The Journey from Teacher to Author: Laura White’s Story
Making That Transition Towards a Writing Career Can Take Many Paths
As substitute teacher and author Laura White says, “subs are brave men and women that keep the classrooms running when the teachers are absent.” Her experience as a substitute teacher inspired her to write “Mrs. White Subs Snips”. But, she can best tell it in her own words, We caught up with Mrs. White to learn about how her career in teaching ultimately influenced her writing process and why she decided to write “Mrs. White Subs Snips” as a comic book.
When did you start working as a substitute teacher?
I started subbing in January 1995 when my two daughters were old enough to go to school. I had my degree in education and was raising my family. I, also, subbed during the hard-hit times during the recession, when teachers were pink slipped every year for about 5 years. I worked as a sub for a total of fifteen years overall.
Why did you decide to start working as a sub?
I decided to start working as a sub, because I needed to go to work and subbing is a great parent job. You have the same time schedule as your kids; you are off when your children are off, like during holidays, weekends, and the summertime.
What most surprised you about working as a substitute teacher?
What most surprised me about working as a substitute teacher is that there is a social class snobbery towards subs. Teachers and administrators do not consider subs to be ‘real teachers’ and treat subs quite often as second-rate-citizens. A surprising experience, that occurred more than once, is when I went into the school’s lunchroom to eat my lunch, and when I went to go sit down, the teachers at the table, told me that, “The chair is taken and that this is the teacher’s table”. This shows a social class division. Another experience that is even more shocking, is when I was at an elementary school that was having a staff luncheon, and the principal told me that, “Subs are not allowed to eat the food, but you can have the scraps when we’re done”. Probably the most shocking experience, was when I went into the lunchroom to get my sack lunch out of the fridge and I noticed that my fork and spoon were missing. I saw one of the women teachers, who was sitting in a group, using my fork and spoon. I said to her, “Hey, that’s mine!” and she said, without blinking an eye with an attitude, “Yeah, you can have them back when I’m done.” Substitutes are not treated as equals; they deserve respect.
What was the impetus behind writing Mrs. White’s Sub Snips?
After subbing for many years, there were 60 subbing experiences that stood out to me, and I felt the need to share them with others. Sub teachers are often overworked, unsupported, and underappreciated, and I wanted to pay tribute to them. Subs are brave men and women that keep the classrooms running when the teachers are absent. For example, one time I had been called in late to sub at a middle school and I was walking down the hallway to get to my classroom, when I saw and heard a young sub sobbing her eyes out running toward the main office. As I passed an open-doored classroom, I saw and heard the students laughing out hysterically and one of the students said, “We got that one…” This is what subs face every day. Another situation is when I was called in to cover a high school teacher and the students were acting out by pulling the phone out of the wall, drawing phallic symbols on the walls, standing on their desks, and throwing things across the room. I called security, who asked me, “Is this a life or death situation?” I responded, “It could be” and that I needed him. He didn’t want to come, and it took him twenty minutes to get there and finally escorted some of the students to the office. Again, subs are brave. Probably, a worse experience that I had was when I had been called into sub at a year-round school during the hot summer for a second-grade class. I was wearing a white skirt. In the morning, the lesson plans’ instructions were to have the class paint watercolor color-wheels all day long. During the day, paint got everywhere: on their clothes, the floor, the walls, their desks, and all over the bathrooms. At the end of the day, with one of the students waiting for her mother, we were cleaning up the floor. The principal came in on a rage and demanded that I clean all the paint up and just laid into me that I was a terrible sub. Later, I found out that I had been written up and had to go downtown to the Human Resources director to defend myself. She later admitted that it was not a proper lesson to leave a sub, but I was blackballed from the school and told never to come back. This story is a good example of how subs are unsupported. Substitute teachers are not sub-human!
Why did you decide to tell the story as a cartoon book?
I decided to tell my stories as cartoons to make it fun, easy-to-read, and relatable. Anyone who tortured a substitute when they were in school, which means just about everyone, will relate to my book. These experiences create captivating and humorous snapshots or ‘snips’ into the world in which all who sub, used to sub, or want to sub can relate to. Hooray for substitute teachers everywhere who keep the classrooms running when the regular teachers are absent.
What surprised you the most about writing the book?
The thing that most surprised me about writing my book is how much I love cartoons and respect cartoonists for their intelligence in the humor they create--to turn sad or unfair situations into funny ones. As I like to say, ‘to turn lemons into lemonade’.
What would you advise to someone who is thinking of working as a sub?
I would advise, first of all, to someone who is thinking of working as a sub, to work in a large school district that offers health benefits and teacher union support where union representatives can help you if you get into any of the difficult and unfair situations like I shared earlier. Smaller school districts do not offer any union support or health benefits. Another bit of advice that I would give, is to know that there are second-rate citizen stigmas associated with being a sub, like struggling financially. For example, when I was subbing, after a long day’s work, I was walking to my car and a male teacher from the school saw me and asked how, as a sub, I could afford such a car? Another time, I was at a show with my husband wearing a very nice coat, and a male teacher with his wife saw me and asked me how I could afford the coat I was wearing? Another stigma is that most subs are considered the walking wounded and can’t teach full time. An example of this is when I overheard an elementary school principal tell her secretary that “…most subs are the walking wounded”. Another example is when a principal told me that “I was just a sub, and that I must be a sub for a reason, and that I must have a problem in getting a full-time job”.
To learn more about Laura White and find her book, click here. I hope you enjoyed reading about her process and her interesting career.