Friday, March 29, 2013
Thirty-ish days of this school year are left. I am glad. I am also detached. I really, deeply love my class--they are good, sweet children, for the most part, and appear to love me back. But many of them and their families are exhausting me; this school year has exhausted me. This is not something unique to me; I'm not some martyr over here. I have spoken at length with teachers at other schools, in other districts, in all socioeconomic areas. Exhaustion is the Word of the Day for public school teachers all over America.
Can I be very frank and honest for a moment? Do you have a moment?
I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. Actually, all year long I've been thinking. I've been considering this, and considering that. I've done a little networking. I've had good days and thought: this is all right. I've had bad days and thought: really, wouldn't Barnes & Noble be awesome to work at, even if they are slowly shutting down all their stores? I've spent a lot of time thinking and considering.
I've thought about and considered going back to teach ESOL, except I don't want to go back to teaching that right now...people (other teachers) think I'm crazy, because it has its stresses but hey: no grading! But it is increasingly becoming something I can't agree to do. I do miss teaching it, but only for the relief of not having to be responsible for raising other people's children, and that's no reason to teach something. More and more, I feel that is exactly what is being asked of me, to raise others' children for them. I simply do not feel up to this task. I have a Bachelor's of Science in Elementary Education and a Master's of Arts in Early Childhood Education. I know Reading, Writing, Social Studies, Science, and Math. I am not a social worker. I do not possess a psychology or a counselor background. I have taught children for 18 years, and I'm a parent now, and so I try to draw on that experience to help parent other people's children, but because of political correctness often feel my hands are tied to really give them the help they are looking for, on top of the fact I suspect they don't actually want help; they simply want someone else to be responsible. And I am finding I don't want that kind of responsibility. I would just like to teach children how to read, write, and add/subtract. If I could just do that every day, I'd be happy as a pig in mud on a cool Spring day.
I am increasingly frustrated. My house looks like an episode of Hoarders. My husband spends a lot of time worrying (often out loud) about my mental and emotional state. My own child is getting less from me than other people's children, and I will be brutally honest: I am growing resentful. I have no energy when I get home--I would like to take my child to the gym or the park every day, or read with her or finger paint or teach her sight words or play with play dough or just laugh and have fun. I am too tired--I cook dinner, clean it up, do bath, and then sit on facebook or pinterest because facebook and pinterest are two mindless, numbing things I can do to unwind. I am beginning to suspect classroom teaching is turning into a single, childless person's game.
The easy answer seems to be: just don't do it, Amy. Don't go to school at 7:45 and leave at 5:30/6:00 every day. Do what you can and go home and forget about it. But I don't operate that way. Quality matters to me, and if I don't deal with Project X or Y right now, tomorrow it will eat me alive because I won't have a planning period due to this meeting or that one or I won't get to Project S or T and that will cause even further stress than I already have, and I won't have that, concerned friends. I won't have it.
So I'm slowly and reluctantly starting to wonder if teaching may not be the right career for me. Isn't that crazy sounding? Because it's something I really love. Because I got into teaching because I'm a helper and I wanted to help children. Because people say I'm good at it--I'm never going to win Teacher of the Year, but if you stick your kid in my class? I work my butt off with them. Because I've done it for 18 years. But 10 of those 18 years were in a support teaching role, and support teaching kind of, I don't know, lulls? you into a sort of complacency.
On a positive note, going back into the classroom this year was like having cold ice water thrown on me repeatedly. This was good, because it taught me some important things--about human nature and what poverty and powerlessness--and, yes, maybe a slight touch of psychosis--can make people do to one another. It taught me some things about me, like I genuinely like children in spite of some of their home situations. I mean, God bless them, they've got a lot on their plates and they don't even know it. I am crossing my fingers and sending powerful prayers to all the Universes out there, begging these Universes to pull these children out of their lives, to help them defy their odds and the growing, enormous chasm between the classes I'm watching good people in this country (myself included, because you won't see me at any Occupy Something events) allow to happen.
But it has also taught me this is one goddamn exhausting, thankless job. If I were getting paid 6 figures, I'd probably just deal with it for another decade or two. I mean, there are summers off for the love of all--who wouldn't just go find their happy place when needed, for $100,000 a year and decent health benefits? However, I am not getting paid 6 figures. I am getting paid in the mid 5's. And I am not being respected by the very people I'm attempting to help, and I spend a lot of time confused and frustrated and angry about that. And crying. I cry a LOT when I'm at home, because I'm desperately worried my own child isn't receiving what she needs from me. Realistically, I know she will most likely turn out okay--she is deeply loved and hears that all the time. She has two supportive parents who will gently express concerns to her future teachers, not make angry demands. Melissa doesn't need a teacher to send desperate prayers for her out into the Cosmos. But I'm also painfully aware of what schools are expecting from and doing to children these days (another angry rant for another frustrated day), and I need to help my child meet those expectations, to the best of her ability. I need to serve and protect my own child, as much as I love and want to serve and protect other children. I owe that to Melissa.
I think what I'm saying is: my plate isn't just full, it has become completely overloaded. For some people, this would be A-Okay. For some people, overloaded is a challenge, and dealing with angry people is no biggie and besides they love getting punched in the gut; it builds character. This is not me. I do not do overloaded, angry people, or gut punches. And my plate has been overloaded since August, and I have been talk therapy-ing out the angry people and gut punches as much as possible, all the while continuing to reason that it's just a learning curve and if I just move this roll to this side of the plate and push this pile of potatoes over here and push this angry person under the table for awhile....but the moving and pushing and hiding never seem to end. I mean, it will end: Summer will come, and Melissa and I will read books and visit the library and go to the pool and eat ice cream and paint our horrified HOA neighbors' sidewalks with rainbows and unicorns and giggle ourselves silly as Mr. F glares at us through his window, frantically making notes in his little neighbor spy log.
But eventually August will arrive, and the plate juggling will begin again and I find I am dreading that. Really, really dreading that.
Please know: I am not frustrated about my school--I love my school, and my administrators have been nothing but kind and helpful to me and incredibly supportive with some of the gut punches I've taken this year. I am thankful to and for them. And I am deeply in love with all of my coworkers, and think the Supreme Court ought to pass gay marriage just so we can all marry each other and live in one giant teacher commune together. And I am not frustrated about the students--I love the students, kids are kids and I love helping them work on/work out their ridiculous kid issues, as long as I'm not hormonal or ravenously hungry at the moment. Also, when I shut that door and get on the floor with them and read or write, I am completely in my element. I love that feeling. I love sharing books with them and reading their bad writing and showing them a Youtube video about using periods and then dedicating it to the one boy in class who refuses to acknowledge punctuation but is really good-natured about having a punctuation video dedicated to him because he's the class clown and likes that kind of attention. I love that, and if I could do that all day and have time to make lesson plans and grade and not worry about unhinged parents coming up to the school to sue me or beat me up, I'd practically work for free.
However, this is not Reality for public school teachers anymore, no matter where you are in America. And I am really beginning to wonder if the Universe didn't have A Big Plan for me back in 2011, when I volunteered--sheerly on gut instinct--to leave ESOL teaching and take on a different kind of support teaching which then landed me back in a classroom in the very kind of school I said I'd never (never say "never"!) want to teach in a classroom at. Because sometimes the Universe does stuff like that--takes you over here to get you over there which takes you here so you can land there, which is where you were meant to be at this part of your life all along. I find that's the only consistency the Universe has about it--Its inconsistency.
And it is not lost on me at all that certain emails and events may have been rained down upon me this year in order to jerk my complacent butt out of its chair of comfort and get it moving.
So I will spend this summer getting ready for another school year but also working on changing careers. Having talked to some savvy Corporate America People Who Know (C being their spokesman), it's been suggested to me for every $10,000 you wish to earn per year, it takes 2 months of work and dedication and making contacts and finding leads and etc and so forth to find a job making that. C would like to see me make $75,000 per year, because he thinks I'm worth that (which uh, hello, I think he and I need to talk about--clearly I'm worth $12 million, but at 2 months per $10,000 I just don't have that kind of time. If only Charlie Sheen would read this! I know he'd cut me a check). I'd be pretty happy with far less than $75,000, and at this point I think C would be too--he has said on at least 100 different occasions he'd rather see me happy than continue to witness what he's witnessed this year.
Which all brings me to my point: upon examining my educational background and current set of skills, I think I'm good at a handful of things (besides eating chocolate at night and googling Jason Isaacs and Gerard Butler and Clive Owen). I love children and story telling. I like to write. I like to read. I like to do research. I like coffee houses and singing birds and waking up with the sun, not before it.
So this is where I've decided to start: I'm exploring freelance writing, which can be slightly lucrative (though far less now, with all the blogs permeating the atmosphere and bad journalism being the rule of the day) but take awhile to break into. Ditto getting a novel/short story published. JK Rowling did not happen overnight--JK Rowling had talent and also timing and luck and Jason Isaacs in the wildly successful movies based on her books. I just want to be able to afford to eat out once in awhile, not sit on piles of Potter-like money. So I'm exploring writing articles and children's books and story telling and writing a novel and short stories on the side. It sounds like a lot, but compared to the enormous stresses I've been dealing with this year, that's a cakewalk in the park.
If anyone knows anyone, please point me in their direction. If anyone needs a storytelling researcher willing to freelance write with children while Jason Isaacs, Gerard Butler, and Clive Owen are in the audience, let me know that, too. If anyone wants to write me a check for $75,000, I will write an entire novel about why it's a travesty you are not Emperor of the World (Charlie Sheen, I'm looking in your general direction).