Yesterday was one of the most difficult days I’ve ever had in my career. I walked away from a job I’ve wanted my entire life. When I was in Kindergarten I knew I wanted to be a teacher. When I got to 4th grade I knew I wanted to be a 4th grade teacher. When I was student teaching, 2nd grade it was an utter disaster, but when I switched to 5th grade it was amazing! Since then I have taught preschool (so successfully that they promoted me to director within a month of being there.) A few months later (late August) we moved to Chicago land and I got a job working in a middle school in Oakbrook as a special ed instructional assistant and LOVED every minute of it. Then over the summer I got a job at the preschool where Gabe went while I was at work and again loved it! I flourished and they loved me. When school started again I didn’t even try to get an elementary job, I stuck with preschool and my 1 year old son. For the next 5 years I taught preschool though yet another move and other schools. Each time very successfully and happily. When our daughter came along Sean & I felt that it was time for me to step aside from teaching for awhile and be a stay at home mom. That lasted all of about 6 months before I HAD to teach someone about something and started writing, which led to authoring, which led to speaking and a whole different way of teaching. I loved it and was successful… but not profitable enough to continue doing it. So after 6 years of nap time writing/teaching I moved back out of our home & into the world of public education. The world I had trained for at Purdue but never really entered fully. I became a middle school special education instructional assistant yet again and yet again loved it and flourished immediately. I did that for the next year and a half while I renewed my teaching license that I had let lapse over the years of non use. All the while thinking about finally getting into elementary. It had been 12 years since I graduated from Purdue with a bachelors in elementary education and I had yet to step foot in an elementary classroom! I had thoroughly enjoyed my career thus far, been fairly successful and spent time with my children – working in the schools they attended.
That summer I put out what felt like a million applications and nothing NOTHING came back, not a single phone call. Talk about disappointment!
Wait, that’s not true, I WAS offered a high school position to teach the high school JAG careers class. But I turned it down because I was hoping for something, anything, in middle school or elementary. Then, three days before school started I got a call. One of the special ed teachers in my building had quit. While I didn’t have a sped license, I DID have a freshly renewed teaching license and a solid relationship with all the students. The next two years of teaching and going back to school to get my masters in special ed were some of the hardest of my life, but I again flourished and crushed the challenge life had thrown at me. But it exhausted me and at the end of the 2nd year I was looking to take a break from special ed and try something I had actually chosen on my own – elementary.
After MUCH prayer and guidance seeking, I applied to several schools in the area but only heard back from one district, Frankfort. Within 48 hours of applying I was standing in Green Meadows Intermediate school interviewing for the position I had waited my entire life for, 4th grade. Three hours later the principal was standing on my front porch with a sticky note salary offer in his hand bouncing on his toes trying to get me to accept their offer before even going to my interview with the middle school on Monday. While I didn’t accept the offer until Monday, I also didn’t go to the other interview either. I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up from the first moment. I was supposed to be a 4th grade teacher at Green Meadows in Frankfort.
I spent the rest of the summer holed up in my classroom making decorations, collecting books for my library, organizing and planning for something I’d waited for my entire life. I practically lived at the school, something my family did not appreciate very much. But I was playing school and in seventh heaven. Then school started for real and the pretending and waiting was over. I had real live 4th grader’s sitting in front of me fresh faced and ready to learn. From very early on I could tell something was off. The school was what I had always wanted. The kids were what I had always wanted. The position was what I had always wanted. But it wasn’t the same as before. I didn’t flourish. I mean, I was doing everything I had done before, working my ever-loving tail off, but it wasn’t producing the same results it had every other time before. My results were lackluster at best. They sent me to a training and I came back with fire in my belly. It helped, a LOT! Within a week things were working again and I was chugging along. Then a music stand fell down the bleachers and everything fell apart again. For the next 11 months I did everything I could to make things work, but they just didn’t. It just wasn’t right. It wasn’t WRONG by any means, but it wasn’t RIGHT either. Does that make sense?
It didn’t to me for a long time.
But through prayer I’ve come to understand it like this:
You know how it feels when you stand in the sun on a cold day? It’s cold outside, but you’re in the sun and it’s keeping you warm. But then a cloud comes along and suddenly your freezing! That’s what was happening. All those years of teaching preschool, adults and middle school I had been standing outside in the cold (because let’s face it, teaching is freaking HARD) but I was in the sun because I was doing what God had made me to do. But when I stepped foot into that elementary school I stepped under a cloud too. It was what *I* had wanted. It’s what *I* had chosen for myself. While it wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t right either. It was student teaching 2nd grade all over again! It wasn’t absolute failure, but it wasn’t complete and total success either. It certainly wasn’t my usual awesomeness, that’s for sure! So, after about 2 months into this school year I finally recognized my folly and started looking for other options that were in the sun. I’m praying that 9th grade English online is in the sun. We’ll see!
Last night, as I turned the lights off on what very well may be the last elementary classroom I ever teach in, the tears I’d been holding back welled, then spilled, then the dam burst and by then time I got to my lonely car in the parking lot I could hardly breathe I was sobbing so hard. I was saying goodbye to so much more than a school, or teachers, or students (all of which I loved!) I was saying goodbye to a childhood dream, lived out, but not anything like what I’d hoped it would be. It wasn’t anything like what I thought it would be for me. I sobbed, and prayed, and asked “WHY!?!” Why allow me to go through this? Why send me here only to have me leave? I wasn’t expecting an answer, but I got one instantly.
A single student’s name leaped into my heart and I knew he was right. While I had dozens of students crying over me, clinging to me, asking me to adopt them or stay, bringing me gifts, telling me I was their favorite teacher, asking for pictures with me. There was one, quietly sitting in the corner on his phone waiting for my attention. The attention he knew would be directed his way if he waited long enough. The only student who was confident enough in my love for him not to clamor for my attention. The only student whose life (I have faith) is forever changed by my presence in that school.
I wanted so desperately to save all the beached starfish in that school, but to that one single starfish, it meant the world to have a successful 4th grade year. And he did last year too. He changed me… and you know, in hindsight, that probably is what it was all about. I wasn’t there because I would change him. Maybe I was there because he would change ME. Change me into the teacher I needed to be moving forward from here.
Teaching is an amazing calling. It’s NOT for the faint of heart by any means. And I’m sorry, but for those who can’t, please don’t try to teach. Leave it to those who can. If you’re feeling like you’re in a place that’s not wrong, but it’s not right either, vacate the position to someone for whom it will be right. YOUR life, your light, your mental health, deserve to be heard. You deserve to be in your happy place in the sun. You’re hurting yourself & you’re students by staying somewhere that isn’t in God’s favor. It’s just not worth it for anyone involved. Leaving certainly isn’t easy, but perhaps it is the best thing for everyone. Pray about it and trust God to lead you where he wants you. His will, His way, His plans, are perfect including his timing! Follow Him and you will never be wrong.