We have almost come to the first set of school holidays for 2016, which means that I have now been relief teaching for about two terms. I have discovered that there are many things that no one ever tells you about this job. For example, no one tells you whether you’re supposed to spend your lunch breaks in the staff room (so that it looks like you’re putting in an effort to socialise) or in your classroom busy preparing and photocopying things (so that it looks like you’re dedicated to the job). No one tells you how much you’re supposed to interact with the parents of the students at the start and end of the day. Are you supposed to make an effort to introduce yourself or are they really not interested in the sub who’s only going to be here for one day? No one tells you how much information to leave for the teacher at the end of the day. Do they want to know if there were any issues or are you supposed to pretend that everything was great and under control? No one tells you that making an effort to memorise the students’ names within the first lesson sets you up for the rest of the day. In fact, most of the time they’re shocked that you know their names in the first place. No one tells you how important it is to always have lunchbox ready food at home just in case you’re going into a school without a canteen. No one tells you that you can’t park in the visitors’ carpark. No one tells you that even the loveliest classes in the school will push the relief teacher to see how much they can get away with. No one tells you that you’ll never sleep in again, even if you have days off. Instead, you’ll automatically wake up at 6:00am and lie in your bed fully alert for the next hour or so waiting to see if you’ll be called in. On the rare occasions where you manage to force yourself back to sleep, you’ll be woken by a phone call at 7:40am and as you frantically rush around trying to get yourself at the school by 8:00am you’ll be cursing yourself for not simply getting up an hour ago.
All of these things I’ve managed to figure out on my own, but one thing that I am still struggling with is the fact that no one tells you how restless you become in the wait between relief days; how slowly the weeks go by when you’re not at work; how helpless you feel knowing that there really isn’t much you can do to make the work come about any quicker, short of wishing for people to become pregnant or decide to leave the country. No one tells you how awkward it is when you’re asked how much work you got this week and the answer is ‘none’. You could say ‘not much’ or ‘very little’ or ‘less than last week’, but in the end it all sounds the same. Of course, you can’t make any plans on weekdays because you discovered a long time ago that you usually get called in when you do. So you sit at home writing blog posts, searching for jobs and planning lessons for the class you don’t have yet. It’s frustrating to say the least. You can fall into the trap of taking it personally, thinking over your last day in each school and whether you were too hard on the students or not hard enough. You ask yourself why your peers got jobs after leaving uni and you didn’t. Have you applied at enough schools or have you been too selective? Maybe you should have gone for that job in Darwin. But I’m learning that in times when there really is nothing you can do to change the situation, you may as well learn to enjoy the stillness. And I’m learning that eventually, things do turn around. You have quiet weeks and busy weeks and you just can’t predict when they’ll be. In the meantime, the best you can do is try to trust the journey, even when you do not understand it.