“I suppose I could work as a hostess at the restaurant,” Sonya said.
“They cut staff once summer’s over,” I replied.
“How about I get a job with the ferries? Serving food? I used to work in a cafeteria back in college.”
Ferry employees, including food services, all live on the mainland, I explained, since the ferries run out of Anacortes. They cut back during the winter, too.
“Babysitting?” she asked. “I could take the day shifts when Elise is at school.”
“It’s only the summerers who hire babysitters,” I observed. “The islanders don’t have need or resources. If kids are too little to stay home alone, there’s someone there to be with them or they’ve brought along. And by the time they’re six or seven, they’re allowed to be unsupervised, since it’s safe and there’s not a lot of trouble they can get into.”
“There’s always trouble for kids to find.”
But island kids were of a different sort, more self-reliant, less plugged-in.
“I guess we’ll just keep making jam!” She said, exasperated. “I know, I know! ‘The island farmers’ market only runs in the summer!’ You already said! But I’ll just make a bunch and head into Anacortes every Thursday, if only there were enough berries on the island left to pick.” We’d nearly harvested all the berry patches, leaving just a few up at the north end.
A few days after this conversation, when I went to the grocery store in the village to pick up some ginger for our stir-fry, I ran into the school’s K-8 teacher. She looked about four months pregnant, just beginning to show.
“I’m going to need a good long-term sub when winter break’s over,” she said, laying a hand on her belly. “You wouldn’t be available, would you?”
“Maternity leave?” I asked. She nodded. Of course, I wasn’t available. I was retiring from full-time teaching, not picking it up again with a younger set of students. But Sonya…
I mentioned the conversation to her when I returned home. Her eyes lit up.
“Back in the classroom? I would’ve looked for a teaching position if we’d gone back to the mainland, and if it weren’t so close to start of school. I never dreamed there could be anything on the island!”
“Usually, a lot of teachers are interested in any positions that open–and they hardly every open. Most teachers here keep the job for life. But subs–and good ones–are harder to find. And certificated ones are nearly impossible!”
She called the teacher. Then she spent the afternoon filling out forms online and emailing references. A few days later, we received word from the principal, who oversaw the schools on all the three islands in the Straights, that she was approved. When the regular teacher went on maternity leave, Sonya would have the long-term substitute position, through the rest of this school year, at least, and possible into the beginning of the next.
“This will work out!” Sonya said. “We can make the jam fund stretch out until then. It’ll be tight. No extras. But we can do it!”
Of course, I kept to myself that I’d be covering utilities, and, if we kept up our current dining arrangements, the grocery bills, too.
A few weeks later, just a week before school started, we received a frantic call from the principal. The teacher woke up bleeding and was air-vacced to the hospital in Bellingham. They were able to stop the bleeding, everything seemed OK, but it was now deemed a high-risk pregnancy, requiring bed-rest. The teacher wouldn’t be starting the school year. Not only that, but she and her husband decided to move to Bellingham, since her specialists were there.
The school needed a full-time teacher to start the year. Was Sonya available?
It would be the class Bernard was in, but she’d already talked with him about it, when she was preparing to sub, and he seemed excited, if a little bashful, to have his mom for a teacher.
After interviews with the county school board in Anacortes, meetings with the island school site council, and answering scores of questions about educational philosophy (“What’s the best response for dealing with classroom disruption?”; “How do you handle bullies?” ;”Do you use worksheets, at all?”), Sonya had the job. She signed the contract.
“I have a job,” she said, over and over again. “I’ve got a salary! I start the day after Labor Day. That’s Tuesday!”
I smiled to think how happy I’d been, just a few short months before, to make the decision not to sign my own teaching contract. And now, in my kitchen, stood a woman grinning ear-to-ear at having signed her own. It felt right to have a teacher in the house.