Those Who Can
I never planned on becoming a teacher. My initial goal was architecture, but I veered away from that field as fewer and fewer opportunities were available within the profession. My next choice was physical therapy – it offered the blend of science and social interaction I desired plus I was drawn to the idea of helping others (I had therapists after the surgery on my hand that were very influential ). While still living in Texas, I earned over 120 hours of college credit, both through AP exams and coursework. I was in the process of applying to a program that would allow me to complete my degree in physical therapy.
And then I moved to Georgia and lost all my hours.
My ex never went to college. He was a brilliant guy, yet he didn’t “do” school very well. He started off doing manual work, mainly carpentry related. He wasn’t content to stay in low wage jobs that didn’t stimulate him. He always wanted to learn and grow. Unfortunately, San Antonio was not exactly a hotbed of opportunities for him. As long as we stayed in our childhood city, his income would be low and he would be bored. He found a job in Atlanta and moved in October of 1998. I stayed behind until June, finishing out the lease and my year of school.
I never hesitated to move. Being with him was more important than a program in school or a dot on the map. At the time it was a no-brainer. I packed up my life, said goodbye to friends and family and drove 24 hours in a Ryder truck with a pug on my lap and a sedated kitten by my feet.
I had decided to take the fall semester off school to give me time to locate a new job and to get an idea of the city and its universities. During my second week here, I ventured out onto the interstates to tour Georgia State, located smack in the middle of downtown. By the time I pulled into a parking spot in the garage, I was in tears, shaking from the overwhelming traffic and confusing road signs. Over the next few months, I grew comfortable with the traffic and started to learn the city.
I fell in love with the campus at Oglethorpe on my first visit. It’s gothic architecture captivated me and I had romantic images of studying in its grand spaces. The grant they offered me for my academic record secured the deal. That semester was great and terrible. I was newly married. We had purchased a home. I loved being back in school and I enjoyed the classes. I was volunteering at a physical therapy clinic to learn the craft and complete the required hours for admission into a program. But then my ex’s company folded and I learned that all my credits had transferred as electives, leaving me with a seemingly endless program until I would have me degree.
I had to make a decision. Physical therapy requires a master’s degree. With my credits disappearing like bubbles in the wind, that would take another 6 years. Six years where I would only be able to pull in minimal wages at some part time job. I made a decision to change my major, to sacrifice my dream for the financial well being of the marriage. I needed a program that I could complete at night and online, freeing up more hours for employment. I needed something that only required a bachelor’s degree. I needed a career that was stable to balance my ex’s career path, which tended towards ups and downs.
I became a teacher.
This was my choice. I was never forced. I was not coerced. I made the decision for us, for the marriage.
It turned out that I was a good teacher. I was the youngest ever recipient of the Teacher of the Year award at my former school. I quickly gained leadership roles and was considered a mentor teacher. I obtained my master’s degree in education, mainly to help bring my paycheck up to more reasonable levels. I loved creating creative and varied lessons that were engaging. I basked in the rewards of thank you notes and visits from former students. It was always a hard job, but I never questioned it.
He was always very supportive of me and helped lessen the load of my job. He would assist in the packing and unpacking that bookends every school year. He would carry in flats of water and snacks for me after Costco runs. He would prepare dinner and rub my feet after long days. He showed up at science fairs and PTA meetings. He listened to “teacher talk” when we were out with friends and sympathized with our trials. He helped to make a hard job easier.
And then he left.
And I grew angry.
It wasn’t fair. I felt trapped in a career that I had chosen for us. I made decisions that were the best for the marriage and he chose to throw the marriage away. I started to regret my choices from long ago that started me on this path. It became easier to focus on the negative aspects of teaching and fail to recognize the blessings.
I looked at options, looking to see if I could make a change. It was hard to accept that, in many ways, it was too late. My science classes were too old to count. I would have to become a fulltime student again for many years to complete the required courses. I simply couldn’t leave the known paycheck of teaching, especially while facing the debt he left me with, in order to make that kind of schooling happen.
I grew angrier.
I wanted recognition for my sacrifice. I wanted him to thank me for putting the marriage first. I wanted sympathy for the position in which he left me.
That wasn’t going to happen.
Although he was supportive during the marriage, that support stopped when he walked out the door.
As time moved on, my life began to fill with new friends and a new partner. None of them are teachers or have much experience with schooling apart from their own. I bristled at the comments about how lucky I was to have summers off or how teachers have it easy, getting off before 5:00 pm. When someone mentioned a lunch hour, I would snap.
I began to be resentful of my days with little to no breaks, 15 minute lunches in a room with 300 teenagers and endless hours on my feet. I wanted to be understood. I wanted to be recognized.
But not by them, the friends which were speaking from lack of knowledge. By my ex.
I still struggle with this, especially as the demands on educators increase and the compensation decreases. I find the resentment creeping in when I come home to Brock napping on the couch. I feel it when I open my paycheck to find yet another furlough. It rears its ugly head when I am tired and overwhelmed.
I don’t want to be this way. I made the choice to be teacher and I need to stop blaming him for that decision. It has been a very rewarding career in so many ways. I have been successful and, more importantly, have influenced thousands of lives. I don’t want to be angry about it. I don’t want to feel stuck. I don’t want to get frustrated when I don’t feel understood. And I don’t want to have to find external validation and affirmation for the challenges.
I’ve addressed the feeling of being stuck by pursuing other avenues – wellness coaching and writing. Although these do not bring in enough income to replace teaching, they give me an outlet and help to pad my paycheck.
I’m better on the anger. I made the best decisions I could have in those moments. I would make those same decisions again. I need to remember the husband who was supportive and understanding, not the one who spent my paycheck on a wedding ring for the other wife.
Now, I need to address the frustration. The need for validation and commiseration. Yeah, it’s a tough job. Lots of jobs are. I’d love it if it would pay more. But I’m nowhere near alone in that complaint. I tire of the bell that drives my life, but most jobs have deadline of some sort (mine just happens to come every 55 minutes!). The days are long and the breaks are short.
But the rewards are wonderful. Every year, I get to know over a hundred teenagers at the brink of adulthood. I get to hear their stories and shape their lives. Although I am not a mother, I now have well over a thousand “kids” that write me and visit me, sharing the successes of their lives. I get to help people overcome their fear of math, often turning it into a favorite subject. I get to wear jeans on Fridays and drink coffee from an endless selection of gifted mugs. I can act silly and stupid with no fear. In fact, the sillier I am, the more they learn. I can help new teachers learn the craft and I can share my lessons with others (I was recently filmed by the Department of Education for a database of exemplary teaching!). I can use my skills to help improve the status of teachers in our society, bringing professionalism to a job that is frequently underappreciated.
I am choosing to let go of the anger and frustration. I am choosing to be thankful for a career that has allowed me to grow as a person and help others grow as well. I am choosing to not seek what I want from ex from the others around me; that’s not their burden to carry.
It is often said that those who can’t, teach. I disagree.
Well, I can. And I choose to teach.
But I’ll still take a foot rub if one is offered:)