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.

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23 Things You Should Actually Do Before You’re 23

Two years ago I read the article 23 things to do instead of getting engaged before 23 and drafted this frustrated response (note: after writing my response the original blog post was picked up by Huffington Post, and I am jealous, I admit it). I can tell that the original list is definitely written by a 23 year old. In fact, every time I read it, the list becomes more idiotic because so much of the advice is “Be a jerk! LOLZ” which (by the by) most people do naturally. This is fine, but perhaps not useful, since there’s a lack of perspective in place because the author was 22 when she wrote the list. If your life goals are as whiplash-ey as the Peace Corps and a Pinterest project (not multiple Pinterest projects, just the one) then honey, you have no clue what you’re doing with yourself. Basically, I’m saying that you really don’t know what you should have done to make your 20s efficient and amazing until you’re clearly out of them. Time to swoop in and fix this mess with a ton of unsolicited advice.

I tell my students this and it’s true: your 20s are a stressful decade. In general, you are doing all the work of getting your life together. Except maybe you aren’t. As I told someone last week (which they tweeted): “You can screw up your life, just not too much.” What I meant by this is that you can make mistakes in life and recover, as long as the mistakes aren’t colossal ones. The teens and twenties are maybe not a great time to have a child you’re unprepared for, or to nurture a serious drug problem. Crazy advice, right? I’m just getting started.

And so here is my list of 23 Things You Should Actually Do Before You’re 23:

1. Move Out of Your Parent’s House – Seriously, you need to move out. If your parents want you to stay at home indefinitely then they are working through some empty nest issues. You need to move out and start your own life.

2. Learn How to Budget – Why are you always broke? Because you never bothered to learn how to budget. Get an app or open up Excel, itemize your monthly expenses, and enter in your post-tax pay. Be realistic, too, if you need $100 a month for new clothes put it in the budget and make sure you can afford it and, you know, rent for doing #1. Tip: A good rule of thumb is that your rent should never be more than 30% of your post-tax (take home) pay. In your 20s it might be as high as 50% but that needs to be short-term, not long term.

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August Wilson’s Jitney by American Stage

August Wilson's Jitney by American Stage

The American Stage production of August Wilson’s Jitney is my first August Wilson experience and tickets to the production were my birthday gift to my partner this year. Both he and my father are huge August Wilson fans, however, so I heard a lot of praise before I went to the play itself, and I’m happy to say it stood up to the hype fairly well. Note: spoilers to follow.

As for the play itself: Jitney takes place in an illegal taxi cab office in 1977 Pittsburgh run by Becker, whose son Booster is about to be released from jail for murder. The drama surrounding and between the men in the office comes bubbling to the surface, including conflicts between Youngblood and Rena (the only woman on stage), Youngblood and Turnbo, Turnbo and everyone, Becker and Fielding, Becker and Booster, and everyone with women basically. It’s not a feminist play, I’m warning you. This includes arguments, a stand off with a gun, fisticuffs, and a lot of door slamming. In the end Becker’s sudden death (obvious from foreshadowing) gives Booster the chance to redeem himself, and Youngblood reconciles with Rena, bringing hope of a life outside their declining neighborhood.

There is some discussion of racial tensions in the play including the juxtaposition of two speeches: one by Becker about how the white man doesn’t care enough about you to oppress you as an individual, which is thrown into sharp relief against the fact that Booster’s white girlfriend accused him of rape when her father caught them together, so he shot her. Becker refuses to forgive Booster for throwing his life away, and Booster realizes his father is right too late to make a difference. As the play comes to a close no reconciliation has taken place between the two men, but Booster takes up the mantle of business owner, and it is implied he will try to be the same pillar of the community that his father was.

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