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.