Substitute Teacher Q&A: “I like the unknown. It’s definitely not a boring job."

Substitute Teacher Q&A: “I like the unknown. It’s definitely not a boring job."

Julio Palma

Hillsborough County Public Schools, Tampa, Florida 

Years with Kelly Education: 7 

From corporate life to classroom, without ever looking back 

When Julio Palma graduated from the University of South Florida, he thought he was destined for the corporate world. But just six months into his job with an accounting firm, he realized it wasn’t for him. He wanted work that felt more meaningful. He applied to the Peace Corps, but the fact that he was born with cerebral palsy complicated the process. His uncle, a teacher, encouraged him to try substitute teaching. He applied to Kelly and, he says, “the rest is history.” He recently got accepted to a graduate program in education, but he’s delaying that until he can attend in person. Until then, he’s continuing to work for Kelly. 

What was it like returning to the classroom? 

To be honest, I wasn’t worried. I was hoping we could get back to normal because there’s a lot of talk about kids falling behind when they are online. The school has PPE and disinfectantsMy school has been really good. Social distance, wash your hands, wear a mask. You have to make sacrifices. I do it to keep myself safe and the other person safe. 

I enjoy having fewer kids in the classroom right now. You get to have more one-on-one experiences. I expected it to be a challenge, but as a teacher, you’re expected to rise to the challenge. You get paid to do a certain job and I try to do it well.  You adapt to the situation. 

"When you go in, they are your kids for that day."

Was there anything that surprised you? 

I’m surprised by how many teachers aren’t coming back. Some are taking leaves of absence, but others are taking early retirement. There wasn’t anything about the kids that surprised me. Since they are high schoolers, they are good about social distancing. It’s helpful that we are getting back to a sense of normalcy. It’s a work in progress, but we are getting there. 

What’s been the best part of being back in the classroom? 

Honestly, I love the fact that I don’t know what’s going to happen during the day. I like the unknown. It’s definitely not a boring job. And I like the responsibility. When you go in, they are your kids for that day. 

Do you have any advice for someone considering becoming a substitute? 

The only way to know if this is really what you want is to try it. That’s how I found out teaching is my calling—by trying it. My other advice is to be a leader. Be a role model. Because you don’t know what kind of situations the kids are coming from. 

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