Thursday, February 6, 2014

Teacher Rant: Am I Really Supposed to Be Here?!

What do you do when you wake up one morning and you suddenly don't feel like you are in the right career path? It happens to the best of us, to absolutely any person from any walk of life, but it is especially disconcerting for teachers.

I spent five years in the corporate world before I decided to make a complete career shift and work with kids in a classroom. My first year of teaching was, like any other first-time teacher, the most difficult year of my life. I had no idea what I was doing, and it didn't help that I decided to work for a start-up charter school. It was exciting and I thought that I knew exactly what it took to survive the start-up world, but when it comes to a brand new school with an entire community expecting it to be the best thing that's ever happened in town, well, let's just say I was shocked at how difficult it would be for a first time teacher with no resources to start off with. I left after four months and decided to work for the public school district instead.

For the past couple of months, I've been feeling doubtful about my career choices. When it used to be a joy waking up at six every morning, coffee in one hand, lesson plan in the other, now I find myself dragging my body and mind out of bed every morning. I haven't been feeling the happiness and fulfillment I used to feel whenever my students master a skill. I find myself complaining more and more about my measly teacher's salary, something that honestly didn't use to bother me at all, because at the end of the day, it was all about helping my kids and their families.

It's disconcerting because when a teacher quits, she also quits on a group of kids depending on her. She quits on a community of parents and guardians who have put their trust on a complete stranger to educate and mold the minds of their children. It's disconcerting because teaching shouldn't be just a job that helps pay bills. If your sense of fulfillment comes from financial gain, then teaching isn't for you. But now I find myself wanting and needing more money in order to get more satisfaction out of my job.

In other words, no joy, no money, means that there is also no satisfaction in my life.

I know it sounds silly, but it is all very real. Too real sometimes.

I haven't quit. I still wake up at six each morning and push myself to teach in the best of my abilities, given this current depression I'm in. But now, it feels like a job, not a calling. My current mindset that keeps me from giving up goes something like this:

Wake up! You need to pay for groceries, rent, cable, car insurance, credit card, etc. My job now equals financial gain and daily survival. No matter how little I get, it keeps me, my husband, and dog alive.

Wake up! Showing up for your students is better than a substitute teacher doing god-knows-what in your classroom. Every time a substitute teacher comes in, either when I'm out sick or at a training, I always, always fall one day behind a lesson. It adds more stress to my already stressful work life.

Wake up! Your evaluation depends on your attendance. Yes, our state has decided that a teacher's attendance record defines how good she is as an educator.

Wake up! You're running out of sick days! I'm out of sick days.

Wake up! There's really nothing else for you out there. It's true. I live in a small town, in one of the poorest cities in America. You're lucky if you find a job that pays slightly above minimum wage. You're lucky to land any job at all.

Wake up! You're too old to get all flaky about career choices like you did in your early twenties. Unless you come from a wealthy family, own a hefty trust fund, and you don't have to worry about the daily responsibilities of a regular, middle-class household, dreams to open up your own business, or moving to the state of your dreams, or trying to reach any dream at all, will always be put on hold.

This last frame of mind is the most depressing way any person in their twenties could ever think about life. Deep inside, I know that's not true. Whatever your position in life, no matter how much or how little you have in your savings account, I think every person in this world deserves to follow their dreams. I really can't judge a person who is pursuing their dreams, even though older folks think this "do what you love; reach your dreams" undertaking is a product of a spoiled generation. At the end of the day, I want my future kids to grow up fearless and unbridled when it comes to doing what they love, with no judgment. The problem is, I know I would put that same judgment on myself if I decide to pursue my dreams at the expense of my current job and responsibilities.

I don't know if people out there are feeling the same way I'm feeling right now. It's a tough spot, but I try to focus on my students and helping them fulfill their dreams instead of mine. At least for the time being.

How are you guys doing in your own career path? Are you fulfilled and genuinely happy? Do you see yourself making a shift somewhere along the way? Is something keeping you from fulfilling your real dreams? Let's talk.

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