Longterm Ersatz

One decision after another. That’s how it goes.

I’ve just taken a (small) step up in the world of substitute teaching. I have a “long-term” job—it runs most of a month. Substitute teaching is a double ersatz: I’m filling in for the teacher, and the job is filling in for…a “real” job. The long term gig is another step along the way, not a destination. Still, it’s a step that comes with some minor perks. Among them:

  • I know where I will be working when I get up in the morning. For a while, I don’t have to refresh the district’s online substitute management page every few minutes starting at 5:15 a.m.
  • I’m teaching at a school that’s on my side of town. It’s still a 25-minute drive in traffic, but it’s short enough that traffic won’t make it too variable unless there are wrecks.
  • I do not have to learn a whole new set of students’ names every day.
  • I get a small bump in pay.

There are other things I appreciate more.

First, and most importantly, I actually get to teach. One of my biggest frustrations with substitute teaching is that my responsibilities are usually limited to handing out worksheets, showing films, or giving tests. Effectively, I’m a babysitter at the “good” schools and a corrections officer at the “bad” schools. (When learning happens at the rougher schools, though, it is incredibly satisfying.) As an aspiring professor, I was in it for the teaching. I like research, but that’s mostly because I like learning. Discovering unknown material and concocting novel theories are cool, but I’m nearly as happy in a quality seminar. Adjuncting was often awful, but there were good moments in the classroom. I still have vivid memories of straining to sing the tenor line in a shape-note unit for non-majors. I like teaching. With the long-term appointment, I get to do that. I have some control over lesson plans. I get to deliver content and respond dynamically to student needs. (And apparently choke on a few buzzwords.)

Second, and related, this becomes a trial run for moving towards certification and full-time secondary teaching. This is closer to doing the job than I usually get, right down to adjusting my teaching plans and schedule for standardized testing. It’s not a perfect simulation: it’s unlikely that I’ll have to deal much with parents, for example. Nobody will be grading me on the grades the students receive on those standardized tests. I have some responsibility for grading, but I’m working within the permanent teacher’s architecture. Same for lesson plans (though he’s encouraged me to adapt the plans he’s left as I see fit). The school I’m at is a “good” one—mildly suburban, mostly middle-income or better. It’s an International Baccalaureate middle school. Basically, it’s a cushy gig that probably wouldn’t resemble my first few years of being a teacher.

If day-to-day subbing is the adjunct situation writ miniature, the long-term sub is more like a visiting assistant position. It’s not precarious, but it’s a long way from stable. At the end of the month, I’ll be back to the grind (or maybe employed outside the school district). Maybe I’ll have made enough of a mark at this school to go on its preferred list for the rest of the year. Who knows? It’s a step, though.

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