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Saturday, June 20, 2015

I Just Had To Let It Go

So I’m going to just jump in and start blogging again. No fresh start, no fanfare. This is a continuation on a long journey that began nearly a decade ago. This is just the most recent permutation of my complicated relationship to writing.

Rather than try to write for a specific audience, or use my facebook account to promote my posts, I’m going to just try writing what I know, on a regular basis, using my own voice and having no expectations as to how it will be received.

At some point, perhaps, I will develop a regular posting schedule with themes and articles and all that, but for now I just want to get in the habit of writing and posting regularly again. I also have a new story to tell, a new chapter in my personal narrative.

Eight years ago, when I first started blogging, I wanted to incorporate writing more fully into my daily life.  I still have aspirations of becoming a published writer, but in this day and age that looks completely different than it did when I was a UCSC undergraduate in 1995, wondering if my portfolio was good enough to get into the Creative Writing program.  If I remember correctly, I lacked the confidence at the time to even apply. Instead, I went with the safer Literature major and later added Cultural Anthropology as a second major. After graduation, I just stayed on in the job I’d had all through college - managing the Ticket Office selling tickets for music and theater events on campus.

In 2004 I decided to leave this relatively stable job, with decent pay and benefits, to become a teacher.  Looking back, I feel like I was a completely different person at the time. I struggled with my weight and living a healthy lifestyle. I was often depressed and frequently anxious, significantly more than I am now! I drank a lot, ate whatever I wanted, and worked out only 2-3 times a week.

I was also in a major life transition in terms of my relationship. Jason and I were in the middle of an 18 month engagement, and I had a lot of anticipation about the wedding. I felt dissatisfied with something in my life yet was not sure what to do to change it.  In retrospect, I needed to go within, do some self-exploration, and really listen to my intuition as to what I wanted from life.  

Over the past few years and in the last year especially, I have been able to see many of my past decisions as being “fear-based” instead of “hope-based”. I’ve written about this realization in past blog posts. Deciding to become a teacher was, in many regards, a fear-based decision.  I never really wanted to be a teacher. I just thought that I would be good at it, could make more money, and would be able to immerse myself in something I desperately wanted to have prominence in my life: literature and writing. I was 26 years old, and I was afraid of the future. I applied to grad school pretty much on a whim. I was accepted, and a short 6 weeks after our wedding in 2004 I entered the 15 month teacher training and masters program at UCSC. I graduated in summer of 2005, and entered teaching that fall. From that day forward, I’m not sure I was ever really happy in my job. I was an excellent teacher, and in fact won my district’s Teacher of the Year award in only my third year.  I quickly rose to leadership positions and eventually became highly successful teaching one of the most challenging populations in the public school system: delivering special education services to high school students with emotional disabilities.

If you read back through my blog, which I started in the spring of 2007 toward the end of my second year of teaching, you can see glimpses of both my personal growth and of my professional struggles during my nine years as a public educator.  There were times when I liked my job, even loved aspects of it, and I certainly enjoyed working with my students, as challenging as it was.  Above all I learned an immense amount about myself and about the amazing diversity of the human experience.

In my first years teaching, when I was still finishing my second credential (in Special Education), joining committees, trying to effect systemic change and really on fire with enthusiasm and ideas, I was warned by veteran teachers to pace myself or I would burn out. My perfectionist tendencies made it extremely difficult for me to move forward with tasks being just “good enough”, and unfortunately the nature of public school teaching today is that, indeed, “good enough” is the best you can hope for due to time and budgetary restraints. There just aren’t enough resources available to do the job correctly or, in many instances, to even maintain professional integrity. Compromise is the name of the game, and what gets compromised is different in every situation and for every teacher. Some teachers focus on the highest achieving students, pushing them to achieve faster and further and inadvertently leaving the struggling learners behind. Some focus more on those who need extra help just to learn basic skills, while “gifted and talented” kids languish in boredom. A few teachers do a mediocre job with everyone, choosing instead to focus on themselves, their health, or their families. Some superstars manage to tend to the academic needs of all of their students and even the emotional need of a few, but at the cost of their own health, relationships, and mental well being. Some meet the emotional needs of their students but can’t get them to progress on standardized tests, so they appear to be “poor teachers” on paper. No matter what, something must give, because the situation is indeed an impossible one as it is currently structured, funded, and measured for success.

In my case, performing at such a high level in such a difficult assignment for the length of time I did eventually forced me to compromise my mental health. I did, indeed, burn out and could not continue in the profession if I were to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Instead of giving energy to my own emotional needs, I was giving 100% of my emotional and intellectual energy to my students, who would take all I could give and still needed and demanded more. Toward the end of my last year teaching, I was surrounded by a chronically toxic environment that I could do little to nothing to change. There was no joy, very little hope, and my job consisted of triage attempts to stop the seemingly incessant flow of sorrow, anger, anguish and self-destruction that flowed from my students.

Last June, I made the life-changing decision to leave teaching and completely change my profession.  Doing so has cost me immensely in many ways, the most significant of which is financially.  I now make about a third of what I was earning as a teacher.  At the same time, I am happier, healthier, and more satisfied with my life than I have ever been.

John Lennon, in his single “Watching the Wheels”, talks about his decision to leave his life of fame, touring, and recording for a life of domesticity.  He writes:
I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go.

I just had to let it go.  As hard as it was to leave behind a decade of hard work in the teaching profession, I was clearly ready for a different life, a simpler life, a life focused on myself, my family, my hopes, dreams, and passions. I was ready to effect change in the world in a way that I had yet to discover and define.

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