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Substitute teacher gave up six-figure job for the sake of family

This working professional quit a six-figure job to have more time with her children. She then pursued an opportunity as a substitute teacher. In this flexible and unpredictable role, she finds the opportunity to teach others and build relationships.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I am an Associate Teacher, with 3 years of experience.

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
I help teach the class assigned for the day. It might be Kindergarten through 12 grade, any subject. I also teach children with disabilities. First, I arrive at the school and pick up lesson plans. I review them as well as I can while trying to remember the front desk’s instruction. I wait for students to arrive and greet them. I take attendance as often as needed. I execute lesson plans and make sure that students know and FEEL that I am willing to help them one-on-one.

What is your ethnicity? How has it hurt or helped you?
I am Hispanic. People tend not to think of me as Hispanic when they see me, because of my name and my looks. This bothers me sometimes that people automatically assume I am just white. I was brought up in South America, spoke Spanish first, and still speak it fluently, and was educated in that language. Being Hispanic has helped me because not only can I understand Latino culture, but I also think it makes me more tolerant of other ethnicities and cultures. Additionally, speaking Spanish opens so many doors of trust with students. I have seen many Latino students instantly brighten up when I pronounce their names correctly or when, for example, I sing to them in Spanish.

If you’ve experienced discrimination, in what ways have you responded and what response worked best?
I have experienced discrimination from people who knew I was Latina, and have also seen it happen to other Latinos. For me, I have been looked down on by a fellow Latina because I did not “look” like her and her version of what Hispanics should look like. I have also endured derisive remarks about Latinos from a few non-Latinos.

I responded to these people by explaining my Latino background and my love of my Latino side. I try to convince others of the value of diversity and the importance of looking at people’s hearts instead of automatically making assumptions because of their looks. Explaining the facts, showing empathy yet standing firm to defend Hispanic values and culture works best for me.

What languages do you speak? How has speaking another language helped you?
I speak Spanish and it has helped me tremendously. I have been able to help Spanish speaking parents navigate the intimidating process of enrolling their child in school. I have also been able to translate documents in Spanish and read and interpret them into English. The biggest advantage is the feeling of trust generated when a Spanish speaking person realizes that you are reaching out to them by speaking their language. That is priceless!

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
I learned that politics exist in EVERY job and that it is important to safely navigate the political waters in order to attain one’s objectives, such as empathy and assistance to Latino immigrant families.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
They don’t teach the importance of identifying early on those who are powerful enough to make the changes one desires and how to go about befriending them. I was very naive until I actually worked for a couple of big organizations with hierarchies.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I left a six-figure salary to stay home with my children. I wanted a flexible job, and also wanted to learn new techniques for educating and managing my four children (three teenagers and a child). If I could change things, I would have researched substitute teacher opportunities and applied much earlier!

On a good day, when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
The most important thing is to realize that a student suddenly “gets” the lesson I am imparting. I live for these moments especially since I am not a teacher by training and am not as gifted as some of my peers.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
Sometimes I will arrive at a school and another substitute is already there for the same job. I stay calm, offer myself for another opportunity, and if all else fails, graciously go home. Aside from trying to remain polite, I want them to invite me back!

One of the things I dislike the most are administrators who offer to help with a potential discipline problem and then resent it when I actually have to call him or her.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
Some days are stressful and others are not at all. I try to remember that I am only there for the day or two, try to focus on what I helped the kids learn that day, and try to look forward to something fun I will do later.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
I earn about $12.64 an hour. If I worked full time, this would equate to about $25,000 a year minus about three months of summer and holidays that no work is available. Substitutes’ salaries were cut ten percent last year in my district; I feel we should be paid at least what we earned last year. We not only have the responsibility of teaching the kids, but we also ensure that teachers can take time off for emergencies and vacations.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
The most rewarding moments are those when the students have thanked me for helping them learn something. It’s an unbelievable feeling. These moments taught me that expressed gratitude is so rewarding to the recipient, and it’s so cheap! It doesn’t cost anything to say thank you. I am most proud of my perseverance and struggle to become at least an effective (if not, superlative) teacher. When I started the job, I was literally petrified for about a week. I had to force myself to calm down, to patiently read handwritten plans, and to manage my time adequately so I could absorb the lesson plans in time for class.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
I worked in one class for three days where students were swearing and trying to engage in a physical fight. This was very stressful and I would love to forget it!

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
You need a four year degree and teaching experience (not necessarily in a traditional classroom). A love of children and learning is also essential.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
That it’s tough but rewarding, and you learn skills that will help you manage your own children.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
Very little. I don’t work certain days because I am a single parent with four children. I keep thinking of future vacation plans and that keeps me going.

Are there any common myths you want to correct about what you do?
That teaching is a grind and is very rigid. Teaching can be exhausting but there are many things one can do to ameliorate any stressful situations that come up. There are so many new ways to learn; it’s amazing! Kids can learn through the computer, the Internet, in a garden. Current students are so fortunate to learn in the current environment.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doingin five years?
I would be an immigration rights lawyer/advocate.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
I am a parent of three teenagers and an eleven year old. I was single for many years until I recently married, yet my husband lives in Chicago, so I am still on my own a lot. I try to give the best I have in my job. I believe every job, even if it is not earning you gobs of money, can teach you something that you will find useful now and forever. For me, teaching taught me how to be more patient with my children, how to discipline them more effectively and foremost, how to help them grasp learning concepts.

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  • Wow. This article was able to super remind me of the huge advantage that is being bilingual.
    The quote “The biggest advantage is the feeling of trust generated when a Spanish speaking person realizes that you are reaching out to them by speaking their language,” followed by the remark that “that is priceless!” resonates with me upon recalling a certain incident that occurred whilst volunteering at a food pantry with fellow peers, when I encountered an instance of choosing to use my abilities to help others.
    I had overheard other volunteers that were slacking off been told to stop talking to their friends at the other stations and knew changing stations might get me in trouble, since the volunteer leader had begun to get frustrated, and warned us to stay on task at our assigned places. I was at a station helping organize foods into baskets when I realized another group of volunteers was struggling to understand a woman trying her best to express her needs in her second language. I couldn’t just continue to stack the cans in the back closet overhearing the miscommunications of the simple task of helping the woman fill her cart with the groceries she needed that was made difficult by the language barrier. Once I came over to help, I was able to quickly get her groceries much more effectively by speaking in Spanish. As I waved her goodbye, with a look of gratitude on our face, I turned to see a line of Spanish-speakers had formed behind me waiting to be help them next. I began to lead the rest of the volunteers, explaining to them what each person needed, so that the line could move along quicker, and everyone could be helped in a timely manner. I was told many thanks from the shoppers, even been asked to come back since it had been so much easier with me leading, and knew I had made a difference deciding to speak up.
    The fact that bilingualism can break barriers in this way and can do so much good in helping others and making them feel understood, especially to groups of underserved people in the community, is amazing. And it is a gift we should always cherish and use. Even if it isn’t a talent we possess, the attempt to understand and work with people different from ourselves or from different backgrounds is also essential and has great value. It’s the same ethics that allow us to realize whats more important in life, as the teacher in the article did.

  • I can relate totally, I am currently a Substitute Teacher, I Teach K-12 at two different schools. Subbing, has lead me to getting my Post Bacc in Education. Substitute Teaching is on one the hardest, but can be the most rewarding job to have. I gained lost of experience on how to manage child and communicate with other Teachers to collaborate and for mentorship. I feel like I am a better Teacher now. I also got to learn the in’s and out’s of the schools I worked at, which gave me an idea on where and where not to work.

  • I can relate to making minimum wage for a job that gives you no benefits and how hard it is to live off of the wage that you have received.

    I work 2 low-paying minimum wage jobs in order to pay the bills that I have to pay and because of the very little money that is left over after each month, I cannot afford to get an education and I do not want to get loans that I have to pay back for the rest of my life.

    You are a highly educated individual and it kills me that just because you want to spend more time with your family, you cannot work the same six-figure-corporate job you once did because it is not flexible and understanding of your wanting to be with your kids.

  • My name is Ilseh Busarelo, I am currently enrolled at SJSU and after reading your questions and answers I can say that you have given me a lot of hope in terms of teaching. People are always telling me that teaching does not pay enough or people do not respect teachers but I continue with my chin up because I know that people need them. Teaching is about the love you put in and a passion for educating others, the money does not matter if you are providing a service to your community. I hope that someday I can be as resilient as you and prove to others that teaching is more than just trying to pay bills but trying build a better community.

  • Your story on how you choose to be an educator despite having a higher-salaried job genuinely touched my heart. During my undergraduate years, I initially planned to pursue a career as a quantitative analyst on Wall Street at a large business firm such as Goldman Sachs. However, I talked to several people in the profession, and they all informed me that chasing a career like that means having to give up practically any free time to spend with friends and family. Thus for several years, I was struggling to find my ideal career.

    During that time, however, I worked as a math tutor and mentor for at-risk urban students, and the feeling I got after a day’s work was so indescribably fulfilling. Thus, I decided to pursue a career as a math teacher in an urban environment, where my skills would be needed the most. I knew that by choosing this profession, I would probably never obtain a six-figure salary. However, the feeling of being a positive influence in children’s lives and helping disadvantaged youth gain access to a quality math education was much more valuable to me than money. And I am thrilled that I came upon your article to know that there are fellow role models out there for minority students.

    By serving as an educator, I seek to be a role model for underrepresented minorities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. No matter my role, I am committed to showing others that their background, medical history, or social status has no effect on what they will be able to accomplish by applying hard work, determination, and by staying goal-oriented towards a brighter future.

  • I can absolutely relate with this writer when it comes to being a proud Hispanic and being able to speak fluently in more than one language. Being fluent in both English and Spanish has been a huge benefit to me at work. Some of the kids that I work with speak mostly Spanish or they have parents that only speak Spanish. It feels good to be able to translate for them when they need it and to help them feel understood.

    For me, being a minority has been a blessing. I understand what the writer says about being more tolerant of other cultures. I know what it is like to be judged based on one’s race or heritage, so I make it point not to do that to others. I am always sensitive about other’s cultural tendencies and preferences.

  • My name is Samantha Pearson and I am a current student at the University of Arizona studying Elementary Education. I am currently in a program that allows students to be substitutes on Fridays. Being in education is hard. Being a substitute is hard because the children don’t know you or trust you. It is hard to adjust to the life of being a sub instead of a teacher. Kuddos to you because I cant imagine subbing full time.

  • Currently I am trying to earn my bachelors in Music education so that I can be a future band director. In my life I have been put down by men who are also trying to go into this field by telling me that I’m going to be below them. I haven’t faced much discrimination for being Hispanic other than people also don’t believe I have Mexican heritage. I once had a Spanish teacher who asked everyone with Hispanic last names if they could already speak Spanish, but she did not ask me as I have a lighter skin tone and my last name is German. It is very disappointing when people refuse to see all of my strength and perseverance as a Hispanic woman because to me it is a big part of who I am.

  • I recently declared my major in college as computer science, which is a relatively safe field in terms of the job market and pay. However, I changed my major to music education, which is much riskier when finding a job and the pay is much lower. Despite the risks, music is my passion and I would much rather do something that I love for the rest of my life than playing it safe.

  • My name is Neha Bisht and I completely relate to this article. I know the feeling of turning something down for the sake of your family. For instance I got married when I was 19 and got pregnant at 20. My husband and I are both the same age so we were not expecting to have kids until we both graduate together. After delivering my baby, I realized I have to take a semester off in order to recover and take care of my child rather than relying on daycare. Now that Fall 2017 is over and I will start my class during Spring 2018, I still feel as if my place should be at home taking care of my baby. So for the spring, I’m only going to be a part-time student rather than full-time. I want my child to know that my main responsibility is being a mother which comes first, even if it means I have to sacrifice a bit of my education along the way.

    I also want to say that I can share the feeling of being discriminated at public schools when I used to attend for my internships. I am an Indian and the religion I follow is Islam. So I’m literally the only person wearing a headscarf around my head and have everyone’s eyes on me. Working in an environment where it’s mostly filled with non-Muslims that feel slightly uncomfortable with my presence makes me feel uncomfortable. However I’m able to have more tolerance for those that different than me since I know what it’s like being different. While some of the staff members might feel uneasy around me, all the kids are surprisingly welcome and interactive towards me since I was the only one that stood out.