I’ve touched on this idea in the past, but I’m going to say it again; when it comes to substitute teaching, you are your best advocate. I’ve said this before too, but it too bears repeating; when it comes to substitute teaching, you’re often on your own. This combo can make it difficult to keep your priorities in check. “Huh?” you might be saying. “Of course I have my priorities in check. I work my butt off to get myself work!” And that’s great! I’m glad you’re working, and I’m glad I’m working, and I’m glad we’re both working hard to work.
Are you aware of how this work is having an effect on your mental and emotional state? “Studies show that the patience and tolerance that teachers are able to provide for their students decreases as their own distress levels rise.” I would bet a million billion dollars that these decrease/increase levels happen a lot more quickly for substitute teachers whose work is a lot more stressful and difficult. So I’m going to tell you to do two things that are going to seem counterintuitive to being a good teacher, but it will be because of doing these two things that you will be able to be a good teacher. Get ready for some tough love!
- Turn down work:
Getting called into work a lot is great, but not if you keep getting booked at schools that send your stress levels through the roof. If you get a call for a class or a school that you know will put you in a high-stress situation, don’t be afraid to turn it down.
- Don’t force yourself into the role of “lone hero”. You’re not the only substitute teacher. Someone else will get and take the call. They don’t need you.
- Don’t worry about what others will think of you. Because literally no one else is going to know you turned this work down.
- Don’t think a principal will hold this against you. A–please see above. B–even if you accept then cancel a job, it’s most likely the secretary, not the principal, who is getting all the correspondence. C–they’re not going to remember. Or notice. Or care.
- Make other, non-teaching things, priority:
- If you have a second job that you enjoy, book some time off from substitute teaching and focus on it for a little while. I used to work a second job, and I really liked it. I was very fortunate to have a boss who knew that substitute work took priority, but I knew personally that if I needed time away from school, I could go and do work that was completely unrelated to school and teaching.
- If you need to take some time off, book some time off. Because of above second job, and working non-normal teaching jobs, I sometimes have very little free time. If I need to turn down work to recharge, then that’s what I’m going to do.
- Don’t think you’re some teacher-bot who must look and act the part of teacher at all times. Throw any self-imposed rules you may have out the window and go to a bar or dye your hair green or get a tattoo. Just don’t get yourself arrested (I think that’s good advice no matter what job you’re working…)
You’re not going to be any good to anyone if you work yourself dead, so please take care of yourself! Be mindful of the things that contribute to mental wellness: how you’re sleeping, your physical health and wellness, what you’re putting into your body, and generally how you value yourself. Embrace the things that will help you be well: effectively coping with stress, journaling (it may sound dorky, but it works!), focusing on your spirituality/faith life, having a strong support system around you, setting boundaries for yourself, and working towards goals that are more than simply “Hopefully I get called to teach this week”.
Please visit the links and be selfish and focus on yourself and take care of you!