Behind The Teacher Scenes is taking on a different feel this week. I hope you don’t mind.
Substitute teaching is really hard and it’s really lonely. Until you’ve been making the rounds of the schools for a few years, you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into on any given day. For a lot of substitute teachers, all they’re hoping for when they start work in the morning is “I hope today isn’t awful.” Really good days can be rare, and substitute teachers tend to catalogue them in their minds to remind themselves that it’s not all bad all the time. I think a fair breakdown would be 5% good days, 45% unremarkable days, and 50% bad days.
And yet substitute teachers keep going back, knowing that they have a 50/50 chance of having a really bad day, because they are passionate and invested in what they are doing. They may not like it, but they are committed to it. They may not know anything about the subject matter they have been booked to cover for the day, but they sure as hell will feign their way through to the best of their professional abilities and try their hardest to make sure it’s not a lost day of learning. They may not be doing their dream job, but they know the value of working a less-than-ideal job.
Because they are professionals, substitute teachers put up with rude behaviour–be it from a student who doesn’t deal well with change to a student who seems to be lacking an understanding of the concept of respect–on a constant basis. And please believe me when I say that it.is.constant. I’m not saying that every student in the history of the education system is bad. I’m saying that a substitute teacher’s day is made very difficult by the few students who refuse to show the slightest amount of respect to a person they have deemed not worthy of respect. I know that is a really awkwardly worded sentence, but it’s because I simply cannot come to any reasoning or understanding for why students treat substitute teachers so poorly. Being told “I hate you” or “You suck at teaching” or “Why don’t you get a real job” on a weekly basis can really wear you down. I know none of these teachers take these comments to heart; they can rationalize the comments, reminding themselves that it’s just a student lashing out. But it can get hard to forever hear these harsh words after a while. Especially when you have no one reassuring you and telling you that you’re not hated, that you don’t suck, that you do have a real job.
And that’s because substitute work is really lonely. When you’re on staff, you can have a bad day, and then go across the hall or hang out in the staff room and lament and be supported by your peers. When you’re a substitute, unless you’ve spent a lot of time in the school, you forever feel like a guest in the school. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Most schools are very welcoming and supportive for the subs they have in. But it’s all on a professional level. There is also a lack of camaraderie for substitute teachers. They don’t have their own coworkers they see on a daily basis or staff room they can congregate in. They may see the same faces from time to time, but it feels more like being a staff of one. You are your own advocate and coworker. That can be hard when sometimes you just want to close the door and complain about teaching and students to a teacher who knows those students. And with sub work, you rarely get that opportunity. You don’t want to come off as incapable or unprofessional in front of a teacher you don’t know well, so you keep your frustrations to yourself until you can get home and voice them to your parents or friends or spouse or partner or dog or fish or anyone willing to listen. And they will listen and they will be sympathetic, but they don’t know the students and they don’t know what it’s like to be a substitute teacher. In the end, substitute teachers are left alone with their frustrations, their anger, their hurt, their feelings of inadequacy.
Teachers are not exaggerating when they say the hardest job they’d ever had was substitute teaching. On paper, it may not seem overly difficult. Emotionally, it’s a lot to handle (and if you’re not emotionally invested, you’re not doing it right).
So why do it? Why do substitute teachers put themselves through this? Because, at the end of the long, difficult, draining, sucky day…they still love what they do. They may not like it, but they love it. They’re committed and invested and they know that what they are doing is making a difference. Some substitute teachers are subbing because they’re trying to get their teaching foot in the teaching door. Sometimes it’s the only teaching work available to them at the moment. Some are subbing because subbing is the type of work they want to do as a career. But they are all there because what they are doing is important and necessary. A lot of people may look unfavourably on teachers and even less so on substitute teachers, but you can be a support in a sub’s world.
~ ~ ~
Substitute teachers; you are doing important and valued work. You may not see the fruits of your labour, but know that they are there. Don’t give in to the days when you say to yourself “I don’t want to do this anymore.” In my eight and a half years of teaching, I have only had two, but they were really strong feelings of defeat. I wanted to pack up and go home and start applying to retail jobs. And it wasn’t from the chaos or from a poorly planned day. It was from the battering of disrespect. From politely asking a student to do what is always asked of them (school work during school time?! Gasp!) and being told to eff off.
But at the end of the day, I know I am a good teacher and I am doing something worthwhile with my career choice. And you are too.