Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dear Baby Steps

Dear Baby Steps,

You are a necessary transition between changes, a stepping stone to adaptation, and a path to successful transformation.  As such, you are an integral part of our lives that should not be overlooked.

As a baby takes her first steps, she moves with both excitement and trepidation.  She propels forward with an eager push that offsets her balance; her knees buckle and she collapses.  The fall may scare her, but she learns from it.  Smaller steps, less push, keep balance.  These baby steps are the bridge between her crawling and walking mobility. 

I am in the process of taking my own baby steps.  As the kiddos get older, I have been thinking about getting back into the profession of teaching, continuing where I left off just before Dear Daughter arrived nearly ten years ago.  I had always planned to do so for financial and my own professional reasons, but it seems as if the plans I had in my head were a bit more unrealistic than I had always imagined.

I had never considered substitute teaching.  I had always been very possessive of my classroom, my lesson plans, my students.  A substitute could never "claim" any of that.  I wanted to be a "real" teacher, and not someone who would be a "float-around" teacher.  I wanted to be "in control" of things, and not "be controlled by" them.  I made that part of the world out to be very black and white in my head.

I also vividly remember an incident back in sixth grade, when some boys in my class "tortured" a substitute to the point where I felt sorry for her.  She was a nice, grandmotherly woman who did not have the best classroom management skills.  Some boys were so obnoxious that they were crawling around on the floor, laughing and giggling.  The substitute was so mad that she didn't know what to do other than reprimand them by calling them--wait for it--"a bunch of piss ants."  To which the boys laughed even harder and crawled with more delight.  I never wanted to be in her shoes. 

I think we've all experienced how kids can "take advantage" of substitute teachers at one point in our lives.

In the last year, I'd quickly come to realize that having children of my own now makes being a teacher an even more difficult task.  If I wanted to continue my role as a mother of young children and maintain their academic and extracurricular needs, I would not be able to be the teacher I'd want to be.  I would not be able to fully meet my own standards of both roles and still be a sane person.  This is not to say that other people cannot do this and do it well--I just know my own limits, and I know that my children still need a lot from me at their ages.  Each time I thought about having my own classroom of kids and starting from scratch again, I shudder with uncertainty.  The thought of facing students, parents, administration, and peer teachers--after tens years off--was more daunting than facing childbirth again.  I was having a major case of cold feet even before doing anything about becoming a teacher again.

I felt like Peter Parker having to take his first giant leap off a tall building.  Except I have no superpowers.  

But I did accept a teaching job at our Chinese school earlier this year, because once a week on the weekend seemed doable.  Little did I know that about one hour of teaching meant at least four times that amount of time to prepare for the lesson.  Of course, because I have very high standards for myself and my lessons, I put in that time willingly.  But translating that to a full-time teaching position--the math just does not equate.  There would not be enough hours in the day to be a teacher and a mother at the same time, at least for now.  I soon realized that getting back into "real" teaching would not be so easy after all.  

So I reconstructed my thoughts about being a substitute.  Since I had kept my teaching certificate registered all these years, I was able to begin substitute teaching immediately, after some reconsideration.  Soon after I began, all my preconceptions of substitutes that lead to my resistance against being one began to melt away, for so many good reasons.

Right now, I need to wet my feet again, slowly, instead of diving into a pool of icy cold water.  I need to be around children and classrooms and teachers.  I need to become familiar with curriculum and learning strategies and teaching materials.  I need to revisit classroom management practices, student-teacher interactions, and wear my "teacher skin" again.  I need to network with teachers, schools, and administrators.  I need so much that this sub position can give me while I can still be mother to my children.

Enter my world of gray shades.  Small steps, less push, keep balance.  

Sounds great?  Well, there are always pros and cons.  The pros, in addition to the above, also include flexibility: I can work as much as I want to, or as little as I want to.  (And because Dear Son is still in half-day kindergarten, I can only work on days Dear Husband works from home.)  But the cons are what truly challenge me and my inflexible personality.

I like things the way I like them.  I like to know my schedule--ahead of time.  I like to know what I am doing--ahead of time.  I don't like to be outside of my comfort zone because my friend, Anxiety, likes to drop by for unannounced visits when I stray too far from home.  As a substitute, unless I schedule non-work days ahead of time, calls begin at 5:30 in the morning.  Or I wake up anticipating a call and my phone stays stubbornly silent.  I don't know where I may be in a few days, much less tomorrow.  

These things disturb my inner calm.  As such, I am taking baby steps.  I have been to a handful of schools; I have taken both full-day and half-day jobs; I have even turned down jobs when I felt that one more day of the week away from my kiddos would be unconstructive.  However, these baby steps have already made me feel that much more comfortable inside my teacher shoes.  Thus, the things that come with being a substitute teacher is inadvertently helping me become less rigid, more flexible, and more accepting to the ways of life just as they are. 

One baby step at a time. 

Consequently, this is also the reason why I have been semi-MIA here on Letters.  It seems as though children are really good at sucking the life out of me.  It's like they know just how to unplug my energy reserve stopper to let everything drain out from under me.  I haven't been this tired since I was up all night nursing my own babies.

I know.  I've got a long way to go in endurance training.

So, Dear Baby Steps, you are a great way to go slow and steady.  I'll gladly be the tortoise any day of the week as I'm in no hurry to get to that finish line.  Personally, there are very few things that I firmly believe that I am truly good at.  But I happen to think that I am a good teacher.  So we'll just go with that thought and keep moving forward.   

With baby steps.


P.S.  I began this post Thursday night, and it was very difficult to finish it given the related topic to the tragic event in CT on Friday.  My heart goes out to the families, school, and community of Sandy Hook Elementary.  There are no words to this senseless act of horror.  The world's parents, teachers, and children hurt deeply because of it.  


  1. I'm glad you're getting back into teaching again, if that's where your heart leads you. Substitute teaching would be hard, just because of the uncertainty, but it's good in that it has raised your confidence.

    I think you are good at many things, and I have no doubt you'll be an excellent teacher. I hope you'll still have time to write your Muse posts and a writing prompt here and there :)

    1. The entire unpredictability of subbing is hopefully just a matter of getting used to. Once I've been to the schools and met staff and teachers, it just suddenly becomes a lot less daunting. You are so kind to say such nice things about me, Janna. If you can see me, I'm blushing :). I would never stop writing here at Muse or for Trifecta--it's just a matter of how often. I hope to keep it up as much as I can! Thank you for your encouragement!

  2. Good for you for getting back into teaching. I think it's a great way to start.

    I'm also so sad for the victims and their families in CT--what a tragedy.

    1. I do believe so, too, Asianmommy! I think I'd rather go slow and steady than sink/drown by diving in too fast. Things will unravel in the New Year, as well as the next school year. (

      I am mustering the courage to write about the tragedy in CT--it's quite unnerving, and just so painful...)

  3. I wish you well in this new (again) phase of your life. I think you are very wise to prepare yourself to enter the regular teaching career again with your baby steps. :-) I assure you, the children will benefit from the kind of teacher that you are - whether as a substitute teacher for now, or a full time teacher in the future.


    1. Thank you so much, Imelda. What an incredibly nice compliment! You kind words mean *so* much to me. I'm a big fan of baby steps. As a creature of habit, giant leaps don't bode well for me, most of the time. :) I do need to build up some stamina, though. I spent a day with first graders the other day and I was wiped! I'll keep you updated of this "new" phase.

  4. Wow, sounds like you're making a smooth transition that I would probably find overwhelming!
    Congratulations to you for finding a way to make it work!

    1. Hi, ElGuapo! Maybe I tricked you into thinking I'm having a smooth transition since I'm writing about it a month after the fact... . It definitely feels much better now than when I first began, since I pretty much find anything overwhelming at first! But thank you--I really appreciate you stopping by and for the congrats!

  5. I loved reading your thought-process on wanting to go back into full-time teaching but then knowing your limits and other priorities and that substituting might be better, for now. I also love knowing my schedule ahead of time and not being surprised by a last minute call, so I feel ya! Nevertheless, you are taking baby steps and I think that's the perfect way to ease yourself back into teaching. I bet a lot has changed in 10 yrs!

    1. It feels to me that while a lot has changed in 10 years, a lot has also stayed the same in the field of teaching. I am getting caught up on the changes, and also keeping the spirit of why I love teaching the same. There will be more challenges in 2013--hopefully taking more jobs at more schools. I'm feeling more confident, though! Thanks for your words of encouragement, Lisa! I appreciate it!