Alex Horvath has been a photojournalist for more than 30 years. He was laid off July 30 from his job as director of photography for the Bakersfield Californian. Framework asked him to write about reinventing himself.
By Alex Horvath
OK, what do I do now? I will freelance! I called all my contacts in the business and explained my situation. Everyone was sympathetic and promised to pass along any freelance work they may have. One friend sent me a camera body with no obligation for payment. Well, the freelance photography work was not coming, I spent the first couple of weeks taking care of the yard and greeting my youngest child when she arrived home from school. I bragged to friends that there were no weeds in my yard. I checked my email. While at work I would answer a hundred emails a day. Now I just received a handful a day. I even read the spam.
Friends in the education business suggested I look into substitute teaching and that I would be good at that. I needed to do something; staying home was driving me nuts. They helped me navigate the proper path to earn my temporary credentials. The hardest obstacle was the passing CBEST test given by the state of California. I would take practice tests until my scheduled test date. I remember going to the location and noticing I was the oldest test-taker in the room. The test administrator asked if anyone in the room was there to retake the exam. Some hands were raised, making me more nervous. I used the whole four hours allotted to take the test. I really did not know if I passed or failed. When I found out a couple of weeks later that I passed, I told everyone I could. I was one proud dude!
I went back to my friends and told them I passed my test. What do I do next? They got me an appointment to see Olga at the Kern High School District at 9 a.m. the next day. The next morning I went into a big conference room with other substitute teachers and we went over orientation. I listened and sat patiently, after the meeting I asked if I was even supposed to be here. She said I was, and she gave me paperwork to fill out. I asked when would I get an interview? Much to my surprise, she said I came very highly recommended and that when I finished all my requirements, college transcripts, background check, etc., I could start you to work right away. Wow! I was surprised! The next Friday I turned in all my paperwork. She offered four opportunities at four different high schools that following week.
When I showed up for my first assignment, I was a wreck. Although I’d been to the schools numerous times before as a newspaper photographer, I had trouble finding the teachers parking lot, then I had trouble locating the office. The lady at the desk greeted me, handed me keys and an attendance roster for high school English. I told her this was my first day as a sub. She smiled and said I would be fine. Yeah, I am fine, I am nervous and sweating like a pig! I fumbled with my keys, opened my door and read my instructions. First instruction: Open door and greet students as they enter (wow, that was easy), take roll (I apologized to the class as I butchered some names), next assign reading and textbook assignments for first half of the period and then show a short film on the Dust Bowl, leave a detailed note of what happened in class.
I shared my experience with my family at the dinner table. My wife and daughter laughed as I described my day in detail and described how some students dressed, tested my patience and thanked me for passing out candy at the end of the period because they were good in class! It was a good day!
This opportunity has allowed me to stay in Bakersfield and not uproot my family. I have had a couple of freelance corporate photography assignments. I miss telling stories and I miss the newsroom. I wonder if I make a difference as a substitute teacher. Teachers have an enormous responsibility, one I am still trying to grasp. Am I just a babysitter? I see most of my students doing the work assigned; some test my patience. I’d like to think I made a difference in their day that they feel that their school experience means something to them and they grow. But maybe I’m over-thinking this and all my students will be fine.