Bob The Kelly Girl

Bob tried substitute teaching in 1985 when he was a self-described “confused 19 year old trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.” He’s back at it again in 2013, having run out of career options.

“I’m 48 M-_ing years old and reduced to being a Kelly Girl,” he said.

Kelly Educational Services, Inc. handles substitute teacher placements for the nine largest school districts in Connecticut. Bob is in a group of five being screened at the Hamden, Connecticut branch.

They’re crowded around an oval conference table with bright fluorescent lights humming overhead. Everyone had to apply online to get invited to this meeting, but the receptionist won’t divulge whether anyone was excluded. “Rumor on the street is they’ll place anyone who’s got a pulse,” says Bob.

The instructions were to dress professionally, but he alone skipped over that. He’s unshaven, wearing a turquoise sports jersey, beige cargo shorts and webbed water shoes. He acknowledges that he’s not dressed for success. It goes unmentioned that he ought to have bathed or applied a fragrance. It was hot outside and he smells like salty sweat and cigarettes.

He rides his Harley everywhere since his pickup was repossessed, though still references his “trucker’s tan” when complemented by those present as appearing “healthy” and “outdoorsy.”

Two of the other prospective substitutes are also middle-aged. Like Bob, they appear slightly older than their years–a bit grayer and more wrinkled than they ought to be. Everyone’s eyes look tired. Bob’s are the reddest.

There are also two twenty-somethings present who’s newly issued teaching degrees have yet to deliver on the promise of a career.

All are desperate, by their accounts. At least the twenty-somethings were able to move back in with their parents. Bob’s contemporaries nod sympathetically as he recounts what drove him back to substitute teaching.

After graduating from college with distinction as a history major in 1987, he returned to Connecticut and spent the next 24 years there working for the water company.  He was one year from the minimum 25 needed to take an early retirement.

In 2008, his position was cut while he was on leave for a workplace injury. He was suddenly out of work, unable to work, awaiting workman’s compensation–and the outcome of a lawsuit that would entitle him to his retirement.

The cost of living vaporized his savings. The rest was drained by a succession of attorneys.

He’s being evicted October 11th.

Bob is the only guy in the room, and Judy Rose, the manager of this Kelly office cites that as an advantage. “There’s reverse discrimination in education. Not enough men go into the profession and schools are looking for male role models,” she said.

Bob straightens-up in his seat and smiles. One of the twenty-somethings says, “That’s not fair.” The women look bewildered.  

Rose presents a PowerPoint on classroom management. “Good teachers don’t discipline—they manage. If a kid acts up, have a word with them in the hallway. I-so-late!” she says.

The session runs from 1:30 to 3:00 PM. All prospects hand in their completed Employment Application Agreements and KES Instructional Job Description/Consent forms. They also present two letters of recommendation and as proof of their academic credentials, either their original diplomas or official transcripts.

Only Bob has transcripts, and they are stellar—mostly As. The women brought diplomas–the older two in picture frames and the younger two in the standard leatherette bindings issued at graduations.

A twenty-something says she’s “relieved that they don’t require report cards.” Bob is nonchalant as the others peek at his transcript. The indication by the various comments is that Bob has the highest GPA in the room.

There’s also a standardized test called “Praxis” that prospective teachers must take to get certified, unless they scored higher than 1,100 on the SATs in high school. The women’s expressions range from “jeezus,” “wow,” a sigh, and a sullenness at Rose’s next proclamation.

“Bob waived Praxis. Very good! That’s unheard of,” she said.

A twenty something asks about market conditions.

Rose summonses Joan Daquila, another Kelly manager, saying “she knows more about statistics.”

Daquila pokes her head around the door and says, “The percentage of school-aged children in Connecticut declined 4.67 percent between 2000 and 2010. It’s tight out there. A lot of schools don’t have the money for subs. They have a study hall or double-up sections if a teacher’s out sick.”

In closing Rose asks, round-robin, “Why do you want to teach?”

When it’s his turn Bob says, “You know the saying, those who can’t do–teach.”

Rose offers Woody Allen’s famous rejoinder to that observation.

“And those who can’t teach, teach gym,” she says, with a laugh.


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