As told to Abigail Kong, WorkStory Ambassador
My name is Karen Kong. I am currently working as a supply teacher with the Toronto District School Board in the Elementary panel. Some people may think that being a supply teacher is an easy job, going into different classrooms everyday with no major responsibilities. I can tell you now, it can be tough job, especially if you want to be good at your job! A typical day starts at 6:00 a.m., when the dispatcher system starts calling teachers to fill in jobs. Once you receive the call, you have to get ready as quickly as possible and dash out of the house. Since you are sent to a new place almost every time, it is important to leave early in to find where it is and arrive before school starts and to get prepared. Once you arrive at the school, you will receive your assignment at the office. If you are lucky, the teacher has left a day plan for you to follow, but if you are not, you need to have back-up lessons to engage the students for the whole day. The toughest part about this job is classroom management. Some students take this as the perfect opportunity to rebel and not do their work. But, if you're willing to side with them, there is always a group of students in the class that loves to offer tips about their daily drills and to help out. I tend to remind them that I will leave a note for their teacher and I pretend to put names down when they are not on-task or are being disruptive, which usually works. No matter if the class went well or not, as a substitute teacher, you should always leave a note letting the homeroom teacher know what happened during the day.
To become a teacher, besides getting a degree in education, it is very important to do lots of volunteering, especially in the classroom. Not only do you get first-hand experience in teaching, you get to network and get resources and tips from working teachers. I started volunteering back in my first year of university, at my former high school, and I really did enjoy working with students. I applied to the Concurrent Education program in my second year and got in during third year, when I started doing my placements. It was very exciting and daunting at the same time to handle a class on my own. The teaching part was the best part, but besides what you actually see, I learned that there is a lot of additional work behind the scenes - writing lesson plans, supervising extracurricular activities, marking assignments/tests, and so on. Taking the full load of a teacher, while attending university, wasn't exactly a fun experience. It was very difficult to balance both course work from school and work from my placement. In terms of school, in addition to the education courses, I also had to take courses from my first degree - double major in visual arts and mathematics. It was almost triple the work. It is amazing that I survived when I think about it now.
Doing well school was only part of the struggle, the real challenge was finding work after I graduated. Like most recent graduates, I didn't find a job right away, and I didn't expect to after talking to some alumni and friends in the same field. However, I didn't lose hope. I continued to volunteer, but I widened my scope a little bit. I had tons of experience working with high school students, but I also wanted a taste of what it would be like working with younger students, so I volunteered with both a high school and elementary school for about a year. I enjoyed both my experiences, so I decided to apply for teaching in the high school and elementary level. Another thing I believed that helped me get the job was my dedication to learning. During that year, I also enrolled in graduate studies (Masters of Math for Teachers) and took additional qualifications (Special Education, Part 1 & Junior Basic). These courses continued to fuel me with theoretical and practical knowledge to work with a wide range students in the classroom.
It was a long road getting to where I am today, but hard work really does pay off. Although the road of a supply teacher is still slippery and tough, I will persevere because I love working with the kids!