On Teaching: Part Two

Teaching is what I do for a living. It puts food on table and pays the rent. There have been moments where I have loved it. It was what I thought I always wanted to do. But like so many of us, the job begins to drain us of our inner source rather than fill us up and recharge our spirits.

Since the start of this school year, I have felt pulled in a different direction, and I have made the decision to quit my job and travel.

It all started on a trip I took by myself this summer to Europe. I fell in love with Edinburgh, Scotland. I didn’t want to leave. And when I returned, I decided to apply to the University there to study creative writing.

Needless to say, despite being accepted and highly considering going, I felt in my heart it was not the right decision to make. But it indicated to me that something inside of me felt called to change. Called to adventure. If not Edinburgh, perhaps somewhere else? I knew I wanted to leave my job; deeply in my guts, I knew. But why? I knew I should do some investigating before I let self will take over and get myself into some impulsive and unhealthy situation.

I thought and wrote and prayed a lot about my three years of teaching middle school English. I talked to other teachers, family members, and friends whom I respected, trusted, and admired. I asked myself, what did I love about teaching? Was it adding to my life? Was I fulfilled? Or was it a means to an end?

Did I love teaching grammar? No.

Did I love planning lessons? Not really.

Did I love reading and teaching literature? A lot of the time.

Did I love the kids? Yes. (99% of them.)

I discovered that there was a lot about teaching that I did not like and some aspects that I absolutely couldn’t stand. This has been difficult to accept and embrace. But the truth always sets you free.

I started to pinpoint my exact feelings about the profession and my role within it. The career to me is not about pedagogic practice and how well I can explain the difference between a dependent and independent clause. (I’m alright at it.) It is not about the meetings and the assessments and the overly analyzed system of implementing curriculum and classroom management. The career to me is all about the connection with the kids. At the end of the day, I discovered, that’s really all I care about. I had to admit this to myself. Even as much as I love the subject of English, I wasn’t all that inspired teaching it. (At least not to sixth graders. More there later.)

It has been difficult coming to terms with these feelings. Sometimes I experience moments of guilt and shame about it. Is there something wrong with me feeling this way? Am I cynical? Negative? Too idealistic? Lazy? The more I have investigated, the more I trust my feelings. One person mentioned to me that perhaps I am naturally skilled at teaching, and so the nitty gritty details just seem to get in the way and muck up what already makes sense to me intuitively. Perhaps.

Some teachers actually love all the details and nitty gritty and planning and organizing and research that goes into teaching. They love planning intricate lessons and making power points and adapting curriculum. I do not. I loathe it. I hate professional development conferences, even the ones on writing and literature, which many teachers claim inspire them and rejuvenate them. They don’t inspire or rejuvenate me – they drain and overwhelm me. I don’t like details and facts. I despise charts and graphs. I don’t like breaking things down and over-analyzing. I’m an INFJ. I like big ideas and abstract thinking and free-form creativity. I love symbols and themes and metaphors and deep meaning. I like authentic connections. Please, please, don’t fence me in!

I think education has become so focused on standards and perfecting the pedagogic practice, that it often loses touch with what we are actually doing: spending a hell of a lot of time with young kids. We’re like their alternate parents. We’re with them all day, five days a week. They’re in our care. Why does that time spent need to be so focused on teaching standards? I get it; students need to learn to read and write. They need to know how to do some basic math. They should learn skills of problem-solving and abstract thinking and work ethic and accountability. They should definitely start learning how to express themselves and how to write. They should be exposed to some cool subjects that may inspire them or lift them up, like history and science and art and music. I get all of that. I believe in all of that. But I believe more in connecting with them. Having fun with them. Talking to them and learning about them. I don’t like the model we still have, even in progressive schools, of teaching them something and then assessing them on it and then giving them a grade. Even if the grade is stretched out over a bunch of fluffy touchy-feely categories, it is still a measurement, and it teaches them that their worth comes from a letter or number on a paper. It teaches them to fix themselves through external work. It teaches them that their good-enoughness can be measured by someone else. And that does not jibe with my inner philosophy.

I also don’t understand why someone would want to become a teacher to scare or intimidate kids, no matter their age, and having to deal with people like this in the profession drives me nuts. Why someone would go into teaching if they don’t even like kids or are constantly at odds with them is beyond me. I don’t care how much you love your subject or have depths of knowledge in it – if you don’t treat the kids with dignity and respect and compassion, get out, man. Some teachers think intimidation is cool or something of which to be proud. They like being head honcho and big teacher on campus. They get their ego stroked. They develop double-bind relationships with their students, much like a narcissistic parent and helpless child. This is scary stuff. These teachers are everywhere and are often highly respected and revered. Striving to earn the respect of an asshole is a very American thing.

But anyway, all of this soul-searching has led me to believe that I need a break from teaching, at least for a while. Maybe I’m burnt out or disillusioned. Maybe I need a different environment or different age. Maybe I am actually being pulled in a direction that may allow me to make a living doing what I truly love: writing. Who knows. I’m not naive, and I’m not trying to complain about. I guess I am trying to express that we often have feelings come up about our current circumstances that are necessary to listen to, and we are allowed to have the feelings and listen to our inner compass. If I do return to teaching after taking a year off, I don’t expect to return to some perfect school with perfect teachers. In any workplace, there are always imperfections.

It’s really me who needs some changing, and the only way to change is to change.

So I’m going to Asia.

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