I almost quit teaching…
I was going to quit in May, move in with my mother, and search for a job that didn’t demand so much of me. Over time, I grew apathetic about everything. Early mornings, late nights, inconsistent parents, preparing for the state test, grading papers, assigning work, creating interesting lessons, closing out the year, dealing with limited resources.
I told myself I was not built for the difficulties that came with teaching. I made a plethora of excuses: I’m too young to be teaching, my facial expressions inhibit me from building relationships with my students, I’m not making an impact on any of my students’ lives but simply widening the opportunity gap.
…I missed my family. I missed them so much.
Moving 900 miles away from home didn’t seem worth it anymore. I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything I set out to do. I felt disorganized. I felt confused. The struggles and obstacles I endured crippled my vision and hazed my purpose. I didn’t care about the long term anymore. I wanted to be happy “right now,” and I felt like teaching wasn’t ever going to give me that happiness. My life felt like a series of hopeless endeavors.
I struggled with money… A lot. Along with it being my first year of teaching, it was also my first year living on my own. I had to do what the big kids do, pay bills! I was paid once a month so when the end of the month hit, I paid everything at once: rent, utilities, electricity, car insurance, cell phone. My rent and utilities were more than I could afford so I had no spare money to actually do anything fun and enjoy life. When I had $40 in my account, I had to be smart and save it for gas. I had trouble learning to budget. As hard as I tried, it was too difficult since my income was monthly.
I lived 30 miles from my school so my commute to work consumed a lot of my gas. It was nearing towards the end of the month and I was short on cash. Pay Day was three days away but that was too far for me. I needed to fill up my tank to get to work and back for the next two days. So I drove with my gas light on for a while hoping I would make it to work. Just as I was getting ready to drive onto the highway the car started shaking and the dashboard lights came on.
YUP. I RAN OUT OF GAS.
I called into work and told them I had car troubles and that I would be late. I was already prepared for this moment so I knew what I had to do. I called roadside assistance. I knew they would provide enough gas to get me to work, but the real question was whether it would be enough to get me back. I left work and prayed to every god possible that I make it to my certification class. My gas light turned on while on the highway and I prayed I didn’t bump into traffic. Somehow, I made it to my certification class and shared my experience with my closest friend. I lied and said I lost my debit card, which prompted him to give me some money for gas. I thank God for friends like him.
Aside from financial stress, I was gaining weight. I saw physical changes in myself I wasn’t used to. I was always a slim girl and would eat anything and everything whenever I wanted. My friends and family would always say “It’s going to catch up with you one day,” but I would brush them off and continue indulging in my double patty burger with large fries.
When I gained my first five pounds, I was ok. It wasn’t that serious to me. As a matter fact, I could have used an extra five pounds. But as I gained more weight, my face got chubbier and I lost all the muscle I gained from running track many years ago. I told myself I was going to work out and eat healthier but I just didn’t know how. So I addressed my problems with what I knew best: eating. Consequentially, I gained a total of 20 pounds and lost every muscle on my tiny little frame. I wasn’t used to seeing that person in the mirror. I was irritated by the “Oh My God, your cheeks are so chubby” comments. One thing the world does, is let you know about all your insecurities over and over again.
I was at the doctor’s office more than usual. My weight gain caused hormonal changes in my body I didn’t know how to deal with. I was moodier, more emotional, depressed and simply disinterested with everything in my life. I felt sluggish; my body couldn’t move at the pace it used to; I was often sick and called out of work multiple days at a time. When I visited the doctor he would welcome me with a look of familiarity and asked, “What’s wrong this time?” I would lay in bed all day as if I was gravely sick when in reality, I just had a bad cold. But when no one is there to bring you hot tea and crackers made with love, self-care is not even a question.
I saw my struggles manifest in the classroom from late March to early May. I was absent more often so my students started asking questions about my health. Some even rumored that I quit because I was tired of teaching. I became more irritable and easily bothered by any little thing the kids did. There was a negative aura in my classroom and I was the biggest contributor. When I was in a good mood, my students would make snarky remarks like “You seem to be happy today.”
My students picked up on everything. One morning I had been crying because of a terrible note the substitute teacher left about my students’ behavior. My students noticed the redness in my face and asked what was wrong with me. Of course I lied and said I had just sneezed.
I was living my worst nightmare.
I hated waking up to go to work.
But the thing about teaching is, you have to put your own struggles aside. No one is going to hold your hand. No one is going to tell you to take a break. Directions aren’t going to be repeated for you. Multiple opportunities for success aren’t going to be given. Your students aren’t going to be understanding of your day-to-day struggles. They aren’t going to excuse you for being unprepared or having a shitty lesson plan.
At the end of the day, you CHOSE this profession. And this is something that I constantly had to tell myself. I chose to move 900 miles away from home. I chose to live on my own. I chose to be away from my mother. And I chose it because I had a purpose. I even wrote down my purpose:
I teach because I want to provide students the opportunity to create better lives for themselves and their families.
However, I won’t be able to do that if I let all my struggles consume me. If I let the slightest bit of stress deter me from my path, then my purpose has been defeated and I am no longer serving my students.
My first year of teaching taught me that struggle is only what you make of it. There were many things out of my control. I wish I paid cheaper rent. I wish my commute to work was shorter. I wish my mother lived across the street from me. I wish I had my family a drive away so I could celebrate my successes with them. But the reality is that I can’t control any of those things. When I’m at work, I need to forget about all the things happening in my life and focus on what’s important. I needed to find a way to achieve happiness so that despite the obstacles going on in my life, I still maintain a smile and give my students the greatest me.
Why? Because they deserve a teacher that is ALWAYS at her best.
I ended the year on May 29th with a beautiful candlelight ceremony for our outgoing 8th graders. I grew attached to many of my 8th graders. The things I learned from them were amazing and unforgettable. They will never know how much they truly taught me.
We brought the year to an end with a poetry unit. I learned a lot about my students’ lives, neighborhoods, families and dreams. I obsessively emphasized the importance of doing well in the 9th grade so that they have a greater chance of attending a 4-year college. Many of them left me notes and letters, which I saved as mementos. During the Bridge Ceremony, numerous parents expressed their gratitude. I was very proud of that moment. To know that in four years many of my students will be entering college felt refreshing.
I learned a lot about myself.
They taught me patience, flexibility, and resilience. I told them I would never forget them for the mere fact that they were my first students. Most importantly, I learned that it is ok to make mistakes. I’ve always been comfortable with making mistakes. In fact, I prefer to make mistakes because my greatest lessons have always come from them. I was a first-year teacher. There was no way I was going to be perfect. I’m at the very forefront of my career and will never have all the answers. But what I will have is an open mind, a sense of purpose and a kind heart because without it, there is just no point in teaching.
I can’t write all of this without thanking the greatest asset life gave me: my mother. Without her help, support, love, push and kind words, I would have never made it through. I owe my life to her.
the angry public school teacher