“Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.” – Henry David Thoreau
For the past week, I’ve been ruminating on a lot of thoughts about my life and the direction it is going in. After fifteen sessions of intense crying, four anxiety attacks, twenty-three sleepless nights, three Sundays of looming dread settling in, fifteen mornings of apprehension and stress building up in my chest with each minute I drive closer to my destination, ten pounds shed in three weeks, ten long runs of getting lost in my head and staring at street signs, one drunk night, one canceled date, and after watching Eat Pray Love on my sofa with a box of tissues and with a bowl of pasta alfredo being shoved down my throat, I’ve realized that the career I slaved hours over in college in the form of essays, projects, and student internships, and the career I accrued $28,000 in student loan debt for just….well….isn’t for me. And that’s okay. Let me say it again so I might believe it. It’s okay.
I’ve only been a middle school art teacher for three and a half weeks and I can now honestly and fervidly admit that I am miserable. I already feel burnt out from the lesson planning, grading, tedious paperwork, weekly meetings, intense behavioral atmosphere, and from the incessant feeling rumbling around in my heart that I’m not doing enough. The feeling that these kids need more than I am giving them, but that I have nothing left to give because they’ve already drained me as if they are emotional vampires. The minute my alarm goes off at 6:00am I feel like bursting into a puddle of tears and I feel like dry heaving until it’s 6:15am and I have to suck it up and dress myself up in a façade I know I’ll barely be able to maintain until 2:30pm. The hours I’ve spent typing into Google “Reasons Why Teachers Quit” and reading all of the stories former teachers have shared regarding their own reasons for quitting the profession, has filled with minimal relief in the sense that I am not alone in my feelings. But that’s all it’s brought me. Minimal relief.
The night I came home from my first full day of teaching this year: You can do it. You can survive two more years as a teacher. Just think. You’ll have your student loans paid off and you’ll have more financial freedom. Just two more years.
A week and a half into this year of teaching: Okay. Maybe you can’t survive two years. But you can survive this year. You may not be able to pay off your student loans, but at least you’ll get paid in the summer and you’ll have some savings to figure out your next move. Just one more year.
Five days ago: *Deep breath after several bouts of sobbing.* You can’t do this. Look at yourself. You’ve cried five times today. You’ve lost ten pounds. You look tired all the time. You don’t want to paint or write or run….or do anything anymore. I think you’re depressed. It’s 7:00pm and you’re already curled up in bed, mindlessly staring at the wall having had little to eat today because your stomach is in knots. You are not happy. This will not pass. This will get worse. You need to make a change. You need…..to quit.
I never thought I would think about quitting three weeks into a school year. I was always raised to be the type of person that “finishes what they start.” Because quitting always seemed to be equated with failing. And I don’t want to be a failure, much less feel like one. And I have felt like one after the past few days of grappling with this newfound reality and the emotional turbulence it has instigated in me. Is this me giving up on the kids I’ve painfully, but genuinely gotten to know over these few weeks? Is this me being selfish? Am I just another adult in their lives that is abandoning them? Am I really a failure?
But when I really examine my circumstance and put it into perspective, staying in the profession, I feel, would make me a failure. I might be a little selfish by leaving six weeks into the school year, sure. But teaching a 45 minute class period without smiling once, and going through the motions of each day tiredly feigning interest in the stories my students willingly want to share with me, in my opinion, is failing. If I can’t be invested in each teaching day the way my students deserve their teacher to be, then what’s truly worse? Staying and being emotionally unavailable or leaving and providing an opportunity for someone who can be emotionally available?
At 25, I believe I am in in the throes of a quarter life crisis (that’s if I live to be a 100….who knows). I thought teaching was my calling. I thought I was going to be one of those retired teachers who took pride in the 40 years they committed to educating and mentoring future generations. I thought I was going to be happy exploring and discussing literature with young adolescents for the rest of my life. I had many grand and optimistic thoughts about the teaching world and my involvement in it. But after two years of teaching high school English and after three weeks of teaching middle school art, I no longer think teaching is what I’m meant to be spending the rest of my life doing. And that’s okay. That’s okay.
I’ve never been a religious person. I wasn’t raised to go to church and I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the bible. I’ll never forget how wide-eyed and disturbed a church youth service leader was when I asked her who Moses was during a vacation bible school class I was forced to attend on behalf of a family friend at age 10. The point is, I’ve never been one to latch onto religion the way other people do during difficult and tumultuous times in their life. But I do believe in the inner workings of the universe. And as cliché as it sounds, I do believe in the phrase “Everything happens for a reason.” I believe that I was meant to be a teacher for two years and six weeks. I fondly look back at the memories I built and the riveting discussions I had with past students. All the times I’ve ever been told by former students that I was and still am “their favorite teacher” and all the times I’ve ever been commended by my colleagues for the dedication and compassion they’ve witnessed in my classroom, have filled me with a euphoria that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I did make a difference in student’s lives even if it was only for two years and three weeks. That’s not something that every working individual on this Earth can say. And there are still other ways I can continue to make a difference in young adolescents lives outside of teaching.
Teaching is no longer calling me the way it used to. This article isn’t meant to be a platform for me to hammer on the education system. That will likely be another post for another time. After a refreshing and invigorating four mile run around town with music beating in my ears and with thoughts being tossed wildly around in my head, I knew that I needed to come back to my apartment today and satisfy an itch I’ve had for quite some time now. So here I am scratching the itch to write and to pour my heart out onto my computer screen with a cup of tea in hand two hours before I have to try to catch some zzz’s before waking up two hours before my alarm goes off in fits of anxiety about the impending school day. And what I’ve come to terms with after a week of being miserable and uncertain about my life and where it’s going is this: Life is too damn short to be unhappy.
Some people might tell me that I’m being reckless, callous, impractical….whatever adjective they’ve decided to label me as. These people would shake their heads and tell me that it will get better and to just suck it up and finish out the school year. But what these people don’t understand is that they are asking me to be unhappy for an entire year. They are asking me to sacrifice a year of my life to something my heart and my mind just isn’t for anymore. They are asking me to potentially see my doctor and be put on anxiety and anti-depressant medication. They are asking me to spend, God knows how much, on therapy sessions and hundreds of boxes of Puffs tissues. I’m not leaving teaching because I don’t care about teaching kids anymore. I’m leaving because I care too much about it. I’ve written in a past post about the struggles of having an anxious personality. Not only that, but I’ve always been hard on myself ever since my parents got divorced. I’ve always felt like I have to prepare for everything because if I prepare for everything I’ll decrease the likelihood of dealing with hardship. I know. It’s an impractical line of thinking. But that’s what will bring peace to people with anxiety: the feeling that you can control everything. News flash! We can’t control everything, and working as a teacher just reiterates to me this frustrating reality.
Like I said, I’m not going to use this post as an opportunity to share my opinion on all of the problems plaguing the education world today. But what I will say is that education, just like many factions of our society, is filled with problems. It doesn’t matter how many nights I spend staying up late to grade papers. It doesn’t matter how many different initiatives I have to eliminate behavioral issues in my class. It doesn’t matter how hours I spend trying to create a lesson engaging enough that students will want to leave their phones in their pockets and look up. I will never be able to fix all of the problems in education today, much less any of the problems. I don’t mean that my work doesn’t matter. What I’m trying to say is that I’ll never be able to silence my mind wrangling ghost if I stay in education as a teacher because I’ll never be able to solve anything on my own. And anxious people don’t like uncertainty. They don’t like the unknown. As a teacher, I’ve often felt like a circus performer trapped in the middle of an enormous maze with only faint glimmers of light to guide me only to navigate me to a dead end.
Having anxious tendencies doesn’t mean that I don’t like adventures. In fact, I really believe that I’m ready for a new one despite how scary it may be. Sure, having no idea what I’m going to do next is terrifying and anxiety inducing. But it’s an anxiety I’m willing to work through for the sake of regaining control in my life. I feel that trying to control and solve problems in my classroom has caused me to lose control in my personal life. And I’ve realized that not having a handle on your own mental health and on your own personal life is only going to make everything feel that much more strenuous in your work life. So I’m ready to make a change and to start down a new path, one that will bring me more happiness and more inner peace.
All I know is that there is and always will be a reason why I chose to get Henry David Thoreau’s words tattooed in cursive on my back four years ago. Whether I was a senior in college on the verge of graduating or a second year teacher in the midst of a messy breakup or a 25 year old millennial on the verge of resigning as a teacher from the education world for good, I will always have these agonizing and beautiful moments of wandering in my life. If we deny ourselves these moments of self-exploration and self-growth for whatever reasons we think are better and more important, we will never reach the pinnacle of clarity we are all desperately searching and reaching for. And I know I will be a better, stronger, and happier person on the other side of this if only I have the courage to seize the unknown with confidence and faith in the universe.
I’m proud of myself for having given a little over two years of my life to trying to make the world a better place through teaching. But I am unhappy, and I can’t keep sacrificing my own happiness, my own well-being, and my own hopes and dreams for the sake of a crumbling, universal one. At the end of the day, my happiness and my own health are what are most important to me. As much as I have enjoyed delivering my daily “pun of the day” to students and as much as I have basked in the joy of creating strong and successful relationships with several young adults that I have had the pleasure of educating in my two years and six weeks of teaching, it is time for me to move on and to find a new adventure, a new spark, and a new purpose. That new adventure may be becoming a librarian. That new spark may be giving tours and educating children in a museum. That new purpose may still involve working with young adolescents, just not in a mainstream classroom. Maybe I’ll work at a bank. Maybe I’ll return to being an Ed Tech III and work in education as part of the support staff. Maybe I’ll mentor young adults in an outreach program. Maybe I’ll work toward becoming an admissions counselor at a university. Maybe I’ll go back to school for an associates degree in art or writing. Maybe I’ll finally finish my novel. Maybe I’ll paint more and spend my summers and falls selling my artwork at craft fairs. Maybe I’ll finally train for that half marathon I’ve always talked about doing. Maybe I’ll do things that I never thought I was capable of or interested in pursuing before.
Sure, I still have some student loan debt as a product of earning my teaching degree, but I know that the skills I have obtained and refined through teaching are transferable and essential skills that I can carry with me into a new career path.
For those of you who still teach in education, I have the utmost respect and appreciation for what you do. And for those teachers I have had during my formative years and for the teachers who I have worked with during my four years in education, you are amazing, brilliant, creative, and inspiring individuals that I am eternally grateful for being given the opportunity to know. I have been inspired by you, educated by you, encouraged by you, humored by you, respected by you, and appreciated by you. You have all impacted me with your strength, courage, dedication, compassion, and enthusiasm for trying to make this world a better place. I may not be trying to make the world a better place from the same viewpoint as you now, but I promise that my new adventure, new spark, and new purpose will allow me to make the world a better place with you.
From the bottom of my sad, but hopeful heart, thank you to everyone who works in education. You will always be more valuable to this world than most people will admit, or much less, realize.