So, I’m old. My friends often refer to me as Van Wilder, (See? Making a reference to a popular teen comedy from the early 2000’s) because after twelve years I’m still at MUN. Unlike Van who just didn’t get around to graduating, I took five years off, and I’m working on degree number three. The reason I’m doing so is that I decided to study Education at Memorial.
Remember when I said I’m old? Remember how your parents always taught you to respect and listen to your elders? Listen to me when I tell you, do not pursue a career in education if you have dreams of living and working in good old Sin Jawns.
I’ve been subbing in the city for six years now and have two short replacements (they don’t really teach you about those in Education either) that have lasted six weeks apiece. These replacements have gained me enough seniority to have two interviews for jobs which I didn’t get. I’ve averaged about sixty days a year which equals out to about $12,000 a year. In other words, I’m pretty freakin’ poor.
If you so choose to not pay heed to what I’m saying, and you get an Education degree and you want to still live in the city, be prepared to get at least one more part-time job. Look, there are perks to subbing, you have to prep very little for class, and you get to walk out the door at the end of the day; your job really is to make sure no one dies under your watch. There’s also something really nice about having a random weekday off to run errands while the rest of the city goes to work. There are also a lot of drawbacks, like never knowing when you’re going to work, having to constantly worry about money and not really ever being able to afford a vacation; there are probably others but I’ve blacked them out.
Last year, during one of those lovely random weekdays off (ie no one needed me to work that day), I was scrolling through Twitter and found that Memorial had shared this article from the Memorial Gazette, about a recent MUN Education graduate who “already found a position she loves in a community-based organization that shares her own philosophy of education.” Lovely. The Tweet quoted the article saying that the graduate’s “heart [was] full every single day” in her new career. Also lovely.
I was feeling particularly complainy and opinionated that day and retweeted the post saying, “Try subbing for 5+ years & no job prospects; your wallet won’t be “full every single day”. A fluff piece and not a fair representation.” It’s not a fair representation because I know the “community-based organization” that this recent grad was working in, hell I had interviewed for the same thing once or twice; I know four other people who worked in said position.
One of my good friends whom I met through the often Hunger Games-esque world of substitute teaching is one of those people who worked for said community-based organization. She, like me on that day was probably also not working on said random weekday and shared my Tweet on Facebook saying, “Kris isn’t lying…and while we all made this decision knowing what we were getting into, it’s unfair for the MUN Faculty of Education to romanticize the stress and disappointment that envelops the (substitute) teaching profession these days.” My friend also went on to say that while the article talks about this new grad having a job, “she makes little more than minimum wage; I would know; I was employed in the same position three years ago.” Her post concluded with “it’s awesome to have a job where you are excited and fulfilled every single day, [but] this is a misrepresentation of what one can achieve in NL in 2016 as a new graduate from MUN ED”.
I am a better representation of what one can achieve in NL as a graduate from MUN ED and so is my friend, who finally decided she couldn’t take anymore and left the province looking for work (which by the way won’t give her any seniority here in Newfoundland if she was to come back to teach; they don’t really prep you for that during your degree; after all there are a ton of academic theories and annotated lesson plans to beat to death… that you won’t ever apply or prepare if you’re lucky enough to get a real teaching job). Don’t believe me? Then ask my other friends who left the profession less than three years after graduating.
Former Muse editor, Kysta Fitzpatrick went through similar frustrations. She tells me via email that she found subbing to be “extremely difficult” and that is why she is no longer doing it. “I volunteered at a high school 3 days a week just doing whatever I could for them (paperwork, classroom support, etc.), and it maybe got me an additional three sub days the whole year.” I have heard similar stories about Primary/Elementary subs who are actually expected to volunteer in schools if they hope to get any time.
I’m well aware that I could have “done my time around the bay” as so many people have suggested to me, and while I like teaching, my job will not define me. I also really love this city, and its restaurants, gyms, malls, etc. I don’t think that “doing my time around the bay” would necessarily get me a job in St. John’s; and even if it did, being so low on the seniority list is a prime position to get bumped. (They don’t really teach you about that in Education either).
Try subbing at a school on a day when thirteen teachers get their redundancy letters and find out they are being moved to other schools the following September. There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the teaching profession in Newfoundland with many teachers expressing their concerns in public forums. Teacher burnout is real, and in today’s society where mental health is such a hot-button issue, it should definitely be something that we as teachers and prospective teachers talk about.
I’ve long believed that the Education Department at MUN should take a long, hard look at the numbers and stop accepting students just to fill spots. While that doesn’t seem to be happening, I just want to use this platform to paint a more realistic picture of what it’s like to try to be a teacher in St. John’s. The deadline to apply for the Intermediate/Secondary and Special Education degrees is usually in January so I hope that if you are thinking about becoming a teacher you read this and you really think about it.
Please heed my advice, or don’t; after all, I’m just a cranky old man.