Substitute-teaching gig reveals some unexpected talents

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In the middle of a recession, Kristina Henry opted for career change and discovered a new world.

In this economic climate, I did the unthinkable: I left a comfortable job. People say they understand.

It's mostly the women who sigh wistfully. A lot wish they could do the same. Some even romanticize the move.

To others, though, it's akin to committing a crime.

Leaving a perfectly good job while others are losing theirs.

Well, on the bright side, it's like recycling. I did leave, and someone else came in.

Is there ever a good time to leave a job?

During the summer months, it was especially easy for people to comprehend. But summer came and went, and although I did manage to work on some writing projects and volunteer, I also went to the beach, met friends for lunch and enjoyed afternoons by the community pool.

With the advent of fall, I needed a more concrete plan. I also needed some money. I decided to work and give back at the same time. I was going to substitute teach.

It's not easy, and I love it. I think every adult should teach for a week or so during their lifetime. It's an opportunity to see our future and to understand the job our teachers have, which is not easy.

Most teachers leave very creative lesson plans. Occasionally, I've been forced to create my own. I like being busy. Teaching or substituting leaves no time for e-mail or office pranks. You are not sitting at a desk all day. You are advising, instructing and sometimes just keeping order.

One of the reasons I chose this sojourn during my unemployment is that I enjoy the lack of a routine. I like meeting new people and facing new challenges. If a class is bad, you don't have to go back. If a class is good, you can choose it or at least that school again.

Subbing lacks the monotony of temping.

And you're not dealing with an inadequate boss or annoying colleagues. You are dealing with kids. Sure -- the same types exist in both worlds. Just like in the TV series "The Office," you have the hall monitor, the joker, the slacker and those who put their time in and just want to be left alone.

You see the students' body language change as you enter the classroom.

"It's a sub!" they high-five each other.

Some days, it's just enough to keep them in their seats and relatively quiet. Other days, you get a great class with students who really want to learn and actually have plans for life that extend past the weekend. These are my favorites.

My job is to ensure that we do the work. Some days are more trying than others. In spite of the tribulations, I do enjoy it. I'm always having to think on my feet. I'm doing a lot of public speaking. I act as a proctor and instructor for the older kids and an entertainer, drill sergeant and referee for the younger set.

As I'm charting my way into this new life, post-career, I'm finding new strengths. I enjoy knowing what's on the minds of the next generation. Sometimes it's frighteningly boring and uninspired. Other times I'm blown away by their imaginations and abilities. The best days are when I see the light bulb go on.

If we can get through a day and complete an assignment, I am happy. After all, I was a student, too, once. It's not easy being a kid. And who wants to revisit high school?

When you survive high school, you are given enough material to write several novels.

Who knows? Maybe I'm part of their material. At least we're in this together. We are all a village navigating the same journey.

-- Kristina Tatusko Henry,


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