I’m a long-term substitute for a school district in Seattle. Between long-term jobs, I take day subbing jobs. I really love it. This year I pulled two long-term substitute teaching jobs for teachers who had taken leave due to mental health and emotional concerns and who ultimately ended up leaving the profession. I happen to know that both were really really solid teachers.
This pandemic has been really hard. Initially I wanted to get a full-time teaching job fall last year to help students during a difficult time, but then I remembered that my health has seen its own fair share of challenges in the past two years during lock-down in Covid-19 times.
Teaching struggling children is challenging. I have taught struggling, malnourished, traumatized children for a little under a decade. Teachers who have taught in privileged schools are not used to struggling children, and so their burn-out in the face of pandemic fallout, while tragic, is to be expected. They aren’t used to it. When we get used to such things, our humanity is challenged, so maybe they can be understood for burning out in the face of educational injustice.
Five years ago now, I left teaching in the middle of the school year to safeguard my health. Everyone thought it was insane that I did this, but one of my friends said that it was one of the most self-respecting things she had ever seen a teacher do in the middle of the school year. For a while I wasn’t proud of it. It wasn’t ideal. But I have seen the wisdom of my teacher friend who applauded me at the time.
If you have left the teaching profession this year or in previous pandemic years, or perhaps you retired earlier than you expected or went into school administration when you thought you’d be a teaching “lifer” – congratulations, you are now encouraging school reform. There are so many unfilled teaching positions right now. There are so many gifted community teachers who are considered unqualified for teaching when really they would do a great job- they just don’t have a teaching certificate.
Something has to change. And if it didn’t change fast enough for you, and you’re no longer in the trenches, maybe you can substitute. I love substitute teaching. I do a great job, and if there are difficult situations in the classroom I try my very best to do my best work. It is a relief that when students act up, I am not going to be negatively evaluated for it. The expectations on teachers are unsustainable these days. Maybe the teacher shortage will help school districts and the government make decisions on behalf of the well-being of the teachers.