Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Outsider

I'm discovering that substituting is actually a very strange profession, especially when all of my previous jobs have involved becoming close friends with coworkers and feeling like a real Part of Something. It's very outsider-ish, a little like being back in high school, actually.

First off, the phone-a-sub school board computer system is my obnoxious boyfriend. It calls substitutes it favors - those who have put out the most, meaning the elderly women you see rolling down the halls, scowling, and who don't really work with the kids so much as Watch Them because they've been here for fifty years. The System will discrimiate against you if you turn it down too many times, and stop calling you, like that guy who pestered you for more action and then totally spurned you when you didn't put out enough in favor of the 'easier' girls who say yes all the time. Like a boyfriend, no amount of staring will make it call once it has decided it is done with you.

Really, you just have to pray that you'll be popular enough to withstand the ostracizing. Not with the children, who kind of represent the middle-crowd of popularity, the ones who are there en masse, but really have no control over anything. No, I'm talking about with the teachers. If they're not really enamoured with you, you're not getting any work, especially if the phone system has already broken up with you. If they're having an off day, or are feeling too lazy/sick to call the system and ask specifically for you to cover for them, you're out like the groupie who sits at home on Friday night when the cool kids forget them.

When you are lucky enough to get a date with a teacher's class, you're the big fish in a little pond, that person who the 'cool kids' saw fit to invite along as an equal, and in turn you feel special too, to have been specifically requested by someone.

However, you are still not Cool, which you are quickly reminded of when you need to interact with the actual Cool teacher-people, particularly in the staff room. You trot in for lunch with your lunchbox and drink, and sit down at the lunch table with all the cool kids, happy to hang out. Then, no one sits next to you, at least on purpose. They're polite, and will generally speak if spoken to, but most won't initiate any conversation, or make any effort to really include you. There are lots of in-jokes, and all sorts of plans for after work and weekend trips. You quickly remember, these are not really your friends. It's easy to be confused, but as always, the lunch room is the Great Strainer, dividing people into grape-like bunches of friends, and those lone little grapes who slide through the holes and into the sink. It's almost worse than actually being ignored, in a way, this polite aquaintance, because the substitute is the new kid, the one who will hear all the plans but never be a part of them, who will love the children but will only see them once in awhile, and who will go home not knowing if she was cool enough, this time, to at least be the one that the Cool kids call when they need something.

It's a lonely time. You watch others being picked by the Cool kids, and even work alongside Cool-kids-in-training, who are already getting their degree in Cool, and will beat you to having their own little classroom-kingdom. These younger people are, in a way, already cooler than you are, which is infuriating. Wanting in, and wanting to have my own little kingdom so badly, it is hard to watch others pass me by on their way to having what I covet.

Someday, I will once again have real coworkers, and I will be a part of something. I won't have the in-my-face reminder that I am currently an outsider. I will make sure to include people like me, and stop in to see them on their breaks, rather than walking by to talk to other people. I will spread the Cool.

10 comments:

AndreAnna said...

Ugh, I would not enjoy that. If it makes you feel any better, I'd invite you over to my table!! :)

Not Your Aunt B said...

Ugh. Sorry. Bring baked goods as a peace offering maybe? At my work, its rare that more than one person eat at a time, so I am used to eating alone. Never any fun. You can come eat with me anytime!

Stimey said...

My least favorite part of nearly every single job I have had is lunch.

Really interesting post. I like how you phrased it all.

Giselle said...

When I was the school librarian, all the substitutes would come have lunch with me. Because librarians aren't in the "cool" crowd either. And since I had to eat in the library alone every day, I was happy to have the company.

Go eat with the librarian! Screw the teachers!

creative kerfuffle said...

i love your writing in this post. i would think being a sub is very much like being an outsider, i never really thought about it before. odd how grown ups still act like high school kids in most situations. what is the draw of cliques and being the "cool" kids? especially when everyone is grown. i like the comment that suggested you hang out w/ the librarian : ) cool.

Shelly Overlook said...

I love your analogies in this post. It's an awesome piece.

d e v a n said...

Aw man. :( When I was a teacher there were a few of us who were nice to the substitutes, but MANY of the teachers were not. Lunch was already hard for me the first year I taught. Cliques and all that...

Kristin.... said...

I always felt like an outside at my last job (where I worked for almost 4 years). So I totally understand.
But I'd invite you to join me!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

WOW. This is fascinating! I'm sad for you, though. How frustrating it must be!

Bring A. Torch said...

You da woman. Seriously. You SO bring the Cool. Way to go.