Living

Tomorrow marks one month that I’ve been in my first non-teaching job. There’s so much I want to describe about this journey and believe me, I will, but for tonight… I want to take a moment to reflect on living again after teaching.

I was part of a mass exodus of teachers my age. I mentioned that a number of my college friends also made the choice to exit the profession for the 2016 school year. As we all talked about our various reasons for leaving, one common idea arose: we just stopped feeling like ourselves.

Thats huge. Think about what it means to believe you don’t have an identity anymore. I don’t know if any readers have experienced this before but it’s isolating. It’s depressing. It’s damaging. With this problem, we all agreed that we needed to take some time and find ourselves again. One friend got into the rave and EDM scene (don’t knock it, it’s an incredibly positive group!) and another chose military life and yet another opened their own business with their wife. Me? I jumped in to serving my community.

A long time ago, I blogged about all the things I wanted to do with my life but felt like teaching stole all of my time. When summer started, I revisited that list and dove in.

I spent a lot of time volunteering with a local pet rescue. I met such an incredibly passionate woman who cannot turn an animal away. She is fiercely protective of her rescue animals and the volunteers who serve the community. I spent many mornings washing dishes and doing laundry, as well as shuttling dogs to groomers, going on walks, and of course, giving vast amounts of love to the animals. I felt my heart burst at the thought of what terrors some of the dogs and cats went through yet how willing they were to love me after showing them basic kindness. My time with these animals led me to love God’s creatures so much that I decided to live a vegetarian lifestyle. I hope to eventually move to veganism, but one step at a time.

I spent time with the American Red Cross in a few different capacities. After the June Pulse nightclub shooting, my husband and I spent time delivering hot meals to the Emergency Resource Center folks who were conducting the investigation. We spent time participating in the Smoke Detector Install program installing new, high grade smoke detectors in at-risk neighborhoods. Awesome program, by the way…. I highly recommend everyone check it out!

I worked at an Outreach Mission by helping with the food pantry. I cannot even express the sadness in my heart when I noticed several of my students standing in line to receive weekly groceries. Each week, I saw people who were doing the best they could and still struggling. They were profusely thankful for the kindness showered upon them with the groceries they received. I worked under a leader who has literally dedicated his life to the homeless and poverty stricken and was passionate about raising them up. I met some incredible people who were living in the shelter and were dedicating their time to helping others.

I spent the weekend before school started handing out school supplies. You would not believe the joy these kids felt being able to pick out different colored pencils and notebooks when a week before they feared walking into school with nothing.

I traveled. I took pictures. I spent time with family. I took trips with friends. I read a lot of reall damn good books. I learned a lot of new songs on the piano. I brainstormed other outreach programs I wanted to get involved in. I found who I was.

When I walked in the doors of my new career on September 12, I felt confident, capable, and purposeful. Let me tell you, I haven’t felt that way in years.

life is good, friends.

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

Are you new to blogging, and do you want step-by-step guidance on how to publish and grow your blog? Learn more about our new Blogging for Beginners course and get 50% off through December 10th.

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Glee

Last time I updated, I went a little mushy and reminisced about what I imagine missing now that I’m not a teacher. As more time passes between me walking away from my school, I can clearly see the profession for what it is without my emotions being tied up in it.

Of course… just as there were sappy, mushy components to MISS about teaching there are also horrible, terrible, no-good pieces that I can say GOOD RIDDANCE to. Therefore, here is my

TOP 10 THINGS I WILL NEVER MISS 

10 – Feeling like a failure: Ah, yes. Nothing quite like waking up, going to work, giving it everything I’ve got only to hear that I screwed up…again. Teaching was like juggling a bunch of plates with more being thrown to me two or three at a time. My only option was to just keep on juggling and pray that WHEN (not if) I dropped a plate, it wouldn’t be an important one like student safety or adhering to a student’s learning plan. I’m pretty proud to say that I never dropped an important plate, but frequently lost stupid ones such as posting learning goals or having an updated hall display. No matter what I did correctly, I was sure to be talked down to because of all that I left undone.

9 – The lack of accountability: I am so tired of hearing politicians rant about how it’s time for some accountability in the education system and then introduce some new bullshit idea for teacher performance. I think there’s plenty of teacher accountability… what I’m sick of is how NOBODY else is accountable! The parents aren’t following the basic standards of raising their children correctly, the administration isn’t accountable for following safe behavior initiatives, the school board isn’t accountable for providing necessary materials and supplies for instruction, and the state isn’t accountable for providing valid and reliable tests! But sure… I’ll take the heat for Timmy not being able to read.

8 – The parents: This isn’t a biggie for me because just like kids, every year the parents are a crapshoot. Some years, the parents just stay out of my face and let me do whatever I want (which was great). Other years, parents are so wonderfully involved in their child’s education and seek opportunities to help even more (also great). And then some years, I get parents who don’t understand the concept that their child is not perfect OR that I have a room full of kids instead of just theirs. Yeah. Not so great.

7 – One brain mentality: Some of my friends have told me that it’s been this way for years, but this is a phenomenon that only recently creeped into my career. I don’t like this idea that every teacher should be teaching every subject using exactly the same techniques and resources. I don’t mean, “Hey, use the science book to teach energy,” but more like, “Well, Teacher A, B, and C’s plans state that they are reading book pages today, but you are using readers. Why are you not doing the same thing they are? You all should be planning together!” This mentality absolutely kills the whole notion of teachable moments and also mutes out any hope of teacher individuality.

6 – Grading, grading, grading, grading: No explanation necessary.

5 – Testing, testing, testing, testing: No explanation necessary.

4 – The word RIGOR: If I had made a drinking game using the word RIGOR, I would have been hospitalized for alcohol poisoning twenty minutes into any meeting I had with administration this year. Talk about the buzz word of the century! Sounds great, but nobody has any idea what the f&(% it means. Do you want to know what my definition of the word RIGOR is? It’s a word that the county/state/administration uses whenever they just don’t like how you’re teaching and want you to conform but don’t know how to force you to. In a sentence? “You know, your lesson just didn’t  really have the RIGOR that the standards require.”

3 – Data meetings: Before anyone skips this explanation while nodding and saying AMEN I want to be clear: I LIKE DATA. It’s great! I’m a number person and I like seeing quantitative data. What I won’t miss about data meetings is just how little qualitative data matters anymore. Even though I am locked in a room with a student for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, my professional observations and opinions don’t matter. This past year, I finally told the guidance counselor and reading coach that I would just submit my data because I don’t need to be there for them to type numbers into a program. Sadly…THEY WERE OKAY WITH IT! THEY JUST NEEDED THE NUMBERS! And we wonder how kids get to middle school with second grade reading levels!

2 – Observations: Also- MARZANO. Again, I don’t mind the concept of this, but the way it is implemented is infuriating. Pay is determined by an entirely subjective checklist. One observation you can score highly effective during a lesson and the next time you can be needs improvement using the same techniques and strategies. Does it have anything to do with your actual teaching? NO! It’s because the powers-that-be started cracking down on administrators saying they are giving “too manyhighly effectives so they have to start nailing teachers for every little thing.

1 – The bureaucracy: Oh. My. Gosh. Teaching made me feel so passive and voiceless. Policies are changed on a whim. Curriculums are arbitrarily discarded for “not being rigorous enough.” We invest millions of dollars on the newest fad in education but can’t afford a raise. We fill out reams of paperwork just to cover our ass for something as stupid as a parent conference. Teaching never should have turned into a battlefield, but in our sue-happy and rigorous generation, each morning has teachers getting out of bed and asking themselves, “Who am I not too tired to fight with today?

 

Current teachers, did I miss anything? Do you agree with my list? What would you add? Those who have left teaching, what were some of your biggest frustrations? Did any one particular item make you want to throw in the towel, or was it a combination? I’d love to hear from all of you!

Foreseeable

Here we are, in the midst of summer.

At this time last year, I was gearing up to attend weekly trainings provided by my county to supplement our paychecks. I signed up for them daily and couldn’t wait to implement my new knowledge in the classroom. It’s strange to think that the trainings are going on without me.

A lot of people have asked me, “Don’t you feel sad, knowing you won’t be back?” Well…no. Because it hasn’t hit me yet. Ask me again mid-August and I MIGHT have a different answer.

This made me start thinking about what I actually will miss. Sadly, I found it a little hard to come up with this list. But for those of you who are just beginning teaching, are entrenched in teaching, or are leaving for whatever reason, here are some things that used to put a smile on my face:

THE TOP 10 THINGS I FORESEE MYSELF MISSING

10 – The exercise: DON’T JUDGE ME. I worked at a physically enormous school and was cruising all over the place during the day. I always hit my 5 mile goal, even when I didn’t work out in the mornings. It’s going to suck staying sedentary all day.

9 – Having my own space: Yes, of course I shared it with my students, but I created that space. I was a minimalist. I hated having tons of posters on the wall about grammar and multiplication and crap like that because the kids didn’t care one way or the other and it was such a hassle to cover up during testing. Instead, I decorated my room with beautiful wildlife photography that my husband did. I had sculptures and vases with shells and colorful stones and really cool rocks and dried out coral and fake flowers and framed photographs… It was very much MY space and the kids could tell so much about me by observing their surroundings. Some people criticize that notion– the classroom should be about the KIDS. So much of teaching is about the personal connection between student and teacher, yet we never seem to have the chance to share our lives like the kids are able to share theirs. This was my way of showing my students who I am and what my personal interests are.

8 – Shopping for supplies: Do I really need to elaborate on this? We all know it’s super fun.

7 – Children’s literature: Oh how I LOVED picking out books for the kids. Even though I taught intermediate grades, I adored selecting picture books that were beautifully illustrated or photographed. I scoured through selections of kids nonfiction books looking for the most obscure topic for kids to get interested in. I fought with my administration about keeping read aloud time in my classroom so that we could jump into rich stories and learn new things. Seeing as I don’t have kids, I don’t have a reason to buy kids’ books anymore.

6 – My colleagues and the teamwork: Every job includes teamwork. In my last interview, the managers constantly harped on the importance of teamwork. The bond of teaching is incredible, though. It’s so different from the “we need to work together to meet our goal of making a lot of money” mentality that the corporate world has. I’m not criticizing teamwork in the corporate world, it’s just different. With my team this year, it was us against the world. Our county and school seemed to offer us little support and we were usually fed to the wolves with parents. Even if we did not all agree with each other ideologically, we still had to have each other’s backs. We were always there to support one other and make it through the year. I think teamwork like that is going to be hard to find in another profession.

5 – Christmas vacation: This is bad that vacation is so near to the top of my list, but oh well. One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “What are you going to do without your summers off?” like I’m going to die without them. Personally, I don’t really care about summer. I don’t have kids and most of my good friends are not teachers so it ends up kind of boring anyway. What I WILL miss are those two weeks around Christmas time. I’m already missing them! Getting out of school around December 16-18th is quite the godsend. I had time to shop and wrap gifts without all the crowds and relax before all of the Christmas craziness began. As an introvert, I’m already dreading the socially packed holidays and having to return to work the next day.

4 – The kids: Well, this is bad that this is not my number one. The kids aren’t number one because every teacher knows that each year is a crapshoot. Some years you get classes full of kids that you LOVE seeing every day and other years are just…meh. Fortunately, this was a meh year for me so I didn’t get the nostalgia goggles on and back out of resigning. But I will miss the frank honesty and witty humor that the kids have to offer. Sometimes, when things are muddled in our adult eyes, kids can swoop in and clearly call a situation what it is.

3 – Seeking out new resources: Love this. Goes along with the whole shopping thing. Love finding new programs, apps, books, projects, activities, centers… I used to spend hours browsing the web finding resources.

2 – Testing out new ideas: FINDING new ideas is great, but actually IMPLEMENTING them is even better. Obviously ideas sometimes crash and burn which is admittedly not so fun. But when they work…oh my goodness. It’s like a drug!

1 – The AHA moments: Nothing can take away the high of an AHA moment that a student has. That kid whose been struggling and fighting and whining and avoiding and makes me want to tear my hair out and finally…they look up… and  hear the, “OoooooOOOOhhhh! THAT’S how you do it!” I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything in the world.

Current teachers, what are the things you love about teaching? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Those who have left teaching, what were the small things that made it bearable? What do you miss the most? I’d love to hear from you all!

Identity

It’s no secret that I barely held on throughout this school year. I did everything I could to keep my sanity. One of the little things I did that kept me laughing was browsing through the Reddit teacher pages. I know it probably wasn’t helpful to peruse through hundreds of posts about “I hate teaching so much” or “The craziest thing a parent has ever said to you,” but somehow… well… it just made me feel a little more human and a little less alone.

A question that was posed frequently in varying terms: Why are so many people on here bitching about teaching, especially if they’ve quit teaching?

My gut instinct was to inwardly cuss those doe-eyed first-years out in my head. Let’s see what they have to say in five years! But the more I saw this question, the more I  began pondering.

It’s true. There are a lot of terrible posts about teaching on the internet. Go ahead and Google any variant of hate teaching, teaching sucks, quitting teaching, leaving teaching and you’ll find hundreds of angry threads talking about ungrateful children and incompetent administration and lousy pay. Surprisingly, many of these posts will be from people who are already out of the field and in another job. What motivates people to continue being so angry even after they leave?

After thinking about this for months, I believe it boils down to one thing: identity.

Yes, you will find plenty of posts from people who weren’t really sure what to do after college so they just took a teaching job with an alternative certification, or perhaps someone who came from another career and wanted to try it out for awhile. For the most part, however, many of the teachers you meet are people who have practically always wanted to teach. Their lives led them to this profession. Their work with children or with tutoring started early. They enrolled in education in undergrad, perhaps they pursued it as a graduate degree as well. They attended trainings. They participated in the book studies. Teaching is what they desired out of their life. I fit into this category.

I never imagined that teaching would go away.

So, most of us have built our lives around this passion. But the second part of our identity comes from how the world perceives us. I can walk into a room full of people I don’t know and answer the unavoidable question, “What do you do?” and people can make assumptions about me that are mostly correct. I must be a people person, because I’m constantly communicating with kids, teachers, parents, and administrators. I’m probably creative, especially since I’ve worked in elementary education. I’m patient…hell, you have to be! But perhaps the most important assumption people make is that I’m trustworthy. I am in a fishbowl. I am a pillar of society and people willingly drop their kids off and put them in my care for the majority of the day, for 10 months of the year.

Leaving teaching is all about a major shift in identity. It’s like going from girlfriend to wife, teenager to adult, student to professional.

I’ve been contemplating just how hard this shift is for people. I’ve officially accepted my job offer at the finance company. It’s a FANTASTIC company, and currently I can see myself staying there for at least the next ten years. But my life is going to change. Starting in September, when someone asks me what I do I will give a corporate mumbo jumbo title that, quite frankly, nobody understands. Whereas “crazy kid” stories were always a great icebreaker before, I highly doubt that I will have “crazy brokerage” stories. People will not necessarily look at me and know that I’m honest, that I’m hard-working, that I’m drug free, that I’m patient. In fact, the only thing I have to give will be…me. My job no longer identifies me.

It’s a strange realization, but one I am excited about. When a volunteer opportunity comes up, people won’t automatically assign me to the one with kids. People won’t assume that I’m willing to babysit. People won’t walk all over me because they know that I’m “flexible.” I will be a blank slate.

Perhaps this is where the anger and bitterness stems from– an unexpected change in identity. I once read that leaving teaching is a process of mourning. Mourning the time you have committed to the job, mourning the personal time you lost, and mourning the fact that you can quietly slip away without so much as a “thank you.” Yeah, it sounds really gripey, I know… but I get it! It’s okay!

The other route I see people take is a self-righteous story about how the career “chased them out” and they “had no other choice.” Incorrect. Unless you were fired and blacklisted from every public, private, charter, and homeschool group in your area, this was a conscious choice that you made. You decided to go. Nobody forced you out of anything. And you know what? That’s okay too!

Leaving teaching is a fine balance. It is okay to be bitter for awhile. Feel your anger and keep it moving. If you don’t compliment yourself while teaching, you won’t ever hear a nice word. On that note, if you don’t make a big deal about leaving, don’t ever expect a tearful goodbye. But limit yourself and keep moving. Don’t dress yourself in all black and mourn for years. Give yourself time to adjust to new expectations and jump in. You get a brand new start. Make the most of it.

Differences

I believe it was nearing the end of January when I actually said it out loud.

 

What happened to me?

 

I asked this of my husband one Thursday night. He was attempting to plan out a fun and spontaneous weekend. The thought of leaving the bed seemed exhausting and miserable to me.

 

What happened to me?

 

Before I started teaching, I…well, I was younger. That’s for sure. I was straight out of college. I enjoyed going out to bars with friends. I could show up to a party all by myself and make new friends there, hell, find something to talk about with people at least. I would read dozens of books over the course of a calendar year. It never seemed to cross my mind that I was not capable of doing something. In fact, I was always genuinely shocked when an opportunity would not work out the way I anticipated. Although I had some insecurities, for the most part I was content with the way I looked and acted. I liked working out with my friend who was a Marine and another friend who was a cross-country star because they challenged me. I thought I was interesting and funny and witty and generally someone you’d like to have around you.

 

But what happened?

 

As the years of teaching went by, things changed. I obviously wasn’t going out during the middle of the week anymore like I did in college. Too much work, not enough energy. In fact, even Friday nights became off limits for me unless we had concrete plans.

I gained weight…a lot of it. Some of it came from health problems caused by the stress of the job, some of it was just average “you’re getting older” weight gain. I never wanted to go to the gym or work out, and the times that I did I wanted to be completely alone. I didn’t want to push myself in my workouts. I stopped thinking I was even slightly attractive and had an extremely difficult time picking out clothes.

And socializing? All of a sudden, this became a chore. I would go to a party or event and realize that I just didn’t have anything in common with the people around me. Not because I was an elitist or anything…it’s just… they went out. They did things. They were involved. They had hobbies. They had interests. And it seemed that every time a conversation came around to me, all I could talk about was work. What the students did. What my principal said. What the state is passing. What is wrong with the educational system. And as I blathered on about these topics that I felt passionately about, I felt my conversation partner’s eyes glaze over as they itched to leave my presence. I realized: I am boring. I don’t do anything. I am not involved. I don’t have hobbies. I don’t have interests. So I sunk further into myself.

 

How did I become like this?

 

January is when it finally dawned on me that there is a cost to teaching, and that is your identity. Maybe this is not a problem for everyone, but I know many of my friends that I graduated with encountered this same struggle.

I lost who I was. All of those missing Friday nights, all of those late night group texts, all of those weekend booze-fests with old friends, all of those family lunches after church, all of those rejected spontaneous Saturday afternoons– they came with a price. I turned down all the activities that are the essence of life in order to write plans, enter grades, answer emails, create rubrics, grade papers, and research projects. I became robotic and my life centered around teaching. And then, with all of that sacrifice in mind, when I brought in my work to a class that was apathetic at best, to an administration that was never satisfied, to parents who were demanding that I make myself even more available and offer more to the children… well that’s when I got bitter. And things got ugly.

In January, I realized that I was merely a sack of flesh that entered a building and stood in a classroom for eight hours a day. Sometimes, I held a pen. I would float around as some sort of nebulous presence in my students’ lives but not as a real human being with needs, desires, and dreams. I finally understood that without these needs, desires, and dreams, there was nothing tethering me to this world. The people in my life had no access to me, I was floating far above them at the mercy of wherever my job blew me. And oh, how I wish I could have grabbed onto something, anything, but instead it all ran through my hands.

I was not a person anymore. I had no identity. I had a driver’s license and a teaching license and bills in my name and a Facebook profile and email addresses but I was not here anymore.

 

It was around this time that I knew I was quitting. We prepared financially. My husband was ecstatic that teaching was going to be in the past. I’m very lucky how supportive he is.

I also decided not to work this summer, and the job that I am a finalist for starts in September. A lot of people have asked me, “What are you going to do with all of that free time? I’d go crazy!” Trust me, I have plans. But the most important part of my last summer is going to be finding myself again. Getting back in touch with the 22-year old who started this journey so full of hope and who was full of piss and vinegar and compassion. Welcoming the caring, energetic, childlike, and enthusiastic former me back into my life. Healing my wounds. Believing in myself again.

 

You have no idea how excited I am.