1 February 2013

The substitute teaching so far has been fairly terrible (I’ve worked three full days with grades 5-9). A few classes here and there were enjoyable and productive—the ones where I actually got to teach rather than try to follow an absurd lesson plan consisting of “make them work quietly by themselves for an hour”—but largely the subbing has been a combination of babysitting and police work of classes populated by disrespectful, unpleasant, entitled tweens and teens. I’ve turned down requests to sub for now and am giving it some thought before I ever consent to put myself in that situation again. As I saw the students behave decently enough towards the regular teachers I guess the problem is me and not them, which is dispiriting. I’ve never had trouble with classroom management before when I taught adults (and I did follow y’all’s tips and the rules of the school). Perhaps I am not suited to the teaching of children.


Baby Brother fell again and cut his lip again in the same damn place. This time didn’t require stitches at any rate.


I’m an anxious wreck, to be honest. I feel like it’s sort of been building since we moved to Sweden and has been especially troublesome in the last year, but I’m not sure if I’m just reacting to the uncertainty of cultural and linguistic ignorance coupled with (what feels like) social and professional failure or if I’m actually suffering from a psychological disorder. Frequently I stay awake half the night obsessing about topics including, but not limited to, Little Girl’s school experience, Baby Brother’s name, social mistakes I have made and/or fear making in the future, and my professional and personal development. Why does everything seem so worrisome and hard when, in practical terms, I and we have it easy, have it good? Anyway, I made an appointment to talk to a doctor about it.


It’s been almost two years since I was last in the US, and I feel like we should go there this summer and see people and eat stuff and swim in the ocean, but I just can’t seem to feel strongly enough about going to buy tickets. (Husband consents to going but doesn’t really want to). It feels disturbing that I don’t want to visit my country when we have the time and money to do it, but it’s just so far away, and traveling with toddlers is hard, and it wouldn’t be as relaxing a vacation as in Greece (where I actually want to go) because we’d have to, you know, clean and cook and drive around, and plus what I miss about my life in America—mostly knowing how things work and fitting in—wouldn’t exactly be fulfilled in two weeks of visiting. My friends mostly don’t live where we’re going so there’s not many we’d see. It all seems kind of too difficult to be worth it. And these are my feelings and I should respect them, I guess, but it seems pretty fucked up not to want to visit my country. Surely it’d be fun if we went, right? America is still fun?


A month ago my dad emailed me about dates for his buying a plane ticket to come visit, and I kept trying to write him back that they were fine, to be nice, but instead was overwhelmed by anger over issues of my feeling he was either absent or inappropriate during my childhood, and is a mediocre father and grandfather (and terrible houseguest) now. All these feelings seem triggered by the life stages of my children and likely by my own less-than-stellar psychological state. So I wrote him a whole long letter telling him all this, and he responded with a bunch of non-apologies that amounted to “I’m sorry you feel badly about things that did not actually occur,” and proceeded to point out parenting mistakes he feels Husband and I make. I really have no response to that, but I guess I should come up with one.


Last June I high-pressure-washed all the patio and walkway pavers and got what I guess is tennis elbow and it’s still bothering me. I guess I can bring this up with the doctor, too. Speaking of the doctor I’m going to see, she’s my GP, but I don’t like her at all. Once I saw her out and about and waved a friendly greeting and she looked frightened and backed away. Swedish people, man. Sometimes they drive me totally nuts.


18 Responses to “Problems”

  1. thellfamily Says:

    Oh no. So sorry you’re having such a rough time. I’m glad you’re going to see the doctor.

    On the travel front — don’t go to the expense and effort of visiting the US if you are not excited to do so. It would be a waste of money and energy. I say, go to Greece (you still get the ocean). You probably would save money, and if there’s a family member you want to see, pay for that person to meet you in Greece and help with the kids and hang out in a low stress way — hopefully in separate rooms.

    It sounds to some degree like you may be pretty lonely and not have enough people to talk to there. Some of the things you’re describing staying up worrying about are things you might feel calmer about if you could chat with friends about them during the day (this is just a guess of course — I am no clinician nor do I know you that well!). I hope you can find better social outlets there. That’s something that really worries me about moving at this point in my life, trying to reestablish friendships again. I feel too old and tired for it!

    Hope you find some help from the doctor (and that she’s friendlier in the office). Be well.

    • Antropóloga Says:

      When it comes to seeing family members, there’s not a lot of them, and those we have come to us pretty often (sometimes too often). I have one really good friend I’d love to see but she’s not even where we would be spending most of our time, and Husband is adamant we do not spend this trip to the US (if we take it) driving around to see people after flying across the ocean like we did last time. If people want to see us, they have to make some effort.

      Yeah, I don’t know what to say about my friendships here. I thought I had a good Swedish friend, but then she went and got married and I found out about it after the fact, so I guess we weren’t that close after all. I have some other immigrant friends and one (who is American) I am I guess close to, though I still, after three years, do not have anybody, other than my MIL, that I feel I can call to chat to on the phone when I have stuff on my mind. I just have to wait until 3 PM and call my two good friends in America if I need to talk. (Obviously I have my husband, too, but he is a boy.)


  2. a Says:

    I’m sorry things are not perfect. Life’s like that, right? Maybe a couple weeks in Greece would help. :)

    First question: do you need to work? Or do you just want to? Because if you don’t need to, you might as well just keep looking until you find something that suits you. However long that takes is however long it takes. There’s no sense in being miserable if you don’t need to be there. But, everyone sees the sub as someone to abuse, so I guess you can factor that in to your approach, if you want to continue? We used to be really awful to subs in school. Then, one guy came in, and when we were acting up, he gave us a spelling test. The more obnoxious we were, the faster and quieter he would say the words. For some reason, the idea of this test (which probably didn’t count for anything) and the idea of failing it scared the crap out of us.

    Next question: Why do you have to respond to your dad? If you’re not in the mood to see him, and he’s being an ass…well, you’re at least an ocean’s length away, and you don’t have to. When you miss him, he can come. As far as the kids go, better an absent grandfather who is great from afar than one who shows up and proves that he’s human.

    Final question: Why would you make a trip to the US if you don’t feel like going? Because it’s fun! It is, but… Probably the thought of that kind of travel, with all the associated emotional highs and lows of seeing friends and family and familiar places, sounds nothing but exhausting at this point. You could force it, and would probably have a great time. But maybe after seeing the doctor, you can find some way to improve your overall mood and it would look more attractive.

    Poor baby and his lip! If he keeps this up, you’re going to have to put him in a face mask full time!

    Hope the doctor has something useful to say…

    • Antropóloga Says:

      No, I don’t need to work, and while I do want to work, I don’t want to work very much. Ideally I’d teach something like two classes a week, ideally to well-behaved university students. For now I’ve told the school I will be available one day a week which works out to a maximum of four days a month. I told them this was change in availability was due to childcare issues, which was truly also a factor in deciding I couldn’t do several days a week again like this week (my in-laws volunteered to watch the kids, and it was okay I guess, but I think a lot to ask of them). I hope I can find a way for the subbing to be fulfilling (it better be or it’s not worth leaving my children, to my mind,and putting myself through) and also that it helps me be a better teacher and fills up my CV while I wait for the perfect position. And if it ends up not being worth it, I can just stop. That’s the nice thing about subbing, I guess. No commitment.

      By the way, I got that job through a personal contact, which evidently is the ONLY WAY AT ALL to get hired in Sweden.

      I guess I don’t have to respond to my dad, no. It feels rude not to, though; I know he’s waiting. I have a “respect your elders” mentality I can’t get away from. What’s interesting is my anger at him pretty much dissipated when I sent the letter. Now I am nearly apathetic about it. Don’t need to be angry at him, don’t need to spend time with him, either.

      There’s no real reason, other than lavishness, we can’t do both the US and Greece this summer. And my husband and I will also be taking a weekend away to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. We are cool with making the most of the summer. So going to US doesn’t mean not going to Greece (or someplace like that), if the US didn’t feel vacationy enough. I just wish I were psyched about the idea of a trip to US: it’s so much trouble and expense it seems lunacy to plan it otherwise. And hypocritical, since I’m always going on about how great America is. But there’s no rush to get tickets, I guess. I’ll see what the doc suggests.

      The only one in the family who has a sustained, solid argument in favor of going to the US is Little Girl, who would like to eat gummy snacks there.


  3. Melissa Says:

    Go to Greece! Seriously, why not? The U.S. will not get its feelings hurt. Have the vacation you want to have instead of the one you think you should want to have.

    Sorry the substitute teaching didn’t work out. When A was in kindergarten she had a really strict teacher. The class behaved perfectly for this teacher but whenever a substitute came, they lost their ever-loving minds. Because their teacher was so inflexible, they had learned there was only One Right Way to do things and when a sub came in, they just couldn’t handle the changes. I know the kids you were teaching were older, but maybe they can’t handle change either? Just a thought.

    That sucks about your dad. I would maybe tell your dad to skip his visit this year! I mean, you know I have issues with my dad but that would really piss me off. In some ways it’s easier not to have my dad in my life. I am already completely disappointed in him, so there’s nothing he can do to make it worse or get my hopes up that he’ll change.

    Crossing my fingers that the doctor can help you feel less anxious and more like yourself.

    • Antropóloga Says:

      He already has skipped his yearly visit because I was hemming and hawing about when he could come. Now it’s been nearly 18 months! What’s another six months, I guess? Not like the kids really know who he is from a handful of Skype sessions.

      We could technically have both vacations, except of course it will incite jealousy and consternation among the Swedes.


  4. christy Says:

    I never want to go back to Kentucky either (and it is not nearly as far!). It always sounds like too much work. But then we go, and we have a good time. But like the other people said, go to Greece if you really want to.

    Kids are always crazy with substitute teachers. Seriously, don’t take it personally. I subbed for 6 months, and I learned quickly that I was just trying to get through the day. You are not the real teacher and they are going to try to get away with stuff (trust me, they test the regular teachers frequently too). Don’t stress about it. It was them, not you.

  5. Mina Says:

    It’s the bloody winter and darkness, they are getting to you.
    Subbing – students are mean to subs. For them, anything temporary is meaningless, so they behave as if the sub goes back to the black hole of no-interest-to-them and there are no consequences. This is why I don’t like teenagers, they know jack shit, but they don’t believe you when you prove it to them. Yeah. If you don’t like it, don’t go back. No job is worth the misery of putting up with people who do not appreciate your effort. I do hope you do not need to work, this would be ideal.

    Dad situation – my advice would be to make sure you do not regret what you say or do. If you are sure about that, then do what you feel you need to. Parents are not infailible sadly, nor are they perfect. Let’s hope we turn out better parents than our own.

    US or Greece – if you don’t have obligations, and need to go back to visit family and such, than why would you go to the US if you don’t want to? Why not spend that money to go to Greece? Or Malta? Have you been to Malta? It is wonderful, and people there speak decent English, and it is sunny and they are relaxed and the island is so small that you don’t have to fear strikes disturbing the public transport or causing social unrest. It is honestly a lovely place.

  6. Alyssa Says:

    It seems you have a lot of things you ‘should’ do. Forget about the ‘shoulds’ and do what you want. If you want to go to Greece, go and don’t worry about visiting the US because that’s what you ‘should’ be doing.

    The rotten kids you subbed are just that – rotten. Yes, I am a teacher and a mother. I can say that. I’ve been out with the flu all week and my class has had subs and I’m sure they were awful. It’s the nature of the beast. Especially the age you were subbing. It’s not you.

    As for your father, don’t write until you feel like it and if you don’t feel like it then don’t write. It’s very hard to have moved as far as you did. Give yourself a break. It’s ok and you will make friends, even though it may take longer because of the Swedish nature of the people. Hang in there and tell the dr all you are feeling and make her listen.

  7. Sara Says:

    I’m with Mina in being suspicious that seasonal affective disorder might be the culprit. I’ve also been an anxious mess lately (about 2 hours of sleep per night, I think, for three days in a row last week) for no apparent reason, and I finally realized that I’m probably completely UV deprived. Either that or it’s the arrival of perimenopause–ugh! But I think in your case it’s probably SAD, at least in part. Being lonely and disconnected is likely also part of the problem. Life is hard without close friendships. When we were in Korea, I had just two close local friends (one Korean, one American). They were both busy, so I didn’t see them as often as I wanted to, but making those friendships saved my emotional life. I’d keep trying if I were you, and don’t feel like your close friendships HAVE to be with Swedes. Obviously that would be ideal, given that you live in Sweden and all, but it sounds like one of the main things that you are coping with is the problem of not fitting in in Sweden (even though you mostly do, there’s always that disconnect), so who better than other expats to understand?

    As for your dad–I have no wisdom there. Dealing with past parental failures is hard. With my parents, I’m just working on accepting their faults, loving them anyway, and moving on, but it sounds like you’re not there, and that’s OK.

    As for going to the US, I think the only good reason to go if you’re not actually excited to go would be if you have made a commitment to keep your kids connected with their American roots. If that isn’t important to you, then I totally agree that there’s no need to go unless it actually sounds fun.

    Good luck making decisions about all of these things!

    (Oh, and kids are just mean to substitute teachers, but also teaching university is very different from teaching children. I’m a university professor and was invited to visit a 1st grade classroom last year to teach the kids about my area of specialization. It was a total disaster! I think it may just take a while to adjust your teaching style a bit to focus more on classroom management and less on content.)

  8. Youma Says:

    “but largely the subbing has been a combination of babysitting and police work of classes populated by disrespectful, unpleasant, entitled tweens and teens”

    Know the feeling, I temped for a few weeks some years back and it was definitely not my thing. Private tutoring is rapidly becoming popular in sweden, have you looked into that?

    “Anyway, I made an appointment to talk to a doctor about it.”

    Good, mental health is not a trifle.

    “Once I saw her out and about and waved a friendly greeting and she looked frightened and backed away”

    Oh dear, are you scaring the natives again? :)

  9. caro Says:

    This all sounds so hard. I’m sorry. Especially the job and dad stuff just sound wretched.

    Remember that it is January and you are really far north. That alone can make a person into kind of a wreck, in my experience. Some brains need a certain amount of sun to make the happiness chemicals. Maybe your skittish doctor will be
    willing to check your vitamin D level.

    Can you go to Greece now for a dose of sun and save the US trip for some later time?

  10. Annika Says:

    You might have some SAD and I think you are lonely but you are not a lousy teacher nor is this your fault. There is nothing wrong with you.

    Tweens are perfectly horrible to all subs in my experience. I could never teach them, especially in Sweden.

    And that you have survived for this long as a highly educated foreign woman in a Swedish village is something of a miracle (saying this as a Swedish woman from a smalltown…).

    Take care of yourself, and I hope you can figure things out eventually and find a situation – professionally and in terms of a network – where you are comfortable!

  11. Bad Egg Says:

    Get this lady some sunshine & warm air, stat! Skip the US, you’ll want to visit at some point, it’s just not now. Hang in there!

  12. Liz Says:

    What everybody else said, and also this…If you’re not comfortable with your GP, just ask her for the name of a therapist you can talk to about your anxiety…so that your anxiety about your GP is not coupled to your (totally reasonable!!) anxiety about everything else (except your son’s name, time to let go of that one).


  13. Youma Says:

    I randomly found this blog all about an american teaching in sweden.

  14. Hemborgwife Says:

    No wisdom or advice here just to say I totally get it!

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Just want to add that the subbing thing is NOT you. Our town had a ‘top’ public school growing up — and I can tell you that from 6th grade onward, one of our favorite class activities was tormenting substitutes. Kids would switch desks, change names, throw things when the sub wasn’t looking, try to see how many cursewords they could say under their breath — really really crappy behaviour. One year we got a sub fired when we convinced him to show us Blue Velvet during class (OK, that was high school, and bad judgement on his part, but still).

    We were bratty obnoxious kids who did not discriminate against any substitute. We had two game plans – try to get them to spend the entire class period talking about themselves (in which we would mock them) or if they didn’t fall for that — behaving like little monsters.

    Do NOT take it personally — but I do not blame you for quitting. I would not sign up for that willingly :)

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