Thoughts from the Day After I Quit Teaching High School

Get Me Otter Here by Look Human

This post was written in August 2016, the morning after I walked out of my public High School teaching job. I’m publishing it now that the dust has settled, just in case other teachers are wondering what to do, or how it feels, when you walk out of a teaching job.

I’m not sure where to begin, but I feel the need to write something down because I’ve been walking around sick to my stomach for half of a day, and it’s not getting better. Almost a year ago (11 months ago) I posted that I was thinking about leaving teaching … and I did. Today is the first day of school and I’m not there. I feel both relieved and incredibly guilty, I feel like I abandoned my team, my students, my school. These are emotions that I need to process. I am posting them here because, maybe, just maybe, you are going though this, too.

Last year Ms. L said to me, “You are nothing but a number to administration. You need to take care of you. Nobody else is going to.” A few days ago my dad told me this story: “There’s a parable about a man, trapped on a roof during a flood. He cries out to God, ‘Help me, God, I’m trapped! Save me!’ and as he does a tree drifts by. ‘Well, I’m not diving in after that tree,’ the man says, ‘it looks too dangerous.’ Just then, someone in a canoe goes by, ‘I am not getting into that leaky canoe,’ the man says, ‘it will probably sink.’ Soon after a rowboat comes by, ‘That rowboat doesn’t look much more safe than the canoe did,’ the man says. Finally, a horse swims by, ‘A horse? There’s no way I’m getting on a horse,’ the man says. Then he cries out again, ‘God, why aren’t you saving me!’ and God replies, ‘I sent a tree, a canoe, a rowboat, and a horse. Now you’re on your own, buddy!'”

Those two stories helped me make my decision, which I doubted up to the last moment, which I doubt even today, because I had seen my tree and my canoe go by already. I had turned them down, waited, not understanding, and finally, when I worked up the courage to look at my student roster, I cried. I knew that I didn’t want to teach High School anymore, that I couldn’t. Class sizes were overstuffed, a huge influx of students meant 30+ kids in every class, and I knew I couldn’t control them. I told the Universe that I wanted to keep teaching more than anything in the world, please Universe, send me a job. And the Universe did.

I think I took the rowboat and I’m pretty sure that I know what the horse would have been, but, looking back, I can see myself turning away the tree and canoe. August 2015 I was already done with High School, I was in a grueling graduate class (my last for my MA) and I was struggling professionally and personally. I could have left before school started, that was the tree, but my family was against it, and I had very little money saved; I stayed so I could afford to leave. Then summer came, many doubts and tears and absences later, students going ballistic over who knows what, social worker telling the student I reported that I was scared of him (which amplified his behavior through the end of the year, and no, those kids do not miss school), getting written up for leaving early to get to graduate school on time (I came in early every day, but my AP told me that she didn’t care), seemingly endless testing, getting torn in half by an angry parent who wouldn’t let me leave the room when I was on the verge of tears from her verbal attack, counting down from 100 days left to 1 … then it was over.

I have the emotional memory of a goldfish. When I’m sad, I’ve always been sad, je suis desole! The world is ending! When I’m happy, I’ve always been happy, everything has been great forever, and will be great forever, hurray! So when school ended my unhappiness melted into discontent, and with all the money my S.O. and I had saved, we decided to buy a house. No thanks for the tree! I’m going house shopping! I don’t think it could have gone worse. When things go bad, bad, bad at every turn, it’s a sign that you’re fighting the Universe. The will of the Universe is like a river, swim upstream if you must, but get ready for a fight. After very little looking we found a beautiful townhouse and really nice condo, but I waffled, then we found another great villa, and my S.O. waffled. Then we found the perfect house, and got outbid, then an okay house, and got outbid. Finally we found a satisfactory house, and when we went in for the inspection, it was just No. This all took around 6-8 weeks to happen, which meant that we were holding our breath the entire time, and after the third strike, we were out. During this period of time is when I refused to get in the canoe. A job offer, and I turned it down because I had to qualify for credit and maybe, just maybe, renovate a new house. The canoe drifted by and I felt lost.

I am nothing if not a hard worker and work I did looking for a new job and spending so little in comparison to what I normally spent. I bought a pair of socks and a few small things, for me, this was remarkable restraint. But time ran up and I went back to work bloodied, but not broken. I struggled with whether or not to leap without a safety net every single day. I didn’t even cry, I was numb, only feeling fear and doubt. Then, at the last possible moment, my rowboat came by, and I jumped in it. The rowboat isn’t ideal, you know, part of the parable that’s missing is that you get second chances, you might get a third or fourth or tenth, but it will be harder each time.

And it is hard. I’m scared, I’m sad, I am terrified that my administration will come after me, afraid that my colleagues will hate me, I’m overcome with fear. But, I think, it will get better because pulling that trigger was like a wave that crashed down on my life and cleared so many things away. And when the lump leaves my throat I have hope that I maybe, just maybe, will be happier than I’ve been in a long time.

Tampa Ballet Theatre’s Dracula at Ruth Eckerd Hall

Dracula by Tampa Ballet Theatre

The weekend before Halloween my partner and I decided, quite last minute, to see the Tampa Ballet Theatre’s production of Dracula at Ruth Eckerd Hall. He happened to be teaching Dracula at the time (the original one, you know, the novel) and I had just been complaining that we hadn’t been to the theatre in ages. That, along with his son having never seen a professional ballet, and it was decided.

We made a mistake.

There were so, so many things wrong with the performance, which wasn’t even close to sold out, incidentally, and it’s always a little disconcerting to look around a venue and see 3/4ths of the seats open. You also have to go through a metal detector to get inside Ruth Eckerd Hall now, which is super classy.

The opening of the ballet seemed promising enough, even though the score was recorded and pieced together, it was moody. The title being projected on top of the curtains was a touch tacky, but the Dracula character slaughtering people in silhouette while a rather rather large white wolf danced beside him was intriguing. Then the lights came up. Twenty-five minutes into the ballet and there was an inexplicable twenty minute intermission. I looked at the playbill again and it said that the ballet was three acts, which seemed unnecessary, and I guess someone agreed with me because the second intermission never arrived. All told the entire ballet was about an hour, if you were wondering.

Continue reading

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I once heard an anecdote about a famous film critic who said that he wasn’t going to watch “The African Queen” until he was on his deathbed, because he wanted to save the best for last. Maybe that’s why I, a fan of classic literature and American literature both, have waited so long to read Fahrenheit 451. Of course, like so many people, my plans were foiled by a child, namely my step-son who wanted help with his 8th grade summer reading, and who could say no to that? Looking around the site you can see that I adore Ray Bradbury, so much so that I would venture to say that, were I ever able to get a PhD., I might just specialize in his works. I think he’s an overlooked genius, but at least, I thought, at least students read Fahrenheit 451. Then I read the novel … and it’s not very good. Also, everything after this point is spoilers, just FYI.

Compared to Bradbury’s corpus, Fahrenheit 451 should have been a footnote; flat characters, been-done plot (it’s basically Anthem), not-helpful observations about how technology is rotting minds. It’s almost the opposite of some of his works, specifically The Martian Chronicles collection, wherein machines are personified sympathetically. In Fahrenheit 451 it’s just “technology bad, people complacent” and the characters … I need to organize my thoughts because I cannot just ramble about my disappointment. All I’m saying is that, if that anecdote is true, I really hope that critic liked “The African Queen” because, for me, not liking Fahrenheit 451 was quite the bummer.

The novel opens with Guy Montag being thrilled with his work as a fireman, you know, the book burning kind. Then there’s a lonely walk down a moodily lit street. Enter: a dame. Clarisse McClellan is teenager and unusual, asking Montag all manner of questions as they find themselves walking side by side. This feels like a “meet cute,” where our two polar opposites meet, don’t agree, yet are drawn to each other. Montag is thirty and Clarisse is seventeen, to which my step-son said “eew!” but whatever, I’m much younger than my S.O. and it couldn’t bother me less. So I guess their age difference is supposed to establish them as platonic? Yet he looks for her every day, misses her, she leaves him little quirky manic pixie dream girl presents like acorns, and Montag thinks about her face, “really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing, in fact.” Clarisse asks him why he doesn’t read the books he burns and she asks if he’s happy before running off into the moonlight, she is the character that introduces these huge concepts to Montag … but then she’s unceremoniously killed off. For no reason.

Continue reading

Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, a Reading Journal

I have the extremely odd habit of saving drafts in the most random places, and so, I just stumbled upon this Clarissa reading journal that I wrote way back in 2007. I have to published it because it’s just so odd (it was, it seem, an assignment for school that I took really seriously), it’s in the same epistolary style, and because I’m so amused that I wrote it an forgot about it again. It seems to function as a sort of diary of my Clarissa reading experience, and if you have ever read the novel, I’m sure you understand why such a step is necessary. I hope you enjoy.

Robert Lovelace preparing to abduct Clarissa Harlowe, by Francis Hayman
Week 1

Letter 1: Miss Pamela Coovert to Self at Future Date
4 September 2007

I’ve read through the Introduction to Clarissa and I can’t help but be a little worried, the Introduction is, theoretically, written by someone very fond of the book, but even their glowing terms can’t seem to mask what appears to be a staggering behemoth of a novel. I have unofficially assigned it tome status, which I like to give books more than 100 pages larger than a nice, round thousand. Apparently, every time Samuel Richardson went to edit it down he – in an act that makes it obvious that he was his own publisher – added to the book. Happily it seems that we are dealing with the first edition, which, it seems, is the smallest version. Also, the Introduction amusingly notes all of the far better known writers to slam the book (and Richardson in general) as time goes by, specifically, S. T. Coleridge. Still, Dr. Runge assures us that we are lucky to be among the few classes of graduate students who will ever get through the authentic version of this book; perhaps my pride would be more awakened at this thought were we reading James Joyce, at least then, at the end of the novel, I’d feel cool.

Continue reading