New Gig Chronicles: Back-to-School Edition

Today is the revelation of something that I’ve worked for three months to bring to fruition. Honestly, this adventure might be 35 years in the making. Picture a bossy little girl, chalk, and chalkboard in hand, begging grownups to play student to her teacher. That was me. And I’m about to embark on my first assignment as a Substitute Teacher.

The WTF-ness

In case you are worried, I haven’t lost my mind. My household isn’t so financially destitute that I’ll take any job that I can find (although I am open to work). I’m freaking excited, and I run towards this idea of substitute teaching from a place of curiosity and love, not fear. This job is a chance to explore teaching, a career that I’ve long since written off based on salary and also confront long-standing limiting beliefs that I’m too sensitive of a soul to other people’s pain. I don’t have the emotional fortitude to work in altruistic professions like teaching and counseling.


With substitute teaching, every assignment will be different, I work when I want to work, and I help out in a role that desperately needs to be filled. It sounds like the ultimate gig, right? What’s the catch? It pays like it’s 1999.

Substitutes with a degree get paid $103 a day or about $15/hour. Fortunately, I fall into this category because substitutes without a degree only earn about $12/hour. If you think this pay sounds low, my county pays Substitute Teachers more than the nearby counties.

As one of the worriers in my life asked, “what if it’s horrible and you hate it? “ No biggie, I only have to make it through one day. I have a choice of whether I go back to that classroom or even that school. However, I love the idea of sampling substitute teaching jobs in various schools, grades, and subjects.


Money aside, this job has other significant perks. I’ll get a chance to see the education system, the community, and the schools that my children attend with an insider’s view. What new perspectives await me? In addition, I’ll also get to see the Special Education program that daughter is a part of close-up. I could stop this post right here and get on a soapbox about how non-transparent the special education system is and how gut-wrenching it is to have a child in Special Education. Deep breath. Exhale.

Path to Substitute Teaching

So, how did I become a substitute teacher? This quest has cost me $55 ($30 on transcripts, $25 on fingerprinting). Also, I spent four unpaid hours completing an Orientation. Here’s what this process looked like.

  • Phase 1 – Completion of a detailed online application that required me reaching out to references and asking them to complete an online reference form. It was my responsibility to make sure my references completed the form. I also needed to order a copy of my official college transcript and attach it.
  • Phase 2 – Complete another HR form for each employer listed in the online application, asking questions about whether I had inappropriate interactions with children. I’ve never worked with kids, but these forms still needed to be completed.
  • Phase 3 – Attend New Substitute Orientation. Covered topics included Conflict Resolution, A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher, Code of Conduct, and Active Shooter.
  • Phase 4 – Complete HR Processing and paperwork. I also needed to complete a slew of redundant paper forms I needed to get fingerprinted and pay $25 to cover the cost. I also was required to order a copy of my high school diploma and another college transcript that went directly to HR and was untouched by me.
  • Phase 5 – Access to Substitute Finder Application. Yay! The final step here. I can now sign up for my first substitute teaching assignment, and I did. I’m so glad to find that there is a website for this and I don’t need to rely on phone calls.

Anyhow, I report to duty on Monday, January 13th, at 630 am. My assignment begins at 0700, but substitutes are supposed to arrive 30 minutes early.

First Assignment

Lots of jobs, which one do I pick? I logged into the website, ran a search, and signed up for a one-day assignment in a special education classroom at a nearby High School. While I planned to avoid High Schools, this classroom has an unfilled position for an Instructional Aide that’s was open every single day of next week.

This classroom is Life Skills, which means that the focus is on teaching functional skills to kids who have significant delays. These kids will graduate with a certificate, not a diploma.

If you have a child in Special Education in Charles County, diploma-track or Life Skills is one of the most major decisions you will make. As a fourth-grader, my daughter is still on the diploma track. However, her delays are significant enough that a Diploma may not be in her future. This Life Skills or Diploma quandary is standard discussions up at many Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meetings.

Where Is This Headed?

I don’t foresee abandoning 20+ years in tech and becoming a teacher. However, I need to explore this job is so different from anything that I’ve ever known in my adult life. I appreciate that for now, this job offers me the flexibility to work when I want to work and leaves me time to write. However, because of economic constraints, substitute teaching probably won’t be a long-term thing. Until then, I plan to soak it as much as I can..

I also plan to embrace this opportunity to explore a job and culture that feels like the anti-thesis of a role in technology. I have no clue what to expect, and it all feels weird AF and scary. Part of what drives me, though, is that in all of this lies a good story that I’d love to share. Stay tuned for updates.

But I’d love to know, have you ever taken a job that diverged from every job that you’ve ever known? If so, what did you learn about yourself along the way? Would you do it again?

Becky Elliott

After dropping out of a liberal arts college that focused on reading and discussing the “Great Books”, Becky Elliott found her way to a career in IT. For 20+ years, she has held a number of roles in Dev and Ops, and the area in between the two. In working for organizations in which poor security practices can cost lives, she’s an ardent believer in integrating security through the entire design process. Becky holds a number of industry certifications including the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

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