When it Rains it Pours
When we last communicated on Saturday, dear reader, I gave you some fun horoscope reading, and I spoke a little of how busy things have been for me lately. Given my uncharacteristic tardiness here, each day’s article this week will be a part of the explanation for the weirdness of the posting schedule.
I try not to get too personal with these posts, though a certain amount of personal anecdotes on my part do become necessary in my line of work – which is writing and teaching. I think there needs to be a balance there, and some boundaries, but there are a lot of things I feel pretty comfortable sharing. And, of course, there are other things I keep to myself.
That said, I’d like to give you a picture of what the past year, then the past few days have been like for me, though, so that you can understand why I’m posting a Mantra Monday piece – the very foundation of which is discipline, for Christ’s sake! – on a Wednesday night/Thursday Morning. The rest of the week’s posts will be coming, too, by the way, and they’ll most likely all be late – except for Friday’s.
So let’s jump into the pool and soak up a bit of the story of how we got to here.
My Struggle This Year
I haven’t written publicly about this yet, for reasons which will hopefully be apparent, but I feel I’m in a spot now where I can discuss things in a roundabout way. Around this time last year, I moved back to my hometown, Spokane, WA. Prior to that I lived in a small town in the middle of the state where I taught high school English and history for five years.
I moved away because most of the advice I was hearing from people in my teaching program was that I wouldn’t be able to find a job right away in Spokane. “You’ll be competing against people with five years experience or more, and Masters’ degrees,” they told me. “More than likely, you’ll have to sub for a year or two.”
Now, we’ll get to the sub problem in a moment, but for the meantime, just know that a substitute teacher cannot realistically make ends meet if they’re not straight out of college with minimal debt and cost of living. So when the job in Bridgeport became available, I jumped on it.
Paying My Dues
When I first moved to Bridgeport, I told myself I’d give it at least three years, and no more than five. I was a brand new teacher in the beginning, but after five years of teaching there, I gained a lot of great experience. I also earned a Master’s degree. I thought that I’d have no problem finding a teaching job when I returned. After all, hadn’t I been told by everyone at my university that the first year teachers would be competing against guys like the guy I was now? Along with that, having earned my Master’s degree guaranteed me a big raise for the next school year at any district in which I found myself.
So my time was up, and I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do in Bridgeport. I moved back for a lot of reasons, but the one I gave the most was that I don’t like living in small towns. The nearest grocery store of any consequence was 36 miles in any direction. Then there was the fact that I was a two-and-a-half-hour drive from my hometown, where all of my family, friends, band, and the rest of my life – other than my career – were.
Therefore, I made the decision to move back to Spokane, having faith that I would have a full-time teaching job either at a K12 school or a community college by the fall when my final paychecks ran out. I did say that in the worst case I would end up subbing for a year, but I never thought for a second that it would happen.
When Reality Falls Drastically Short of Expectations
It did happen. That’s exactly what happened. The worst case. I began applying for jobs well before I left Bridgeport. I had glowing letters of recommendation from my colleagues and my principal. Yet, after applying for something like three dozen jobs last spring/summer, I couldn’t even land an interview with a school district.
A couple of things may have come into play, and I can’t prove anything – after all I don’t know what happens behind closed doors – but it would be naive of me to have not considered them. First, Washington teachers just got a massive pay raise across the board, so with a Master’s degree and five years’ full-time experience, I’d be an expensive employee.
Second, I’d be an expensive employee that nobody in any Spokane area school district administrator knew or had heard of before. Over and over again during follow-up calls and visits to district human-resources departments, I was told “Well, you’ll probably have to sub for a year until the principals get to know you.”
I’m going to let you decide what you want about the efficacy of that hiring system. As for me and my body, I will serve the world and educate students with or without a public K12 teaching career.
Here are the real life implications that came crashing down on me in late August when I didn’t have a full-time teaching job yet, but every district in the county wanted me to sub: You know that massive raise you were expecting? Well, it turns out your going to lose all of your benefits and only be paid what a McDonald’s employee in Seattle makes for a day’s work – which means taking a nearly two-thirds pay cut when compared with the figure you were expecting.
I had a very hard time coping from September until around February, when I finally started teaching at the college level and had my own class again.
Here’s What I Had To Do
I had far less money coming in than I was used to, and though my rent had gone down some, the rest of my bills hadn’t. I’ve struggled every week for the past nine months to make ends meet however I can. I’d take whatever days I could get as a sub, but here’s the other terrible thing about being a substitute teacher:
Like all teachers, you only get paid once a month. So when my last check from Bridgeport ran dry in September, I couldn’t even start subbing until the end of that month. I had to jump through all of the HR hoops and get fingerprinted and background checked again (even though I have a valid teaching certificate). The result of which was the fact that I didn’t see any of the day and a half’s wages I’d earned in September until October 31st. So throughout October, though I was subbing often, I wasn’t bringing in any money and I was still desperately trying to get any decent paying job I could find.
In December I think I only made about $700.
Things fell apart. Nothing turned out the way I planned. So I had to improvise and make a new plan. Having a class of my own to teach at the college brought me out of a big bout of depression that came along with these developments. I started working out again, and I also started putting full-time effort into my freelance writing business. Over the last six months, I’ve been very successful, but it hasn’t been easy at all.
Around April, between writing and my teaching income, I had finally earned the same net amount that I was making last year. But the writing work is fleeting – or so I thought.
I was very lucky to have landed a huge writing job in April, and some great steady clients in May – which means that I make most of my money now through writing. The problem is, that money is still not quite enough to cover what I need it to, so I have to have another job.
I have three steady clients who keep me busy with around fifteen to twenty hours of work a week, so I was looking for something part-time to make up the difference.
I found a job posted for an on-call/part-time janitorial position and I thought, “Perfect.” During the interview, we talked about flexibility, and I was given the impression that I’d be doing a day or two here and there. I was hired on the spot and we scheduled the orientation for two days later.
But Not That Steady!
When I showed up for orientation, the first thing the HR administrator told me was “Great news! We already have work for you!” That sounded great, until she told me it would be a full day Friday, then 40 hours this week. I accepted, because I thought it would make a good impression, and I can handle one week of being super busy.
Then I got to the job site on Friday morning. The supervisor told me they want me to do a full-time shift all next week, too. I can’t do it. The math simply doesn’t work.
In fifteen hours worth of writing work, I make over ten percent more money than I would for forty hours of physical labor. I have too many other commitments (band, this site, working out, etc.) to be able to work that much and function as a reasonable human being, so I’m going to have to pump the brakes.
Wrapping Up: Better Late Than Never
What it all comes down to is time and money. You can always make more money, but you can’t make any more time. Ideally, I’d be spending most of my summer writing and a little of it working a temporary part-time job. I’m not a janitor. I’m a teacher who spent a whole hell of a lot of money on an advanced degree, and this is my situation.
Staying as Disciplined as Possible
Still, I’ve decided that I have personal power, and I’m using it. Even though this post is late, and I missed the gym on Monday due to lack of sleep and time, I still went yesterday – racking up over 25,000 steps and 12 miles over the course of the day. I have a rule about the gym. I can skip a day, but I have to go the next day. So I missed Monday, went yesterday, and just got back about an hour ago.
I don’t have the same rule for writing, but if the last two weeks have taught me anything it’s that I have to make writing a priority, now that it’s actually paying bills, and that means starting to apply all of my Mantra Monday “discipline” talk to writing, too.
Anyway, I’m going to go to bed now. I’ll be at work in about six hours, and make it through this week. Then next week, and every week thereafter, I’m dedicating two full days to writing. After all, it’s potentially much more lucrative when you consider time spent. See you tomorrow.
Edit: Grammar, syntax and style.