"The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live."
- Flora Whittemore
This morning I received a call to sub at my old school. In previous posts I’ve talked about how trying it can be because I worked there so many years, and the class I left last spring was one of my favorites. The job was to teach sixth-grade Science, so I’d have my former students all day. Bittersweet.
By the time first period began, word had already gotten out I was there. As the students filed in, all but one (it’s always the same one, and I can tell he wants to but he’s embarrassed so I always pat his back) hugged me. Even a girl who never had me as her teacher said, “I’m hugging you too because my friends like you.”
Each class had to watch a PBS video called “Design Squad”, answer questions, and compare the designs with ones they’ve made this year. Instead of sitting at the desk in the corner, I decided to sit at one of the tables with the students. One of my biggest writing cheerleaders asked me to sit with her.
When I first wrote my manuscript Indigo in the Know, I asked the librarian to look it over and give me advice. From then on, it wasn’t a secret anymore. (Then everyone knew not only that I couldn’t get a job, but also that I couldn’t get published.) The last teacher I worked with mentioned my writing to the students, who wanted to hear what I’d written. Here and there, I read my manuscript aloud, but resigned before I’d finished. When I gave notice, one student, bitten by the Twilight series bug and an avid reader, asked if she could take the rest of the manuscript home. She read it in one night. After that, she requested more. I gave her a recently finished a rough draft of The Disappearances. She read it over a weekend.
If I spent more time with her, she could be my muse/taskmaster. Today, after barraging me with questions, she asked me to bring a manuscript copy. I told her I probably couldn’t. First she was crestfallen, but then asked, “What if I give you my e-mail? Will you e-mail me your manuscript?” I thought about it. It would be good to get her take on my teen voice since she’s just a teen herself. I acquiesced.
Each class went well, seeing old students and meeting new ones. A fourth-grade class also came in the room. The teacher gave me a new video and book from PBS called “A Place at the Table: A Struggle for Equality in America” so I can use it when I have my own classroom.
My own classroom.
I have two big boxes filled with books and stuff for my someday classroom. Some of it is left from my old assistant desk. Some of it I buy for when I do.
During a break, I applied online for a job. For the last couple of months, there have been more jobs, which gives me hope. No calls for an interview yet, but maybe the reason is they’re waiting to interview in the summer. The teacher I worked for today got laid off for this fall, so that makes me less optimistic about job prospects overall. If experienced teachers are losing jobs, where does that leave me?
It’s hard to come back to this school and admit nothing about my career has changed. Yesterday and today, I’ve run into two subs I’m acquainted with and we talked about sub things. It’s who I am. The sub line is becoming automated in the fall, and I discussed it with them as if I’ll be getting those calls too. It’s easier to talk to those subs because I’m not embarrassed I’m still a sub, unlike in conversations with my former coworkers. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Last week, Beth Revis wrote a moving series of four posts, chronicling her writing and teaching life. In it, she wrote this:
“You tell yourself: you can be a teacher and a writer at the same time, and you pray for nights on end that is the truth.”
“You’ve come to understand that you can be a teacher and a writer at the same time, but you can’t be good at both at the same time.”*
When I read this line, it made me pause. What if I can’t do both? What if writing is stopping me from teaching? What if subbing is stopping me from writing? Really writing?
Beth mentioned she got nationally certified. Should I do that? What should I do? I hate asking myself these questions, but to ignore them is to stay stuck.
So I’ve made a decision to work on national certification. And this summer, I’ll write and edit my heart out, in between family visits and children’s activities. This may be last summer. If it’s not my last summer before work, it’s my last summer before taking a class. Last chance.
Throughout the day, the girl kept making sure I hadn’t lost her e-mail address. I promised her I hadn’t.
After teaching and catching up with teachers, I walked to my car. As a bus pulled away, a student yelled, “Bye, Ms Milstein!” and waved out the window.
Why I have this effect on this group when I come in, I don’t know. I worked there part-time, teaching two classes: Word Study and Social Studies. When after sending out my resume, cover letter, and letters of recommendation, I don’t get called for interviews, I feel like I’m not good enough. I question why I didn't look for a job after student teaching. Then I’m with these students and I think, I connected. I taught them something that stayed with them. I am a good teacher.
By next year, our ties will loosen. They’ll be in seventh-grade, and in “that” stage. But I’ll remember.
During lunch when I spoke with the other sub, I told her what I disliked about subbing, more than the early calls, more than the uncertainty, more than teaching classes I’m not fond of, “I miss the relationships with the students.”
When I decided to become a teacher, I didn’t realize I wanted to write. When I began to write, I thought I had plenty of time to figure it out before I looked for a full-time job. Now that I’m looking for a full-time job, I’m frustrated because I haven’t found one, and I’m worried about finding time to write.
I’m just another writer trying to balance a paying job with a dream.
*From 06/08 and 06/10/10 posts: