If I had a normal teaching career, this would be the beginning of my 6th year teaching. As it is, it’s the beginning of my 6th year in the field of education. However, I’m not approaching it by prepping for my own classes, putting together a classroom, or sorting out curriculum. Once again, I’m beginning the new school year as a sub. My résumé from the last five years includes equal parts full-time work and subbing spread out over ten different jobs in six different states. (All that moving was for my husband’s career, not mine). I’ve worked as a high school English teacher in three different schools and subbed in countless others. This year tips the balance. At the end of this year, I’ll have spent more time as a sub than as a full-time teacher.
In terms of my career, the first move was the hardest. I walked away from my first teaching job with just one year of experience under my belt as we headed off to Seattle. Did I mention this was 2009, right when the economy was tanking? No one was looking to hire at all, much less someone who was still fairly new to the profession. The only work I could find was subbing, so that’s what I did. I struggled with that a lot. I had fallen in love with my work as a teacher, and right after I’d found my passion and calling, it had been stripped away. I would sit in other teachers’ classrooms and dream about what I’d do if I were that teacher, how I’d approach that content or handle this kid. I took notes on classrooms and lesson plans, dreaming of the day when I could implement some of the ideas in my own classroom.
But while I was pining away after a job I didn’t have, something else was happening. As I worked the private school circuit, the schools noticed me. I’d struggled with classroom management a bit as a first year teacher, but as a sub, I became a master at it. I understood the value of sticking to the lesson plan, and I always left detailed notes at the end of the day. No teacher was going to have to wonder what had happened on my watch, and schools appreciated that. Teachers began requesting me by name as they planned their absences. One small school became so attached to me that they always called the agency I worked for and basically said, “if Christine Roberson isn’t available, don’t bother sending anyone at all.” And it wasn’t just the teachers and administrators who noticed me; the students liked me, too. I frequented some schools so often that I actually got to know some of the kids and had an opportunity to form those student/teacher relationships that make teaching so rewarding in the first place. It wasn’t the same as having my own students, but it did help ease some of my career frustrations.
Despite all that, I never found my footing in a “normal” job in Seattle. I subbed, and I worked for a private tutoring company for a few months, and I even managed a theater camp once (never again). I wrestled with my sense of purpose and my calling as a teacher. As we approached our next cross-country move and the building pressure to find a job in Boston, I hoped this was my opportunity to find full-time teaching work, but I also knew I had to realistically consider other employment options as well. There’s a story, a weekend, that totally transformed how I saw my career. I won’t go into the details now, but it was the first time I seriously considered careers outside of teaching and discovered the possibility of counseling and advising. The more I thought about it, the more enamored with the idea I became. I still didn’t want to leave the schools, but teaching and counseling fit together so well that I knew I’d discovered a new career goal. No matter what happened in the immediate future, some day I wanted to pursue the idea of guidance counseling. That was the middle of my third year as a teacher/substitute.
Then we moved to Boston, where I found my career footing again. I finished out the school year covering a maternity leave position at an excellent private high school, and then the next year I was hired to a full-time teaching position at a different private school. Those two schools did more than just give me back my identity as a teacher; they helped me see that I was good, that I was worth the administration’s investment. In Boston I also had the opportunity to dabble for the first time in the world of college application essays and admissions counseling, and I found I loved it as much as I thought I would. My career was back on track.
Then came last year, my fifth teaching year, the year of my husband’s clinical rotations and moving every three months. I established myself as a first-choice sub in the public schools of Illinois and Alaska, and I somehow became a 3rd grade team teacher in Florida. Subbing that year didn’t bother me because it made sense. With all the moving, I clearly wasn’t in a position to hold a regular teaching job, so subbing was a great alternative that kept me in the classroom and gave me a paycheck. And once again, the schools noticed me, called me first, and asked me to take their long-term sub jobs as well as the daily absences.
I’d hoped that this year would be different. We’re living in one place for a year, so I did look for a full-time teaching position. There simply weren’t many jobs out there to be had, though, so I didn’t find anything. I’ve flipped back and forth between being OK with that and being really frustrated. I love teaching, so knowing that I’m going into another year without my own students and my own content to plan is disappointing. But then I realize how absolutely blessed I am to have subbing as a fall-back at all. I have a meeting tomorrow with the sub coordinator at the local high school, and a friend has already put my name in for another maternity leave position, too. I am so lucky to be able to say, “no matter what, I’ll have something.” No matter what, I’ll be in a classroom, surrounded by teenagers, doing what I do well, and earning some money while I’m at it. It may not be exactly what I want, but I’m so blessed to have it.