“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek
Scenario 1: Wake up at 6:45am, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack a lunch, pack up your bags, wait patiently. Stare at phone, stare at phone for longer, stare at phone while you still don’t get a phone call to teach. Check email in desperation. No jobs. Force yourself to continue on with the day while checking phone at 15-minute intervals. Continue attempts to be productive, checking that the volume on your phone is still on every hour. 1pm, no use checking anymore. Carry on with your day, go to bed, with hopes that tomorrow will be better.
Scenario 2: Wake up at 6:45am, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack a lunch, pack up your bags, wait patiently. Phone rings, listen for job, accept job, rush around the house collecting your things. Hang out with kids all day, mingle with teachers and administrators, wander around school looking for the bathroom, encounter technological difficulties of some sort, have a great moment with a student, have a challenging moment with a student, remember why you fell in love with teaching. Bell rings, send them on their way, tidy classroom and go on your way. Carry on with your day, go to bed, with hopes that tomorrow will be even better.
Every Tuesday and Friday since January, this has been my life. I was one of the fortunate ones that managed to get myself onto a supply list within a year of graduating teacher’s college, but due to a previous job commitment can only supply two days a week for the time being. When I tell my friends excitedly that I have been supply teaching, they ask about the schools I have been to, what I have had to teach, how the kids are, etc. I tell them about how good it feels to be in a classroom again, and a few funny anecdotes that seem to come with each job. Then, this next question always seems to come up: “So how do you know if you’re going to get a call or not?” I laugh and tell them the truth—you don’t. There is no way to know if I will receive one of those random calls each morning. I go on to tell my friends about my morning routine, how I wake up early and am ready to head out the door by 7:30am, in the event that I do get a phone call. I explain all of this to them, and then I am generally met with a look of disbelief. Compared to 99% of other jobs, it may seem ludicrous that I get dressed up and ready to go to a job that might not even exist that day. But, as I said, this is my life.
For the past four weeks I have experienced almost every emotion imaginable when it has come to my job prospects. The first day that I was available to supply and did not receive a call, I spent the majority of my morning listening to sad music and napping on the couch. In contrast, the second time I was left without a job, I read a book, completed a whole list of work for my current online course, applied to summer jobs, did laundry, cooked a healthy lunch, and several other productive and positive things. This is one of the great difficulties of being an occasional teacher. The days that you teach can make you feel on top of the world—feeling like you are making connections and impacting students and inching closer towards that dream of having your own classroom. But then, the days when you sit at home praying for the phone to ring and it simply doesn’t, it can make you feel a little bit, well, defeated.
So, advice time. Like I said, I am still very new to this. It has only been a month, so I would say I am still in the “honeymoon” phase where getting calls 50% of the time makes me jump for joy. But there are some things that I have learned already that seem to make a difference about whether I am going to spend the day napping on the couch, or running around the house actually getting work done:
- Focus on the good. I know it’s hard to; I have days where optimism is not even on my radar (ie. the couch days). But, if you are on a supply list–guess what–that means that that a school
board likes you. It means that you met with school board administrators in an interview and they thought you would be a good teacher. Your skills are valued and you have the opportunity to engage with students, even if it’s only for 6 hours of their entire lives. Remember why you got into teaching in the first place (hint, to spend time with kids!), so when you’re having a low day, you can think back to some of your favourite teaching moments to get yourself back into your “happy place.” Slowly but surely, you are making a difference in peoples’ lives, and supply teaching is the first step for all of that.
- That being said, starting out in the teaching world can be frustrating (for those of you reading around the globe, the teaching market in Ontario is a tricky one to navigate right now). Now this is the important part: it is okay to feel frustrated, and upset, and sad, and depressed, and really, really angry. You shouldn’t feel ashamed about being upset, so deal with these feelings in a way that works best for you. Talk with friends or family, write, create art, or work out. And remember, there is a difference between dealing with negative emotions and dwelling on them. It’s healthy to be sad about something, but if you find that the negativity is impacting other aspects of your life such as sleeping/eating habits, social life, or motivation, reach out for help so that you can get the support that you need.
- Find productive ways to spend time on days off. At this very moment, I am writing this article because I did not receive a supply call today. Enroll in an online course or look into other professional development opportunities; use a day off to prep meals/lunches for the week; start that teaching blog you’ve always wanted to create; or use it to actually make some of the Pinterest teaching DIY’s you’ve been putting off. Just because you’re not “working” doesn’t mean you can’t get work done.
- People will comment, and question, and try to give advice…take it all with a grain of salt. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they have a nephew or a cousin or their boyfriend’s best friend went to China or England to get a teaching job…I wouldn’t need a job anymore. I could also get rich from the amount of times people have told me “the teaching job market is so difficult right now!” or that it will be impossible for me to find a job. I am very aware of these things. I did not expect to land a full time teaching job the year after teacher’s college, but yes, I still want to be a teacher. I find that because teaching is such a widespread and public career, it can come with a lot of unwanted commentary. Many people will give you advice that is genuinely helpful; in cases like these, keep your ears open and take all of the advice you can get. But other times, comments can catch you off guard and make you doubt the decisions you have made (maybe you should have gone to China…). But, if you have a passion for teaching and you have dreams of having your own classroom in a school, then this is the route you have to take—don’t let others shake your confidence.
Do these tips make me an expert? Not a chance. I don’t know everything, but what I do know is that I have a long road ahead of me when it comes to occasional teaching, long-term occasional placements, and part time contracts, so I want to do everything that I can to ensure that I am not in a state of burn out when the opportunity for a full time position does come knocking. Remaining optimistic, taking care of ourselves, and working as hard as possible are some of the only things that we can control when it comes to supply teaching. I’m sure all of you have seen one of those “Attitude is Everything!” posters in a classroom before. Well, those posters aren’t just for students. Attitude is everything and remaining positive in the face of uncertainty can help keep you focused and grounded. Each morning, one of those two scenarios will happen…and it’s up to you to make the most of whatever side the coin lands on.
We want to hear from YOU too! What did you do/are doing currently to remain positive during your first couple of months working as a supply teacher? Any advice to share with our readers? Leave a comment below or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter!