Seizing the Day and Substitute Teaching!

Last updated: December 2022

There's a job opportunity for the epileptic community with the nation's drought of teachers – and substitute teachers. From all the people I've gotten to know, I think that a majority of people with epilepsy are similar to me: seizures are moderately controlled (meaning weekly or longer), dramatic tonic-clonic seizures are either rare or non-existent, recovery medications are unnecessary, and decent work is nearly impossible to find since I can't drive. (Consequently, it's humiliating to ask my caregiving wife for an allowance like a child just to buy a shirt which she does on a whim!)

If this also sounds like you, I encourage you to consider substitute teaching.

Seizure safety in schools

Let me begin by saying, a classroom is a pretty safe place to have a seizure. I'm not in a hazardous situation, am sitting much of my time and with plenty of water. If I was the kind to feel embarrassed about others seeing me have a seizure, youth are much more open-minded about that than their parents can be.

New state laws are rumbling across America to make "seizure-safe" schools. That means that all school teachers, nurses, and employees take an annual course on how to recognize when someone's having a seizure and what to do about it.1

Granted, students are the intended beneficiaries, but if I have a seizure in the classroom, once an adult arrives and recognizes that I'm having a seizure, I'm better off than if I was a greeter at a supermarket!

Working without a driver's license

My inability to drive was the single biggest impediment to me getting a job I'm trained for – a TV producer. It meant living with my parents 25 years ago and receiving SSI and state assistance for expensive medications. When a small TV news department offered me a producer job, those benefits would be lost and the job wasn't going to pay me enough to live independently and meet those medical expenses. I explained the Catch-22 to the station, but they refused to increase the salary. I was desperate to work in the profession and negotiated for an arrangement that was part-time so that my benefits would continue.

Nevertheless, its wages were nowhere near the ceiling that those welfare programs would allow me to earn. My Dad, a retired school superintendent, suggested that I could make some extra money subbing at several schools nearby. Back then, in Illinois, it was only necessary to have any college degree and I earned $60 a day. I started subbing on my days off from the TV station and came close to earning more at it than at TV!

A nationwide shortage of substitute teachers

A beautiful thing about substitute teaching is that I only have to work as much as I want. (Currently in Atlanta, there is a 1-day-a-month minimum and 20-days-a-month maximum). Schools were aching for subs and teachers before the pandemic, which has become terminal.

With such a shortage of teachers, I'm pretty well able to sub any day I want. Schools in some states are so desperate for teachers that they are calling in the National Guard, permitting people to teach before being fully certified, and some without any college training!2

Being a substitute teacher with epilepsy

Every principal and nurse at the 4 schools where I regularly sub knows about my condition. I gave them a "fact sheet" to keep on hand in case of an emergency: contact info of my wife and doctor, a list of my medications, and a paragraph explaining my seizures and what to do about them. I emphasized that an ambulance isn't necessary, just let me sleep for 5-10 minutes. But even if school personnel overreact and call an ambulance, an arriving EMT will appreciate it. It should save me around $2,000 for being taken to an ER unnecessarily, something insurance never paid for me!

During the virtual learning developed during the pandemic, most of this generation's school lessons are already posted online by their teachers. Although the regular teacher might have lectured them if not absent, I only have to instruct the students on where to find their day's lesson. This generation is amazingly independent! For special ed, I've had to read a book aloud. For PE, I've even let them watch a movie that their teacher selected in advance for me or to shoot basketball.

I'm primarily concerned with making sure phones stay in backpacks, and watching to see that students remain on task. Not to be derogatory, but some might call it "babysitting." I make it a point to know where the intercom button is to call for the principal if a behavior problem arises. Just threatening to use it ends a lot of problems.

My district pays $175 a day. Pretty good for an untrained worker!

Getting creative with getting to work

Now, before you say, "Won't work for me because I can't drive," I encourage you to be creative. In the morning, my wife drops me off when taking our daughter to school, but her job prevents her from getting me at the end of the day. Uber or Lyft rides may not be available and are expensive! After a driver grumbled to me about how small her portion was of the big fee I was charged, I asked her if she would return me home in the future for $15 cash if I was able to give her a day's notice, and she agreed.

Another option was putting a notice in my neighborhood's Facebook group looking for a driver going my way at the time and at a price I wanted. Within 90 minutes a neighbor phoned to accept. Two retired neighbors will get me with notification. Finally, I've even gotten permission for a neighboring student to drive me home and several times teachers provided me with rides.

Never underestimate how willing people in your neighborhood or schools might be to accommodate you: especially since they're needing help, too. So think about it if you'd like your life to be more purposeful and to help your caregiver pay the bills!

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