Finding Work While Healing
Hello all, I've been a bit busy lately as I have been ramping back up to working again, which is something I didn't have any time frame or scope of for a very long time. I am truly grateful and humbled by the recovery I've gotten so far, and appreciate it all, even though I still have a lot of symptoms and many hard days. I am well enough to work now, and finally pull some of the financial burden off of my husband who has been a rock star since I've been ill, (and really since we had children 7 years ago as that was when I stopped working to raise them as a SAHM in a moldy house that would try and destroy us.) Thank you endlessly, Joey.
I have spent the last 2 months working continuously on compiling my teaching portfolio and searching for a teaching job, this is why I haven't posted as much lately.
I didn't know what to expect in the job market and wasn't even sure if I would be able to make it working full time hours, but I have been trying to stay very active all summer with my children and "train" myself into better endurance. I'm becoming more confident in my abilities and looking forward to the fall, and a fresh start with better financials to afford better treatment for us all.
In considering getting a job again, I knew that I would be teaching as this is what my degree was in, and I was approved for an emergency COVID re-issuance of my teaching degree in NYS. (Too much time has passed since I last taught so I needed to re-issue). The country is struggling to find teachers right now, so I kind of had that in my corner. What I did have a lot of trepidation about though, was finding a safe environment that would support my healing while I continuously stressed my body each day teaching 20 kids.
I didn't want to go backward health-wise so I focused on the environment in my first round of applications.
Fun fact * Teachers are one of the largest groups of people who become mold-sick by occupation. Working in hundreds of years old buildings that aren't maintained well is a common issue in this profession. Musty spaces, stale air, ancient materials and books, sub-par cleaning practices, ignorant acceptance of mold as "normal" and something that can't hurt you so it can be dealt with in incorrect ways and/or passed by...
Reading on the boards and in the groups I've been in for two years now shows this over and over again- teachers being mold-hit.
Considering the rock bottom of health I have been recovering from, I tried to create a list of criteria to consider when I'd go back to work:
1) My sensitivity to the building/How my body reacts there & after.
2) Is the building currently undergoing remediation or reconstruction?
3) Building's history of water damage. Also how that was dealt with?
4) The cleanliness of the space/organization/clutter.
5) The building's ability to accommodate me and possible needs I have medically.
6) How much I am getting paid.
7) The openness of the staff at all levels to want to learn about what I've been through and also accept my experience as valid and serious. Also their openness to use me as a resource should mold issues arise while I work there.
I also considered other things I'd want:
-I wanted a new-build, or very recently new building.
-I wanted to be able to teach the grade I'd left last and the grade I enjoy teaching the most because it is the most flexible teaching-wise, and it is centered on play for learning...Pre-K.
-I wanted to be close to home, because my husband works two days a week and we'd need to figure out dropping off and picking kids up from school everyday. And also to reduce possible effort/fatigue for traveling for work each day.
-I wanted people who had heard of mold illness before, or were interested in learning about it.
-I wanted summers off to spend with my children.
-I wanted some kind of break in my day, which once again lead me to Pre-K as they have mandated napping schedules giving my fatigue a break.
I chose a few places to apply for my first "round". This grouping would be my highest set of hopes for expectations. This would be me trying to get as much of my above wants as I could. I had trepidations as I hadn't been in a classroom for 7 years at this point, and was worried about that huge gap in employment but reminded myself I had been teaching at home, my children and other private families over the years before my health tanked. I had also written children's books, and done professional develop trainings as I recovered from mold.
(If you are healing and prepping to go back, I highly recommend that you find free online professional development courses for teachers- THERE ARE TONS- and do some of them so that you can show your commitment to your profession even as you work resiliently through your major medical hurtles. Nothing shows dedication like this, and you can add them to your resume.)
I sent a digital portfolio to each of the schools and prepared a physical one to bring into interviews with me. I prepared a short live teaching demo for the class as well, (this is usually expected of teachers).
I went on a whirlwind of first and second interviews and teaching demos over 3 weeks.
Public city schools were out. All of those buildings were very old and are notoriously full of maintenance issues, as noted by myself having been in them in the past teaching, or reported by teacher friends I know who work in them.
I looked for private centers or schools that had UPK programs, or daycares with UPK programs in them that followed city educational programming.
New builds and well maintained spaces were my gold standard.
Here's how my search as a Mold-Sick Teacher returning to work went:::
Waldorf-inspired school two blocks from my house. Worker-owned, moderate pay but able to get a portion of school profit after 3 months of employment. I visited, loved the idea of the teaching style and school community, but immediately upon entering the building realized this was a basement school in a large city building and knew it would have had water damage in the past. My body acutely gently reacted the smell of the space, and I got brain fog during the interview and issues with word-finding. These are clues I now look to to help me identify mold exposure (among others).
I stayed that first day for 2 hours and got a tour around the building. I did a search for all of the signs of water intrusion that I knew of and found cracked foundational areas in the outer wall of the building, and noted that some of the materials in the space itself were repurposed (which I LOVE for sustainability) but realized that I cannot physically handle a lot of items like that now. The director shared that there was some water damage in one area of the building but they were going to have professionals come in a clean it prior to the school year. I went home minorly "sick" and treated with binders etc.
I revisited a second time just to hang out in the space and chat with the lovely director who was very knowledgeable about environmental illness and chronic illness both. She was so accommodating with my needs to "test" the space again. I asked to see the water damaged area in the building joking that it would be the "Boss Level" to decide if I could handle the environment or not. The room was so bad for me, so so so bad. I went home demolished with symptoms raging and woke the next day with issue also.
I politely declined their offer for employment because I had to be an advocate for my health and the space was giving me "don't do it" vibes.
A second opening for a UPK teacher was available in a nearby suburban private program that was ....again in a basement. (This time for a church. I didn't get any glimpses of this on their website and the images online didn't show anything that gave hints.)
I unknowingly brought my kids along this time as I'm home with them all summer and had felt neglectful leaving them constantly for a couple weeks now with my husband working from home.
They were offered time to play in the school's common area with other kids. They scampered away and had great fun, while I toured.
I walked 5 feet down the hall and my ear started ringing (another "tell" for me that mold is around.) I asked about the building's history with water intrusions and the parent from the board wanted to show me "the room that had water leakage in February of this year", but "they will be getting around to fixing it soon and no one uses that room."
She actually had a close acquaintance that had severe mold illness and had to get rid of all of their possessions and move in with a family member to recover, so she understood why I needed to check the environment. She asked for more information and we chatted for a while, as my ability to breathe became harder and harder. I gathered my kids up and we left with another offer for employment.
My kids and I were badly sick for a week afterward so I declined their offer.
This opening was at a private company I had worked for as a UPK teacher before having kids, and I loved it in the past. I figured it'd be an easy in, as I was a great employee that corporate loved and that parents/children loved. I only left for maternity leave and then stayed home to raise my kiddos and got sick. It wasn't like I left on bad terms.
I found they has a new build within the last 3 years and took a virtual tour fining nothing that gave red flags. I recalled how seriously they took maintenance and cleaning here and was excited to visit for an interview.
Interview was great, I got to once again educate about mold illness, and they were glad to see me possibly returning. The entire visit I didn't have any symptoms, and felt actually very well in the space. It was clean. Well organized. Not cluttered. Structured. Fresh. And the pay was pretty good.
I scheduled for a working interview next but later cancelled it for a better offer/ space.
I got an offer for employment basically right off of my digital portfolio, but declined the job because when I visited the space it was cluttered, dusty-- and mold loves those both. I had allergic responses to the environment. That aside, when I spoke about still continuing treatment and needing some time off each month for IVs or other treatments (accommodations for my medical conditions) I got the feeling they were put off.
I won't let anyone put my health second because I understand now more than ever that health comes first before anything. HEALTH COMES FIRST.
This UPK lead teacher offer was at a local giant community cultural center- so huge that it has their own school inside! I went in for the interview, liked the director and felt good. The space was mostly well kept with some minor things I noticed but nothing that made my symptoms go nuts, so I figured I'd be able to settle.
I had a second interview (working) teaching, and what got to me was the staff. It may have been a mixture of COVID just depleting the fuck out of teachers in general, or they just didn't want to be there, but they were in a foul mood and the room's morale was crappy. I can't hold that against a teacher though because I have no idea of knowing what happened before I arrived, and I know COVID has done a mental number on teachers. They all burnt out and exhausted.
I kept this job on the back burner but knew that I'd need a really motivated and supportive co-worker in the room with me each day as I eased back into teaching while I am recovering. So this left me uneasy.
The pay ended up being subpar and the hours long. But they were gracious and supportive of any and all medical accommodations I may need.
I ultimately declined the offer after I visited the next school.
I was holding out BIG HOPE for this school, as I have a friend that works there and remembered while I was ill watching them build the space real-time in Instagram. The owners completely gutted an old medical facility and rebuilt from the studs up. I got to see the bones before they rebuilt, and they looked good.
It was a privately run daycare with a UPK program that followed a local UPK program curriculum and guidelines. The teachers got a lot of say as far as what was to be put into the building, the design, the materials, the furniture. It was gorgeous and well-kept. I randomly asked my friend if there was an opening, and by chance another teacher who had accepted the UPK job decided to accept a different offer.
I came in for my interview and IT FELT RIGHT. My body was relaxed in the space. No symptoms. Supportive director, eager to know about environmental illnesses and how they can affect people. On board with medical accommodations. Given the go ahead to do what I needed to in my room, and make requests that they'd try to honor all.
The pay was higher than any other place I'd visited. It was a no brainer.
I felt like all of the weeks of grinding my ass off to get interviews and investigate spaces again and again was paying off.
I accepted the offer and am feeling so go about finding a school that fit me. I start at the end of August (and I'LL BE ABLE TO AFFORD BETTER MEDICAL CARE FOR MY FAMILY!!!! WOOOHOOOOOO)
I know that a lot of what I wrote may not have applied to you directly but I wanted to share what a giant hurtle it can be to look for work when you are healthy enough to return.
You will ant to try and honor where your body is at with regard to recovery and find a place that works for you. Your body will let you know if it will or not you just have to tune in and listen.
Do not be afraid to speak up about your valid medical needs, and try to come to an interview with a clear plan of what you might need would look like and how you can "easily" implement it into your job. Go into the interview as if you had already gotten the job and had planned ahead for your accommodations, so they don't seem like an obstacle to a potential employer, but instead just something that you can primarily take care of yourself competently.
Once you have been Mold-Sick you will need to consider your environment for the rest of your life (to varying degrees). Your place of employment will be the second most common place you spend time in your life... choose wisely and help keep yourself recovering.
When you start visiting place to work, no matter your vocation, please take into account:
the previously mentioned list of criteria to consider when going back to work:
1) Your sensitivity to the building/How your body reacts there & after.
2) Is the building currently undergoing remediation or reconstruction?
3) Building's history of water damage. Also how that was dealt with? (correctly, completely?)
4) The cleanliness of the space/organization/clutter.
5) The building's ability to accommodate you and possible needs you have medically.
6) How much are you getting paid. do not settle for less than you deserve or are qualified for. You need this money to continue treating yourself.
7) The openness of the staff at all levels to want to learn about what you have been through and also to accept your experience as valid and serious. Your experiences with mold are real and valid. If you do not have staff around you that support you, understand you, and value you for who you are... that environment is emotionally/socially toxic and that can be distressing on you too. You are worth more.
Best of luck to you all at whatever point in your journey you are in.
You are capable of great things, and those things you can do will look differently day to day- that's ok.
Remember how far you've come and don't stop. Never give up.
*excuse my typos I'm pooped from being in a musty library basement today for an exotic animal show with my kiddos.