Got a call from an old friend, we used to be real close
Said he couldn’t go on the American way
Closed the shop, sold the house, bought a ticket to the West Coast
Now he gives them a stand-up routine in L.A
The year before I got married, I bought a house. It was a 12 X 60 trailer, on an RV lot. I substitute taught and went to college full time, pursuing my teaching degree. Rob repaired cameras. Our budget was tight, and my schedule seemed full. However, overall, that was a very happy time in our lives.
We lived there for 3 years, until it was time to “upgrade.” I had completed my Bachelor’s and was teaching full-time and working on my Master’s. I loved my job at that time, and I loved having more time and money, as we lived in the trailer.
I did not want to move. But everyone told us that we needed more space if we wanted to “have kids.”
Iliana was born in a beautiful, grey chalet in a neighborhood in the woods. The house was 1100 square feet. I loved my teaching job, until I didn’t.
The teaching profession had been undergoing a number of changes since my first year. Teacher unions were significantly weakened in Michigan, tenure became meaningless, and schools were constantly threatened with serious sanctions if test scores were not high enough.
Altogether, this led to a perfect storm of negativity and destruction. When I had been hired, the staff members at my school were tight-knit, and the emphasis was on helping each other. I had a strong relationship with my principal, and I appreciated it when she would give me pointers or redirection. I was not afraid of being called down to the office; in fact, I went down there frequently to ask for her input.
I ate lunch in the teachers’ lounge and enjoyed a lot of laughter with my co-workers. This was not the negative stereotype, of teachers gathering to complain about students. Lunch was a fun, positive time.
My second year, I was inducted into the Ooga-Booga tribe. The students gathered for an assembly, and all the newer teachers were asked if we wanted to participate. We were led into the gym, by a math teacher dressed up as a cave man-type character. He directed me to lead the students in “We Will Rock You,” and then I was told to sit on a chair…which, of course, had a wet sponge placed on it!
This does not mean we didn’t work hard. I taught students with cognitive impairment, and I helped a number of non-readers make significant gains. In fact, there are likely people who are reading this blog, because I taught them to read during that time!
My third year, I was attacked by a student, and my shoulder was seriously injured. However, I had the full support of my administration, and we were able to devise a plan to help this student become very successful. He had no more violent incidents after we implemented the plan, and the next year he made all A’s.
I often told people that teaching gave me an inner joy. Yes, I complained about the two 30-minute staff meetings/trainings that we had each month, but I honestly loved my job. And it left me with plenty of free time to spend with Rob. One of my friends commented that my job was worth it, because they paid me in days off (even though my monetary pay was relatively low).
Like I said, I loved my job, until I didn’t.
It happened gradually, but by the time Iliana was born, teaching definitely had a culture of fear. The threat of sanctions–which in Michigan at that time, meant most of the staff being fired and the school being taken over by a charter company–put administration on the edge. Because they were afraid, they targeted teachers who may not be hauling their weight. And the changes to unions and to tenure law, made that course of action easier. Teachers became afraid of being fired, and began to throw each other under the bus.
Gone were the days of the fun lounge conversations. I started to eat in my classroom. And there was only one more Ooga-Booga induction, after mine.
The demands on our time increased. I would often arrive before the sun came up and return home after sunset. My inability to advocate for myself, led to me being thrown under the bus, repeatedly. I started to dread being called down to the office.
I started sailing in the summer. We loved it, and we thought that all of our problems would be solved if we moved to a warmer climate, where we could live aboard full time.
And so we moved to Texas, with the intention to eventually live aboard. I made sure I had a job secured first, accepting the first teaching job I was offered. We started out living in an apartment.
My first year started out well enough. I received little feedback, but I felt good about what I was doing. Sure, the school day was an hour longer, and we had staff meetings (with no defined ending time) once a week. We had no supply budget.
Then, out of nowhere, the calls to the office started.
We moved onto a boat, hoping that would fix things. But I was unhappy in my career, yet living on a boat. We moved onto a larger sailboat, and I began to make friends. Things were okay, except for the job.
I started to look for a new teaching job, until I was offered a different position within my school. It was okay. There was still a lot of backstabbing, but the calls to the office temporarily stopped. There were even more meetings after school, which I resented.
I began to practice yoga, which led me to carve out a space for myself and to begin to process my emotions, regarding my path in life. My yoga practice began to become more important than my job, although I had not considered leaving…yet. But I had begun to make myself and my own needs a priority.
We bought a larger boat. It reminded me a lot of our first trailer house. We had tweaked our living space so much, but I was not finding what I wanted to find.
I was unhappy. The living space, or the state of residence, was not the issue.
It was my career.
I have a Master’s. An MAT, to be exact. Master’s of the Arts in Teaching. I am not trained to be an administrator, nor do I aspire to be one. I am a master of the art of teaching.
Yet, for most of my career, I have hated it.
Not the teaching, but everything else. The paperwork. The drama. The meetings. The buying of supplies.
I was unhappy. I tried having a side hustle. But I did not like the marketing, and I was never good at it.
Finally, last year, things got so bad that I left. I considered leaving after the first week of school, and I submitted my resignation, effective at the end of the year, when we came back from Christmas break. And even then, I went on FMLA as soon as there were 12 weeks left in the school year. I was stepping out into the unknown.
So here I was, waiting out my contract, looking for employment, with a Master’s degree. I considered tutoring for awhile. I love working with students one-on-one, and I would not be constrained by the standardized tests. However, I would have to either find enough homeschooled students to work with, or work mainly in the evenings. I did not want to spend so much time away from Rob and Ili.
I knew that I could look for another full-time teaching position, but I was very hesitant to do that, after having so many bad experiences. So, I returned to my first teaching experience: subbing.
I applied in various districts, tracked down references, and signed up for orientations. I am currently substitute teaching in two school districts and at a two-campus charter school. While I had a lot of anxiety when I showed up for that first assignment, I found that a lot of what I thought were my weaknesses, were really just due to being put in impossible situations in my old jobs.
I have very good classroom management, when I have support from my administrators, if I should have to seek their assistance. I run a classroom very smoothly, when I have sufficient support staff. And I problem-solve creatively and remain very alert and engaged, when I am not tired and burned out from having to work extra hours in the evenings.
As a substitute teacher, I am no longer a part of the rat race. Nobody is trying to “catch” me “being bad” or threaten me with termination. There is a shortage of subs, so I always feel welcome in the building. There isn’t even competition with other subs, because there are plenty of jobs to go around.
When I substitute taught in college, I would not know whether I would be working, until I got a call at 5 am that day. Now everything is computerized, so I simply log on the the schools’ websites and choose any available assignments that suit my fancy. I am currently booked through most of November.
And there are other perks to my new job, that I did not enjoy when I was teaching full time. I never get bored, because every day is a new adventure. One week, I taught third grade in the morning and high school algebra in the afternoon on Monday. On Tuesday I taught pre-k, and on Wednesday I was an aide in a life skills class. Thursday was my day off, and on Friday I taught a high school business class.
I only teach at campuses I like, where I feel supported by the administration and other teachers. I started out working five days a week, but I found that I preferred to have one day off, to work on the house and enjoy some “me” time.
At the end of the day, I tidy up the classroom and finish grading any papers from the day. Then I am free to leave. No more indefinitely long staff meetings!
The only downside to substitute teaching is the pay. I make about half of what I made teaching full-time, and I will not be paid over summer vacation and school holidays. However, when I looked at my expenses during my last year of teaching, I was spending about half of my paycheck, just to do my job. I had a longer commute, I was spending about $100 a week on supplies, and I was buying take-out and processed foods because I did not have the time and energy to cook after a long day. We have pared down, streamlined our expenses, and plugged some significant holes in the budget, so that we will not notice a significant difference in our finances, once I start getting full paychecks.
I recently read a question someone had posted to a forum, saying that he loved substitute teaching but did not feel like he was living up to his potential. What does that even mean? I know that substitute teaching is helping me to come closer to my “potential.”
I have the potential to no longer be a slave to a paycheck.
I have the potential to utilize my strengths and creativity, without being distracted by paperwork, stress, and drama.
I have the potential to feed my family and also spend time with them.
I have the potential to care for myself, as well as my loved ones.
I have the potential to be fully present at my job everyday, and to share my energy and enthusiasm with those around me.
So the next time someone asks me if I have found a full-time job yet, my answer is going to be, “Yes! Living life is my full time job!”