I just spent the last thirty minutes lying on the floor surrounded by half-finished projects, multiple to do lists, several binders, at least fifteen notebooks, three dogs and two cats. I was thinking about things.
For instance, today is the second day for students back to school and it’s the first time in fourteen years I’m not with them. I resigned from teaching special education at the end of the last school year. I thought it would be harder.
I dreaded this week most of the summer. I feared I would feel left out, like I was missing something. Or I’d feel lonely, useless, and unproductive. But I don’t. Well, maybe I do feel a bit unproductive, but that’s just me.
Like anyone else who takes words and tries to arrange them into a compelling order, I struggle with self-esteem. I constantly wonder if I’m any good and doubt my skills. Yadda yadda.
I clung to the label of educator as though it was the only thing that defined me. Yet, I didn’t really like it. I loved the students. All of them. Especially the rotten ones. I enjoyed most of my colleagues. No matter what you do, there’s always a few irritating folks. I actually enjoyed the paperwork. It fed into my detail-oriented, perfectionist tendencies.
What was killing me was the system in general. The fact that there was never enough time. Never enough people. Never enough supplies. And, okay, that’s a drum that teachers have been beating for a long time and I know it gets old hearing it. But when I continued to hear that I was such a good teacher that they just knew I’d be able to figure ‘it’ out, no matter what ‘it’ was, I had a crisis of identity.
Because, no. Sometimes, no matter how good you are, there are some things that you can’t figure out, or fix, or change. A lowly teacher, lowest on the ladder, just doesn’t have the resources to figure out or fix the fact that, for example, there are too many students to serve in one day and she actually cannot be in two places at one time.
Yet the underlying message remained. You’re so good. You’ll find a solution. Then it dawned on me. I must not be a very good teacher. If fixing impossible situations defines whether or not I’m good at my job, then I must not be.
I know that’s not true. I know I did a good job, but that crisis of identity popped up. Having my competency defined that way raised serious questions for me. Was I really a teacher? Did I really want to do this any longer? How much more could I be beaten down before I just broke?
Fortunately, family circumstances afforded me an amazing opportunity to resign from teaching, focus on writing, and answer some of those questions. I will spend the next year making sense of all the notebooks and binders and half-finished projects still on my floor, now with dogs laying on top of them.
I’m looking for my new identity. I’m still a teacher, mentor, coach. I still love learning and sharing with others. So that’s the same. What’s changed is how I do it. I’m no longer put into impossible situations and told to figure it out and if I can’t, well then, I must not be very good. I’m all for challenge and that’s definitely what I have in front of me. But it’s an obtainable challenge. It’s one that doesn’t bring into question my competency when I’m pouring heart and soul into something.
To my teacher friends who might be reading this, please don’t be discouraged. You guys are made for this. You fight the good fight, get knocked down and then get back up to do it again. I admire you.
This is just me.
I really thought it would be harder…