Come on, ride the train

6 Nov

August brought me a Triple Crown of anniversaries. One third of them made me smile and walk around in shell-covered beach bliss. The other two thirds left me with brief excitement followed by frustration and more career confusion.

August 21: First wedding anniversary

August 22: Tenth anniversary as a teacher on the first day of school

August 28: First anniversary as a Floridian

The combination of the latter two have me feeling especially conflicted. The 10-year anniversary of  9/11 is the only reason I realized it was my 10-year teaching anniversary. I remember clearly being a brand-new teacher on September 11. I remember being asked by a student why everyone was freaking out over something that  happened in New York and DC. I also remember not handling his ignorance very well. Ten years later, handling ignorance without losing my shit  is a daily part of my job. But there are moments of brilliance along the way to inspire you. Or just keep you hanging on for another year.

When I started teaching, I thought I’d do it for five years and see what was next. Then during year three, I started advising a publication which kept me invested for longer than I predicted. After year four or five, I started to love teaching (and especially advising), and thought maybe five years would turn into ten one day.

Well,  at the start of year 11, it’s  very one day at time down here.  As I’ve started boring myself with my own career confusion, I decided to postpone any future decisions until the end of this year.

Transition is one of those long train rides that never  ends. The train keeps stopping at every seedy station, but you have to stay on the train. It’s not your stop. So instead of looking out the window and counting the miles as they crawl by, I’m trying to close my eyes, listen to my iPod, and go to sleep. When I wake up, I hope to arrive at my destination. Or stay on the train because I like the ride. Either way, I’m searching for peace.

Before a new order can emerge, there is chaos. Similarly, whenever you are about to have a breakthrough you will experience confusion and chaos. Confusion really is a prerequisite state in order for us to have breakthrough experiences. This means that whenever you feel confused, there is something happening within you. —Henri Junttila

I spent the earlier part of this semester feeling like I was regressing, reverting back to last January when nothing made sense, and each day was longer than the one before it. This was frustrating–wasn’t I past this? The above quote I read on Dumb Little Man made me think about my confusion in a different way. Maybe I’m not going backwards, but instead to a new place  I’ve never been. And like all clarity, it has to come from struggle. The kind of struggle that has me in a mental boxing match every week, sometimes every day.

Part of me thinks I’m burned out from teaching, especially in the anti-teacher climate gaining movement in my state and around the country. In earlier times I would have completely ignored it, and followed the “shut my door and teach my kids,” mantra of teachers everywhere. But this year I’m finding that difficult–my heart is with the kids but not in my job. While I still love my kids (even when they are auditioning for the role of difficult student in an after-school special), I don’t find the same rewards from teaching I usually do.

It’s not them; it’s me.

I used to feel so lucky to be a teacher–while it was often stressful and overwhelming and full of work I was never actually finished with, I loved it. It kept me energized and creatively challenged. And my students and colleagues kept me inspired (and laughing). It never felt like a job. It was a community. A life.

This year it feels like a job. Suddenly I have so much empathy for people who feel like this all their lives. They go to a job, and their life is what they long for at the end of each day. If I’m just going to a job every day, I don’t want to do something as important as teaching. Ultimately I worry it will affect my students. And I promised myself a long time ago that I wouldn’t stay a teacher if I couldn’t best serve those kids.

My new colleagues have coping mechanisms I haven’t yet developed to survive the bureaucracy of my county and state. I watch them in awe as they trudge through the minefields of education policy, gritting out smiles even though they witness the effects of over-testing every day in their classrooms. They see the defeat of the kids who have been christened failures by standardized tests since before they can remember. My students define themselves by the 1-5  score on state  testing. The kids know they are 1’s and 2’s and they behave accordingly. It’s much more difficult to motivate my Florida students to work hard enough to improve: they have too much evidence to convince them that’s impossible. And yet, this same system will institute merit pay that will base teachers’ pay on student achievement. When you’ve set up the kids to fail, you’ve set up the teachers to fail eventually as well.

And by fail I mean stay motivated to push through the day-to-day demands of being a classroom teacher. When you care,  you need motivation. And I’ve learned this year that I’m terrible at not caring.

I’m on the train, headphones on. But sometimes I sneak a look out the window.

4 Responses to “Come on, ride the train”

  1. Jaime at 12:41 am #

    Inspiring. Comforting, in an odd way, to know I am not alone trying to forge a path down a road I don’t even know exists. Love the quote and the fresh perspective it offers. Write a book already! I’d read it!!

  2. Frannie at 10:46 pm #

    I’m struggling too. I feel like I’m stuck, and I don’t know how to pull myself up out of this rut. I’m sick of snotty students, their demanding and rude parents, and incompetent administrators. I keep wondering if this is really IT. Is this what I have to look forward to for the next 24 years? Lee reminded me today that there is so much more to my work than just the negative things that drive me crazy, but it’s so hard to maintain that kind of focus. At the very least, I’m glad I’m not alone.

  3. Jane at 8:37 pm #

    It is time, actually long overdue, that this country wakes up and realizes that standardized testing is not the answer. Freeing up teachers and students to innovate, create, dream, learn in a non-hostile environment is necessary for real learning to take place. I am all for the schools to be turned over to the teachers rather than administrators and politicians who seem to know nothing about education. Let’s make it hard on the students and now even harder on the teachers. It is all very sad really…terribly sad. The statistics of achievement in this country alone speak volumes that what we are doing is not working. Is anyone out there? Hello? Anyone?

  4. Gayle at 11:21 pm #

    I thought I would know what I wanted to be when I grew up by 35. In fact, I thought I would be what I wanted to be by 35. Thought I would have it all together. Leader at work, money in the bank, house just so, and so on, and so on. But you know I left an 11-year career and am struggling to get going at what’s next. I hope that you’ll either find something to love about teaching, something that you can get fired up about. Or, I hope the train blesses you by dumping you off at the perfect location. And when you get there, even if it’s not where you thought you’d be, I’ll be there cheering you on. Cause you’re awesome and that doesn’t change with the job you choose.

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