So about a few months ago I started volunteering a couple of mornings a week at schools in Toronto. I’m trying to get a job as an education assistant through the governing body called the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), and unlike most jobs this one requires a lot of patience, an attribute that has never been one of my strengths.
There are a few reasons why I’ve decided to make this professional transition at the age of 34. The first is that I simply cannot fathom working in an office environment again. The politics, game playing and mindlessness of it all makes me miserable. It’s also not an essential job, at least communications isn’t, if you ask me. I’m sure others will make a case for it, but I haven’t found any real substance behind their arguments.
In addition the thought of sitting on my bum staring at a computer for 8 hours a day trying to avoid office politics and poorly managed meetings — all the while putting in “face time” even though my tasks have been completed by 2 p.m. — stifles creativity.
I was lucky to have secured employment with some of the most reputable not-for-profit health care organizations in all of Canada, but it never turned out how I was promised. I constantly struggled with how these places were structured, and the lack of ethics so many of the people who ran them seemed to exhibit. A job is important, there is no doubt, but so is retaining integrity, dignity, decency and humanity.
I was always aghast at how status corrupted these individuals. I will never make apologies for being sensitive to toxic work environments, nor will I ever condone working in a place that doesn’t respect each individual’s right to be treated with kindness. We should all expect more of our employers and colleagues, and never surrender to mean-spirited attitudes and nihilistic work spaces. I was never very good at accepting it for what “it is”, I always fought hard to change it, but often this was a battle I shared with no one; co-workers found security in undermining and trash talking their colleagues. It left a sad taste on my tongue.
The second reason for my new career is clear: I want to make a difference, while keeping active. When I worked as a LSA in special needs schools back in London, England, no two days were ever the same. It’s challenging work for sure. I’ve been reminded of this during my volunteer hours in Toronto at a special needs school in the east end. I’m constantly on my feet, running about, problem-solving, learning new skills, while developing new methods to teach the kids, and though it’s tiring, it’s also exciting. By noon I’m wiped out, due to the unique nature of each student, I don’t know how people don’t burn out from doing this, but they all take tremendous pride in what they do.
My third reason for doing this: the perks. A mandatory two months off in the summer is nothing to shake a fist at (though it is unpaid), while the hours are regular and the salary is reasonable. So here I am giving it my all and I’m still waiting for that call.
The TDSB laid off 500 EAs last year. I have applied for casual supply work, but getting my foot in the door isn’t going to be easy. Plus they’re more inclined to fill those positions with those who lost their jobs in the budget cuts last year. My friend Adam told me that this is exactly what he had to do when he was working with the TDSB.
It’s common for new applicants to wait months to be placed on the supply list, and even then it could be close to three years before I have a steady full-time permanent position. The good news is that by volunteering I’ve begun the process of the necessary grunt work — and hopefully principals will remember my face and be more inclined to think of me when they’re short-staffed.
Supply work is steady, and I’ve been told that when I’m on the list I’ll get a call almost everyday. And if I don’t want to work that day, well I don’t have to answer the phone.
But it’s been taxing. I must have sent out over fourty resumes to a variety of schools, and have only heard back from a handful. Even then they don’t return my emails after they express initial interest. They just don’t have the need, and would simply be doing me a favour. Not worth it for them I suppose.
Working in my favour is that my preference is to work in special needs, and I’m male, and in a profession that is heavily staffed by female employees, that gives me an edge, at least I think it does. I also have experience, so it’s not like I’ve never been exposed to students with moderate to severe learning and physical difficulties. I’m also really good at it and I demonstrate good judgment which is required of someone working with kids who have behavioural issues.
Ahhhh… patience. I’m not sure why I have so little of it. I’ve always been this way — especially when I want something really bad. It took a lot of courage to transition out of communications, but I didn’t expect so much waiting. I guess in part I’m to blame; it took me some time to figure out if this is what I really wanted, and when I committed I did so with my heart and brain.
Volunteering isn’t that bad either, if you discount the lack of funds entering my bank account. I can go away for a while and pick up when they need me again. I just hope that after the new year I’ll be placed on the supply list and start earning a pay cheque again.
Therein lies the crux. I can’t find another job in the meantime because when I do get that call, I’ll have to resign and I don’t want to disappoint anyone, or prove that I’m unreliable. You can imagine the worry I face, the fear that all this volunteer work will be null.
Luckily one of the schools I’m volunteering at is where my dear friend Christine works, who has been doing this job for over 10 years. She has been a tremendous resource and knows what I’m going through. She too had to volunteer for months before securing her position with the school board.
The best part is that with this lax schedule I can travel, or read, write, drink lots of tea and watch television! Oh my. I have so much time to myself during the day that I end up worrying that it’s all going to blow up in my face. I already said that! Key message: I’m worried!
I will admit that my change of career has been frightening, unsettling, and wrought with insecurity. At this age I never thought I’d be unemployed and struggling to find my place, but it’s character building I suppose. Regardless of what happens, I’m riding the wave of uncertainty and trust that it will carry me to where I want to be.