If you want to get technical, I am an Ontario occasional teacher.
What does that mean, you ask? To me, it means a few things:
It means that when my alarm goes off at 6:08 every morning, I roll out of bed and into the shower to get ready. My phone stays beside me while I prepare for work, and by 7:15am I am dressed, my lunch is made, and my “teacher bag” is prepped and ready to go.
And then I wait for a call.
Often the call doesn’t come. By 8am I know I’m usually off for the morning, and by 12:30pm I’ve accepted that I’m off for the day.
This week I’ve had three mornings of waiting for a call that didn’t come. I sit and I wait, prepared to leave in a moment’s notice, only to learn that I wasn’t needed that day.
This is my second year of supply or substitute teaching, and I often come across other supply teachers who have spent many more mornings waiting for a call–I recently met a teacher who was entering her seventh year of occasional teaching.
Is it disappointing? Yes. Is it discouraging? Sometimes.
Is it enough to make me think about changing my career? Absolutely not.
I am a a teacher because I love teaching. I am a teacher because I can’t imagine doing anything else. Even in my wildest dreams of becoming a world famous author, teaching still factors into that equation.
Did I always feel this way? Of course not. When I was 17 my dream was to become a lawyer (inspired by the lifestyle in Clueless, obviously). I even have a journal entry where I stated in no uncertain terms that I hoped that I would never “end up” as a teacher.
Like it would be settling for something far below me.
When I began working my way through university, I quickly realized that being a lawyer is not always as glamorous as it seemed in the movies. I watched my brother as he worked his way through law school and his year of articling, and decided that that was not the life I wanted. He pushes through the work because he loves what he does.
I wanted to love my career, and I knew that I would never love law.
So, in my second year of university, I began exploring the idea of possibly going to teacher’s college once I completed my undergrad. I submitted applications to three faculties of education, though I knew there was only one real option for me. My husband was a year behind me in school, and unless I was accepted at our university, we would have to spend a year living apart. We knew it was always a possibility, but in the movies these things always work out.
…and then I didn’t get in. Of the three applications I submitted, I was accepted at one university four hours from where we currently lived. Due to the highly competitive nature of Ontario teacher’s colleges, I was immensely grateful to have been accepted anywhere as I knew many, many people who applied and were rejected everywhere the first time they applied.
…but at the same time, it was so disappointing.
It was the moment that I began fighting for my career.
For two months my Husband and I petitioned our university. I wish I had kept count of how many times and how many ways I heard the word “no” before I finally got the answer I wanted on the morning of my graduation: “YES”.
You would think that after all that, I would know unequivocally that I wanted to teach.
I hate to admit it, but I entered teacher’s college still unsure of my future. I knew I could like teaching, but I knew I would have to love my career in order to stay in it longer than 5 years.
I spent the first two months questioning whether or not this was what I really wanted in life.
And then I stepped foot in a classroom. I was fortunate to have an associate teacher who gave me the freedom to make his class my own, prepare my own lesson plans and material and really get a feel for what teaching would be like.
I will never, ever forget what it felt like that first day–the first time you deliver a lesson based off materials you’ve studied and presented. The first time you see a room full of high school students looking up at you, waiting for you to either “wow” them or fail miserably. The first time you teach a new concept and see the “AHA!” moment light up someone’s face.
It was the first time I knew that I could do this happily for the rest of my life.
I knew that I could not only be a good teacher, that I had the potential to be a great teacher.
…but I also knew what I was facing. My professors were never casual about how difficult it is to actually begin in this career. In the spring of 2009 I completed my year and entered the real world with a sense of realism mixed with hope. I knew it might take me a little while to find something, but that eventually I would.
My husband graduated at the same time I finished teacher’s college, and as we knew he was more likely to find steady employment first we moved so that he could begin his career, and I could begin trying to get into mine. We moved into an area of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) that we hadn’t expected to be in, and I found myself in a city and school board with absolutely no contacts. No one to lean on and ask to put in a good word for me, no uncle / principal who would interview me, no foot in the door.
So, I started fighting.
Between May and September of 2009 I applied to more than 100 teaching positions in four different school boards.
Of those 100+ applications, I was not called for a single interview.
Disappointing? Yes. Discouraging? Yes. Did I want to give up? Sometimes.
Instead of giving up, I took a job at a tiny little grocery store and loaded food in and out of freezers. I began volunteering in a special education classroom 2 – 3 mornings a week at a local high school to gain experience and build connections. I began taking courses to become qualified to teach special education classrooms and took courses to learn French in the evenings.
And I kept applying. I applied to my board’s supply / substitute teaching list every 4 – 6 weeks, even though the website recommends that you only apply twice a year.
I applied to at least another 50 long-term occasional teaching positions.
In March, I finally heard back. I received a personal email from the head of the hiring department at my board letting me know that I could stop applying to the supply list as they already had my resume on file.
The first response I received after all that time was a personal rejection.
When I received that email on my blackberry, I was cleaning a toilet at work. I looked down at my dirty apron and steel toe boots, and I started to cry. I had a moment, then I went home and applied again.
Two months later I heard from them again. This time they called.
Just like that, I had an interview.
And then, three hundred and sixty-four days after I finished my last day of teacher’s college, I was offered a position on my board’s substitute list.
For the last two years I have been working as an occasional teacher in my board. I continue to apply to long-term positions–and have even managed to score two interviews in that time–but full-time work just isn’t in the cards for me just yet.
And so, each morning I wake up, and I wait. When I do get a call, I spend my day doing what I can to be the best teacher I can be and build connections within that school. If that means donating my prep time to file report cards in the office, so be it. It often means offering to take on extra supervision to let full-time teachers have time to mark and prep. It often means stepping outside my shy comfort zone to let the staff get to know me.
But doing all these things has helped me become a regular teacher at two wonderful high schools in my board. I am now often specifically requested in advance, which means less time spent wondering where I’ll be each morning.
So, why this rant, and why now?
I recently came across a group on Facebook for Ontario teachers. The idea was to create a space for resource sharing, and when I saw that there were 13 000+ members, I thought it would be a fabulous place to connect with fellow teachers.
But as I quietly watched some of the discussion threads, I was so disappointed to see that much of the discussion centered around how unfair this profession is, how hard is it to get a job, how hard the jobs they have are, etc, etc, etc.
I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I had no illusions about how unfair and difficult it would be to get a teaching position in Ontario. I knew going in that people who already had connections in schools would be the first to get jobs, even if I felt that I was better qualified than they were. I knew that it would be a fight to get any type of position, and that it could take me a long time to find one.
So, I went in with my dukes up.
And it did take forever. A year is a long time to wait when you are trying to pay rent and pay back the thousands I accumulated in student debt over the 5 years of my post-secondary education.
It was hard. It was frustrating. There were days when it was absolutely soul crushing to scrub toilets when I knew I should be in a classroom.
But I expected that.
I also had no illusions about my job as an occasional teacher. The name itself implies that I will teach occasionally. Some weeks I’ll work every day. Sometimes I won’t work at all.
But the fact that I even have a job is enough for me. I wake up each day and am immensely grateful that I even get to wait for a call, because I know that most days I know it will come.
For thousands of teachers in this province, they’re still fighting to get in.
And as someone who went through that fight, I continue to embrace this job with gratitude. I continue to see how fortunate I am to have a position, when so many others don’t.
I continue to remember that I chose this profession.
That even though this isn’t what I imagined, I am still teaching. I still get to wake up every day and prepare to enter a classroom and help students achieve those “AHA!” moments.
I continue to remember that even on days when I am sworn at, have things thrown at me or have a period where I feel the world might end–tomorrow is a new day.
With no mistakes in it. (yet.)
Could I complain? Absolutely. Do I? Sometimes. I’m not perfect.
But then I remember that moment of rejection as I scrubbed a toilet, and I remember that first day I stepped into a classroom and felt the joy and magic of this career.
And I remember that despite everything, I am a teacher.
And I love it.
And that’s enough for me.