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.

Teacher Confession: I’m Contemplating Huge Life Changes

How to Quit Your Job

How to Quit Your Job

Note: Below is a very personal article about some struggles that I’m having as a public High School teacher. If you don’t teach High School this will probably not be interesting at all. Stop back later for our regularly scheduled programming.

I am contemplating some huge life changes. Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, I found myself doing a newly familiar Google search: “teaching sucks.” Hilarious because a lot comes up. Turns out that teaching public school is incredibly grueling, barely rewarding, and stressful beyond belief.

When I worked at a corporate job years ago (why did I ever leave) we had personality profile tests that we had to complete. It was fun actually, my chatty office bestie had to socialize to be productive, others have to innovate and experiment in a safe environment, and I, I have to be right. Sounds strange, but basically what the profile said was that I have to know exactly what my job is and I have to be able to execute is perfectly every time, otherwise I get recalcitrant. It’s completely accurate. My house is a mess, but at work, I’m an organized, obsessive perfectionist.

When you teach public school (any maybe this is only for Florida, which is as specific as I’m going to get for fear of retaliation) you have no real, specific things to do and no perfect, accurate way to execute it. “Do a Marzano scale board configuration,” they say three days before students return after a summer of silence, not giving us an example. “Do we add it to our standard board configuration and essential questions?” “Yes.” Except I have three different class preps that each needs two dry erase boards full of space, I only have two boards, and it has to change at least weekly? Only I have about 20 minutes before work to work, during which kids want to socialize, and 30 after work, during which kids want to socialize, so I have about zero minutes a day to change my board. Is my board right? Is it wrong? Someone came in, photographed it, and left silently. What is that? I can’t care about something I can’t do right, but I’m not apathetic, I’m pissed.

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“Looking for Zora” by Alice Walker

Alice Walker’s 1975 article “Looking for Zora” (originally published in Ms. magazine and reprinted in the collection In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, 1983) follows the author on a journey through Eatonville, FL to find the unmarked grave of Zora Neale Hurston. At the time, Hurston had fallen out of popularity and died in a welfare home. A collection was taken up for her burial and her grave sat unmarked in a run-down cemetery. Walker, pretending to be Hurston’s niece, is accompanied by Charlotte Hunt, who is researching Hurston. Of the ruse Walker writes: “as far as I’m concerned, she is my aunt – and that of all black people as well.” Walker eventually finds the grave and buys a small marker for it; all the while she interviews people of Eatonville for any information about Hurston’s life. The article is interspersed with excerpts from Hurston’s writing, as well as quotes and articles about her.

The article is beautifully written and the storytelling aspect of it is a worthy tribute to Hurston, to say the least. I had intended to use it as part of an introduction to Their Eyes Were Watching God which I’m teaching right now (last book of the year!), but we ran really short on time. Now I wish I had worked it in somehow, because it’s such a pleasure to read. Not to mention the fact that it focuses very heavily on Their Eyes. Maybe I’ll shoehorn it into the curriculum somehow, if not it will definitely be used next time I teach the novel.

Note: The first paragraph of the page was written to be added to the Wikipedia page for Their Eyes Were Watching God under the “Critical Analyses” heading. I intend to add more articles later on, so hopefully it will “stick” as it were. I always worry that my Wikipedia edits will get tossed out for some reason. Also, why don’t all books have a critical analyses section on their Wikipedia pages?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Like everyone in the American public school system (presumably) I read The Great Gatsby for the first time in High School. Now that I teach said High School I had my Juniors read it and we just wrapped it up yesterday. Most of them hate it, but I hated everything then too so that’s normal. We all know that story. If you count the concurrent readings that I did, out loud, in class, I have now read The Great Gatsby five times. Not bad!

In The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway (our narrator) moves to West Egg and next to the mansion of Jay Gatsby, the don of parties most fabulous. Nick spends time with his cousin Daisy, her horrible husband Tom Buchanan, and their chum, Jordan Baker. Also Daisy and Tom have a daughter, her name is Pammy, by the way, and she’s barely mentioned. Tom is openly having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, who is a nag, and has beat down her husband George Wilson. Daisy stops caring about this when she starts her own affair with Gatsby, because they knew each other five years before, and also Gatsby has joined an organized crime syndicate to win her away from Tom. That always works. Of course Daisy doesn’t know that last part and when it comes to light she runs back into Tom’s arms and over Tom’s mistress (with Gatsby’s car no less). Tom then blames Gatsby for the crime and (at least gently) encourages Wilson to kill Gatsby, which he does, before committing suicide. If only Gatsby hadn’t replaced all his servants with mafia foot soldiers this wouldn’t have happened. Daisy and Tom leave town before they even find out Gatsby is dead and Nick breaks it off with Jordan because now shallow people gross him out.

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