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 http://theresamilstein.blogspot.com
“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.