and Word Study to my students. The teachers I'd worked with knew I was qualified, so they treated me like an equal, rather than an assistant. My pride was wounded too - when I'd student taught, I'd been given much praise for my teaching abilities. Why was it so hard for me to find a job?

I could blame it on the economy, the baby boomers, a trend towards Humanities, or whatever else I could come up with, but the fact was that being a Substitute was my best option. Starting was stressful. I'd toss and turn, anticipating the early call. If I was phoned the previous evening, I tossed and turned anticipating the job. On the weekend, I'd wake up at 5:30AM, expecting the call. After a while, I relaxed when I realized that most of the jobs weren't as bad as I feared. But many were at least.... odd, and I thought many of them would've been fun to share to more than just family and friends. Then there were days that there were no jobs at all, and then I felt guilty and depressed for being home without making any money.

How did I cope with those dry spells? I poured my energy into my writing. I worked on a YA book. My writing, editing, and experiencing rejections, as an unpublished writer could be a whole other blog! Soon I began to get a reputation as a decent sub, and began to work more steadily. Then I saved my writing and editing for free periods.

Soon the school year ended. I applied for any job I was qualified for in a thirty-minute traveling radius, but there were few jobs, and no interviews. This school year begins on September 8th, so starting tomorrow, I'm back to the 5:30AM calls, being thrown into strange situations, teaching unfamiliar subjects, and disciplining unruly kids. This time, I'm going to share my experiences.


  1. I had been meaning to read your archives for a while now... And so here I am taking my first step into your past, reading about your first steps into subbing, and your second tour of duty.
    If hope you won't mind my occasionally leaving comments when I have something pertinent to say and staying mum when I dont.

  2. Alesa, of course you can read these. Only my family read these early ones, and, as you can see, they didn't comment.

    I'll have to check your archives. Do you have old stories?

  3. It used to surprise me that more people don't read archives. I only know a couple other bloggers who do. I have a better idea of the average behavior of bloggers now.

    Old stories? Sure,but not many online considering I only started blogging seriously about a month or two ago. I quickly fell into my current format so it's pretty much all in the vein of what you already know. : j I certainly wouldn't recommend reading my archives in one sitting... Though it wouldn't take long. It's just bunch of short stories.

    I'll try not to inundate you with comments to old posts. But no guarantees. So far every post has been interesting, and almost everyone pulled a comment out of me.

    If I start over doing it, please feel free to prod me. :D

  4. Alesa, I won't prod you! Writers want readers, right? This is still one of my favorite posts.

    Sometimes if I like a blog, I'll check out older posts, but I've done that less because there are so many blogs out there. But it's fun to do, so I'm going to make more of an effort.

  5. Woot, safe from prodding. I was worried you might have a cattle prod in the course of your adventures.
    I know, so many blogs and so many posts. As Jody said recently, it could easily become a full-time job.
    I suppose writers (professional authors)want readers, but many of them seem they would rather not interact with them.
    Of course bloggers are another thing altogether, and blogger/writers in yet another category.
    Maybe it's best to go case by case, I don't think generalizing serves much purpose in this case.

    It's a pleasure to make your virtual acquaintance.

  6. Alesa, some writers have a blog to build a platform but don't want to spend time on anyone else's blog.

    Others do too much and then write a post about having no time to write because of all their blogging.

    We have to find a happy medium.

  7. "I suppose writers (professional authors)want readers, but many of them seem they would rather not interact with them. "

    The authors I'm referring to here don't have blogs.

    I'm not sure why, but I often find myself getting along with writers... So I've known a couple offline, online, and now I follow a couple on blogs. So I have witnessed a wide range of writer attitudes towards readers.

    Terry Pratchett's professor's a the unseen university believe that students should be put in proximity of books and that education should occur by osmosis. Some authors have similar approaches to book sales.

    Nodnod, yeah finding happy mediums, prioritizing, and being practical. Good places to start from whatever you're undertaking.

  8. Alesa, I get along with writers too. We seem to have endless things to talk about.

    I agree with your last paragraph, which agrees with me.

  9. Oh look at your first post!!! And I can't believe finding a full time teaching post is as difficult as ever!! It's so not fair, really and truly! :-(

    You know what I think? I'm thinking when you are all published you can teach creative writing!! No more gym lessons, good grief!! :-)


    Take care

  10. I agree with Old Kitty, soon, you'll be able to teach what you really love. And they'll be beating down your door for the opportunity to have a published author teaching in their schools!

    I love to read older posts and I do when I get get to see more of the person and their journey....

  11. @ Old Kitty, I'd hoped by the time I got to my one-year anniversary, I'd be in a different place. Teaching hasn't worked out like I'd hoped. Writing has progressed, though slowly. But gaining my friends here has been a nice bonus.

    I'd love to teach creative writing again. I only got a chance to do it last spring after school for ten weeks.

    @ The Words Crafter, it feel like it's been a lot harder to get a job than it should be. I like the idea of being a published author teaching.

    I like reading old posts when I have the time too.

  12. Happy anniversary! One year! And thankyou for the mention! I know what you mean, a lot of things seem to taking a while for me too...its hard to keep the faith, but do, I will if you will!

  13. @ Words A Day, thank you. Knowing a year has gone by without much progress is a bit demoralizing, but all I can do is keep trying. I'll keep the faith with you!