To Like or Not to Like

Theresa Milstein

Theresa Milstein is a writer of middle grade and YA fantasy novels. She’s also a substitute teacher. Read about her adventures in writing and subbing at

“It is by going into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.  Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

- Joseph Campbell 

Yesterday, after receiving an unclear assignment with no plans on the teacher’s desk, I was relieved to find out the woman next door received an e-mail with instructions for the day.  I’m a substitute teacher (also known as a supply or relief teacher) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It wound up being a dream class, quiet and well behaved.  As I walked around to assist students working on their biography projects, a girl asked, “Do you like being a substitute teacher?”  How to answer that question to a ten-year-old?  Can you define “like”?  I paused.  My answer came out high pitched and stretched out.  “Sure.  It’s okay.” 

Truth is, I don’t like subbing. Unless I receive a sub job the previous evening, I rise at 5:25 am, anticipating a call.  I often have to prove myself as the authority to children who salivate when they see a substitute.  When I exit a classroom, I have to figure out which direction to go.  Where’s the teacher’s room?  Bathroom?  I don’t get paid as much or receive benefits (sick days, holidays, and vacations) like full-time teachers.  And when I first enter the school, I have to figure out how adequate the plans are, if they exist at all.  Each day I fall into the abyss and crawl my way out.

In an ideal world, I’d be paid to write.  But since that hasn’t happened yet, I need a day job.  And if the job isn’t too taxing, I write during my “prep” periods.  I have no work to take home, even if I’m exhausted by the end of the day.  And most gigs, even if they start off unsure like this one did, wind up not being so bad.

Besides wanting to be a full-time writer, I also want to be a History teacher.  With the bad economy, there are many candidates for scant positions.  But when I do get a job, my writing time will diminish.  Since I don’t want the last several years of writing to be a phase, I have to treasure my free periods and days off.

17 thoughts on “To Like or Not to Like

  1. Great post, Theresa and Olive,
    Theresa is really an inspiration to us all and she is doing one of the most difficult jobs in the planet.
    I love the quote and here’s hoping all your writing dreams are realised soon, Theresa, you so deserve it.

  2. Thanks for this inspirational post. I’ve always admired substitute teachers and their drive to push through the many hardships that come with the job. Best of luck to Theresa in all her writing and occupational endeavors!

  3. Well, it sounds like most jobs in that there are pros and cons. I teach elementary school students part time and I pretty much feel the same way you do. It’s fine once I’m there- I have to pretty much organize each class I teach and create the accompanying documents to go with the lesson- but with four different grade levels and nearly 200 students all for me- it can be draining. However, the schedule allows me to write and take care of my kids (same vacation and days off) so, for me, it’s the best solution. And I don’t ‘dislike’ it so much- working with kids is always fulfilling (this opinion is subject to change after a bad day:)

  4. I like the term “salivate” when they see you! Very funny :)

    Even though you don’t get sick days/vacations/other perks, your job is just as important!

    I don’t get those perks either as a private lessons teacher. Oh well. So we keep going anyways. :)

  5. I give you credit for balancing two worlds – subbing and writing. It sounds like they are parallel journeys … Unsure of what to do, making your own way, finding the right direction to go, proving yourself as an authority. One seems like it can inform the other.

  6. Ann

    Lovely post, Theresa and Olive. Your good humored attitude towards your teaching trials and tribulations are an inspiration. Wishing with fingers crossed your writing dreams come true!

  7. A very thought-provoking piece, Theresa. Thanks for this. It’s always the aspiring writer’s dilemma in the real world – how to get that balance between the reality of having to have a day job so that you can live and when to have the time to devote to writing and pursuing this dream.
    Take care

  8. Olive, thank you for inviting me to write a guest post.

    Brigid, thank you for the sweet words and hope.

    Nicole, thanks for the luck. I can use it!

    Creepy Query Girl, each job does have pros and cons. You found a nice balance. I’d love to work part-time at a teacher’s per-hour pay.

    Aubrie, there are a lot of teachers who don’t get benefits. In those cases, we hope to be lucky that we have spouses who do.

    Joanne, for all I complain, spending time with teens and writing about subbing has made me a better writer.

    Ann, thank you for your wishes.

    Old Kitty, I hope all of my writing friends reach their dreams of publication and beyond, even in the face of day jobs.

  9. I love the idea of diving into the abyss to see what you come out with!

    Subbing sounds like an adventure. I’m sure there are lots of interesting personalities to meet.

    Awesome guest post. Thanks!

  10. So glad you had Theresa as a guest blogger. I follower her blog, and love her stories about subbing. Let’s this parent see things from the other side!

  11. Thanks, ladies! Knowing Theresa, I can tell you I have no idea how she gets done as much as she does. I have another good friend who is a sub, has lupus, and still runs circles around me too.

    Here’s to these good jugglers!

  12. It’s great that you can see the bright spot in a not-so-great situation – subbing sounds really tough, but you do get more writing time than you would otherwise. Hang in there, Theresa!

  13. @Theresa; You’re very welcome and thank you! Also thanks to everyone for their great comments:)

  14. Its hard to find balance between writing and life, but you may look back on these years and think, I WAS doing it then! I suspect its always a juggling act and though Istrive to fit in writing, and want more time for it, I’m not 100% sure that I would want to do it 24/7…
    From reading your blog I feel I have some idea of how much you put into subbing, but the sentence “Each day i fall into the abyss and crawl my way out.” makes me hope you’re not going to burn out. Take care of yourself. Here’s to your writing dreams and I wish you good things!

  15. Julie Musil, thank you.

    Jackee, a sub who has lupus? That can’t be easy.

    Susan Fields, I know there are worse jobs out there. It’s frustrating not to be teaching what I want, but getting time to write is good.

    Niamh, I feel burned out these days, but it’s more to do with it being the end of the year, so I’m working everyday and the teachers don’t leave quality plans or plans at all more often than not. Summer is almost here!

  16. Thanks for this post, Theresa. As a sub, I know how tough, unpredictable, and exhausting the job is, but you always amaze me with your strength and perseverance. If I could, I’d give you an award for your hard work. You’re really an inspiration.

  17. Really enjoyed reading this post, Theresa and Olive. It’s wonderful to hear about someone keeping their dream alive, while juggling the stresses of everyday life. Best of luck in the future, Theresa.

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