When I was younger I was somewhat obsessed with the concept of Freaky Friday. I read the book and loved both movie versions. Because I was young and had a pretty myopic view of the world, I was fixated on how great it would be if the adults in my life could switch places with me and see just how hard my life was, but mostly missed the point that everyone’s life is hard. As I’ve stayed home the last six years I’ve occasionally longed for a Freaky Friday experience so my hard work could be more appreciated. (The myopia hasn’t decreased much with age.) I finally got my wish. For six weeks, Noel and I had a partial Freaky Friday experience and just like the book and film adaptations, it wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined.
Last year, I received my Colorado teaching license, but was unsure of what to do with it. (You can read about the shock of getting it and my uncertainty here.) I applied and interviewed for one teaching position, which took me through a lot of rollercoaster emotions such as crying in my car when I dropped Cooper off at school because I might not get to do that in the future and then hoping to leave that world behind when everyone cried about the lunch I made them. In the end, when the job was not offered to me I felt mostly relieved. But still I had that license and I felt like I needed to do something with it. Because our district is somewhat competitive and because I still wasn’t sure if I even wanted to teach, I decided my next step should be substitute teaching. The schedule would be more flexible (so I wouldn’t miss special school events), but it would get me back in the classroom and start to build me a reputation.
I was so nervous about the first job I took. It had been over six years since I’d worked with high school students in that capacity and it was at a school that others described as having a “rough demographic.” When I walked around the classroom and had a few witty back and forths with students I felt a surge of energy. I’d rediscovered a part of myself I’d forgotten and it felt good. That afternoon I got a desperate call from a middle school in the district looking for someone highly qualified to teach Language Arts. One of their Language Arts teachers had emergency surgery the day school started and would be out for 6 weeks. They gave me time to think about it and I looked into whether it was even possible. Childcare fell into place easier than I had expected and since the students had never met their real teacher I would feel more like a teacher than a sub to them. It seemed meant to be. Noel and I agreed it was something I needed to try. Thus began our 6 week experiment.
The middle school I was working at was a 28 minute drive away and started at 7:20. This meant I was often out the door before the kids even woke up. Noel was now in charge of getting everyone up and out the door. (Let’s not forget that his arm was healing from surgery most of this time so he quite literally was getting the kids ready for school single handedly.) I frequently got panicked text messages from him about how he couldn’t find socks or combs or complaining about how one of the kids refused to wear the pants he picked out for them. It was somewhat vindicating. During the day, I’d dress professionally and was welcomed as a hero by the staff. In the afternoons, I’d pick the kids up and we’d sit on a picnic blanket in the yard and chat about their day. Everything was going wonderfully . . . at least for a few days.
Eventually, the lesson planning was turned over to me and while the lessons were no longer lackluster, they were time consuming. I was attending IEP, 504, and parent meetings in the afternoons and bringing home papers to read every night. Every evening I’d come home exhausted and would be snappy with the kids – something I’d frequently nagged Noel about in the past. Individually, I cared deeply about the students I was working with, but collectively the 150 of them were getting on my nerves with their accommodations, differing learning levels, and personal problems. I didn’t have time and energy to meet all of their needs and I certainly wasn’t getting paid enough. Meanwhile, Noel was working from home two days a week so we could keep a little more of my wages and that was going less than ideal. As I already knew, it’s pretty difficult to get technical work done when the kids are around.
With both of us working full-time and splitting parenting duties, we lost our gardner, house keeper, dry cleaner, and chef. We ate out a lot more, exercised a lot less, and were generally more tired and less happy. As my job neared the end, I had several offers from teachers at the school to sub for them and the principal was trying to figure out a way for me to do another long-term sub job for a teacher going on maternity leave (the teacher taught English and Science and I’m not qualified to teach science). I was a hot commodity, but I wasn’t so sure I was up for sale. On my last day, I was talking to a math teacher who was asking if I did short term sub jobs in other subjects. When I told her I wasn’t sure I wanted to sub or teach at all she asked why and I explained I wasn’t sure I was willing to make the sacrifice being a good teacher takes, especially at this time in my life. She smiled and said, “Yeah, I stayed at home till my youngest was 12 and then basically abandoned my kids for the next five years.”
On my last day, I wrote a note to the real teacher apologizing for the penis art a student had drawn in one of her personal books and turned in my keys with a sense of elation. There is a part of me that feels guilty for not wanting to be a teacher, like I’m betraying a profession I still feel passionately about, but it simply isn’t worth it to me right now.* I am so glad that I had the experience to try on a life, but not actually adopt it permanently. I gained a deeper understanding and empathy of Noel’s role as a full-time worker (although he admits middle schoolers are probably slightly more exhausting emotionally than what he does) and he gained an even greater appreciation for what I’ve done the last six years.** Maybe someday I’ll jump back in the teaching scene and pour my heart into it, maybe, but right now I’m going to enjoy walking my kids to school and working in the yard. It turns out I rather like my simple life.
*Allow me a soapbox moment. Teachers are not valued or paid enough. I don’t have many answers on how to change that, but be kind to your kids’ teachers and do what you can to advocate for higher pay. (And that goes for support staff too.) The world needs teachers, especially good ones, but I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job of valuing that as a society.
**I would like to note that I am not saying all moms should stay at home and all dads should work. I think all families have to figure out what works best for them and their circumstances. I have friends that have to work and I have friends that say working makes them a better parent, which I truly believe can be the case, but nagging teenagers all day long certainly didn’t do it for me.