I’m not going to be a teacher anymore.
…That feels a bit strange (but right) to write.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the strangeness of leaving teaching for a few weeks — ever since a new Student Services position opened up at my school and I ran into my campus head’s office shouting, “I want that job!” and she said, “no you don’t,” and I said, breathless and gross from all the running, “OH YES-UH.” *breath* “I-UH.” *breath* “DO-UH.” *breath*
So I went through the official channels — sending in a resume, filling out an application, having some interview-esque meetings where I was questioned again and again about why I wanted to move from faculty to staff. ”Your evaluations are so positive!” they said. “All the students love you so much!” (Overstatements, to be sure, but lovely ones to hear nonetheless.)
Actually, I had only realized the real why a few days before the new position was posted, but I was initially convinced that my only problem was my schedule. You see (ugh, I hate “you see” as a transitional phrase; pretend that never happened), my school has an accelerated curriculum that caters to working adults in which I have four different sets of students in four different classes changing every five weeks where most often I work a split shift of four hours of teaching in the morning, followed by a five-hour break, and then another four hours of teaching in the evening. (That’s a lot of four and fives and sets and splits, so suffice to say it’s not a good schedule for eating meals at regular hours, sleeping recommended amounts, or seeing my family. It is, however — betcha’ve never heard this from a teacher before — exhausting.)
So in my mind it was the schedule’s fault — it was the schedule, the schedule, the schedule for why I felt so down so much of the time, for why I cried during the afternoons because I just wanted to see my husband since I hadn’t gotten to have an extended conversation with him in days, for why my reaction to anything minute that went wrong (I forgot my coffee on the kitchen counter, a student was rude, the copier was left jammed) felt disproportionately jarring for what should just feel like a minor annoyance. There was this ever-present cloud of dread and ennui and blah-ness that hadn’t gone away in months. I found it ridiculously difficult to do anything productive during the long breaks; my plans of working out, doing a load of laundry, and making a healthy dinner turned into falling asleep with my contacts in to a Gilmore Girls DVD.
But it wasn’t the schedule –it isn’t the schedule — it never has been the schedule that’s responsible for the why.
My husband was the one who pointed it out to me, actually, during the aftermath of yet another breakdown. “It’s not the schedule that’s making you miserable,” he said gently, as I was pre-, post-, or mid-cry. “It’s teaching.”
And all of the sudden, everything made sense.
I could feel the cloud starting to thin out in that moment — the moment when I realized teaching was not something I could or wanted do for the rest of my life. The why is because ultimately, I just don’t want to teach anymore.
And what has been so strange to me about that is the strength of the cultural narrative surrounding teaching. It is such that it made any thought of my quitting teaching taboo to have — nearly unthinkable, really. For almost ten years, I’ve taught part- and full-time in public elementary and secondary schools, abroad, or at the college level, and I’ve always ended up feeling the same way: burnt out, devoid of energy, struggling to do anything except teach. I thought switching my teaching context was the answer; I thought I’d eventually find my niche and it would be perfect and I’d stay there forever. After all, teachers make all other professions possible! It’s not the filling of a pail but a lighting of a fire! Teachers affect eternity: they never know when their influence stops! Plus, I know I’m good at it! Who could think of walking away from that?
I can. And I am. (But I don’t mean to be overly dramatic about it — I just find it fascinating and odd that telling someone you don’t want to be HR anymore, for example, would seem to be a completely different experience.)
I think what it comes down to is that, as an introvert, it takes a lot out of me to be with people all the time — more than I allowed myself to realize. I put everything I have out there when I’m in front of a class. I care about people and I care about education and I care about my subject matter too much to not give it my all. But teaching shouldn’t be about self-sacrifice, and being “on” for more than eight hours a day is just that — for me. I need to save some of myself for my marriage, for my life — for me.
Last Thursday, I was officially offered the Student Services position, and I accepted. Next week will be my last week teaching. And I’m already feeling like myself again.