I am a teacher on call, but my phone is quiet these days. We substitute teachers had a rough start this school year due to cutbacks by the Ontario government. Since regular teachers’ banked sick days are reduced to 10 days from 20 days, they take fewer sick leaves. They soldier on in their classrooms, even when they are not feeling well. It means there are fewer jobs available for occasional teachers like me.
I should feel gloomy, considering the fact that I have to help support a family of six. But strangely, I am not in a sad mood. Life is too short and precious for that. The other night my second son discovered a sheet of crisp new fabric in a suitcase my husband used during a trip to China last year. It was a gift from my father-in-law. I was pleasantly surprised. It felt like finding a hidden treasure. I looked at the white and pale blue fabric and decided to transform it into pillow cases for my children. The next day, I didn’t get a teaching assignment. The feeling that this was not going to be a good school year sank in. But I didn’t let it bother me. Instead of going to school, I worked at home. I used a needle and thread my mother-in-law left behind after a visit to sew a pillowcase for each of my children. It was a labour of love and a small pleasure in life. As I appreciated my creation and imagined that my children would lay their heads on those brand new pillowcases with a smile on their faces, I was quietly pleased with myself.
I met a teacher’s assistant at a Toronto school. She, too, has experienced a drastic loss of work. Now she works part time instead of full time, but she also looks on the bright side. She can visit her 78-year-old widowed father more often. She cooks chicken noodle soup for him and looks after him when he is sick. Her father needs her and she is there for him.
It is true that our lives have slowed down, but we are able to take better care of our loved ones and ourselves. I have energy and patience now to help my four school-age children.
I help my 17-year-old son with his Grade 12 physics and advanced functions. I discuss math problems with my 15-year-old son. I edit my 13-year-old son’s English essays. I teach my 11-year-old daughter Mandarin—the most popular language on Earth. In addition, I have more time to prepare the two high school Mandarin credit courses I teach on the side. I also have time to do recreational activities I enjoy—running, reading and writing. I can even take a nap in the comfort of my own bed. What a luxury! I used to catch up on sleep on a subway train, a bus or a streetcar. My schedule is no longer that hectic, so I have some lovely breaks. When the weather is warm and the sun is shining, I hang freshly washed laundry on the clothesline. Then I sit back in my rocking chair and admire the colourful laundry in the bright sunshine as if it were a work of art.
Don’t get me wrong. I would love to have more supply teaching jobs. Wherever I go, I give my employment number and phone number to regular teachers and hope they will book me later. At home, whenever the phone rings, I rush to pick it up. I don’t want to miss any assignment. I simply like a balance between working and home life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gu Zhenzhen is a mother of four, a substitute teacher and an international languages instructor, who lives in Toronto with her family.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2013 issue.