"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.