Why I left Education

I was drawn to write this because a former colleague of mine, a fellow damn good educator, posted on Facebook the amazing gifts she made for her graduating students. Another colleague commented, “…and that’s why you’re teacher of the year!!” For whatever reason my knee jerk reaction was defensive. “She shouldn’t have to pay a penny to be good at teaching!” And “those have nothing to do with how great of an educator she is!!” But you know what they do represent? How much she loves her students and her job. I instead sent my Texan well wishes and thought, “bless her heart.”

I have been an educator in my soul probably my entire life. While growing up I probably would have just said I wanted to change the world. I wanted to make the world better. I went through phases of wanting to be a marine biologist or a graphic designer, but in my last semester of my English degree, I knew I going to make young scholars into free thinking stewards of the Earth! Somehow through classic literature.

The day I received my keys to my classroom. So enthusiastic. So naive.

I loved being a teacher. I was the one with the well decorated classroom with themed bulletin boards and a constant collage of well done student work. I spent hours creating my lesson plans, hours grading writing thoroughly with a rubric and feedback, and hours one on one with troubled students who needed someone to give them positivity.

I wouldn’t trade a day of what I gave my students while teaching. However, anyone who has spent a day in the classroom knows that most of being an educator has nothing to do with the lessons or the students.

Did I mention I was also a color guard director? I loved it! So did my offspring in my belly. He still loves a good horn line.

I was a damn good teacher. That’s not ego, it’s a fact. I was given teacher of the month on multiple occasions. I was promoted after 2 1/2 years to curriculum specialist for our English department. For clarification, many districts call this position a teaching coach or curriculum coach. I worked to the ends of my sanity for my colleagues to improve our curriculum and streamline tasks like data collection and novel check out. I was observing classrooms with enthusiasm and finding meaningful trainings for my department. I was constantly looking for resources for our English Language Learners, which if we’re being transparent, all students are developing academic English. That’s a topic for another day.

The problem with education, is that it’s full of people who are full of a lot of love. You don’t go into teaching for the money, despite the multiple degrees you probably have and the continuous training you acquire, often out of your own pocket. When you love what you do and who you’re teaching like I did, you continuously give. You give time. You give money. You give your love. At the end of the year, after you’ve cleaned out your classroom and turned in your keys, what have you received in return? The answer is little more than personal fulfillment.

After five years in the same district in East Houston, my husband took a job in California and we relocated. I was able to transfer my teaching credential and was hired at a small charter school in Santa Ana, CA. It’s a lot of paperwork and minutia, but it was worth it because this is what I was meant for!

Switching campus cultures is an experience. I went from a school where I owned the curriculum (the only section in our department I had never written or edited was AP English Language) to teaching at a school with absolutely no curriculum. No scope and sequence. No data collection. No interactive streamlined Google Classroom lessons with eight different add on education apps. I spent two months creating meaningful content for my students and doing my best to create connection with them so they would want to do my much more rigorous work. The teacher before me was what we called a “packet pusher”, I refused. I was going to be amazing, damn it.

So when I went to the hospital at 22 weeks pregnant and had to inform the campus I wasn’t returning that school year, I did as I do as a passionate educator and sat on my laptop in the antepartum wing of HOAG and put an entire semester of work including summer reading in Google Classroom, for on level and Pre AP sections of freshman English. I was so proud of it. I knew they would be learning and developing their language skills. I knew it was awesome. I expected some kind of at least thank you. The response email from the department head was, “This isn’t really freshman level work, it’s really over their heads. We’ll take care of things. You just focus on resting!” I never heard back from anyone outside of administration.

It didn’t matter. My effort and passion and love for my craft didn’t matter.

My students made me a meme once. I still find it HILARIOUS.

I knew deep down, especially because I had been on hiring committees and replaced teachers as a curriculum specialist, that there would always be someone else to do the work. To check the check boxes. To data dig. To color the name plates at in-service. To copy the lesson plans. To burn the candle at all ends for the one chance ONE lost student would progress. No matter how hard I loved education, it would go on without me.

I applied for probably 20-25 English positions after Owen was old enough to go to daycare. I had five interviews. Two of them I learned had hired first year teachers to fill the positions. Twice the same district interviewed me and gave me GLOWING rejection emails to hire newer teachers that had been substitutes. I was told by many in my Twitter teaching family I had to sub to get hired. Sub pay averages 100-150$ a day.

I decided instead that I’d had enough. I was over proving myself. I was over giving so much of myself to feel like nothing but a cog in the machine. I didn’t get a degree in English, work to get not one but two state certifications to teach, and work my soul to its limit to “make a difference” to make 125$ a day, put my fragile infant in daycare to MAYBE get a position teaching.

I’ve heard one too many educators compare teaching to an abusive relationship. The exchanges of “but I love it” and “it’s what I was meant for” over shadowed by administration subtly hinting “if you loved me you would…” The ellipses, if you’ve taught you know, are full of self sacrifice.

It shouldn’t be that way. So until we decide as a society to divide the work of creating a productive and educated nation between parent and student and educator and to compensate all educators fairly for their level of education and offering of self service. I’m done.

Right now I’m putting a minimal amount of effort into an Etsy shop while homeschooling my son. I’ll probably, inevitably, end up in technical writing for a company with good benefits. That’s what English majors do, edit or teach.

An additional note: For all of my fellow passionate educators who worked their sanity to pieces this semester working remotely- I see you and the hard work you’ve done and I have an immense amount of respect for you. I hope you’re taking care of yourselves as much as you do your students.

Motherhood & Identity

In life, there are a few milestones where you really question identity. Adolescence, of course. Marriage. Parenthood. Retirement. For those who aren’t living the traditional linear expectation model, it may be a particular birthdate or promotion that creates this existential crisis of “Who am I?”

When I had my first son, I tried my damnedest not to let motherhood change me. I wanted to be the woman who was still herself, but also had a child. I tried to add on the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage without personal sacrifice, and was so fooled. Over time I gave up being a color guard director, I stopped staying for after school tutorials with my students, I stopped trying to do adult activities with my friends. More and more of my free time was spent as a family, and we were happy. There was nothing wrong with the transition in the moments it was happening. I adopted the identity of mother and wife and embraced them.

However, very innocently, about 5 months ago my husband made the passing comment, “Before you met me you were just an English teacher.”

Was I?

Was I JUST an English teacher?

Compound this statement with giving up my career and village in Texas to relocate to California. Compound it with a 50 day hospital stay in antepartum. Then compound it with a 59 day wait for my son in the NICU. Needless to say, I’m working through some shit.

Now that my son is home, my family is together, and I’m “fun”employed or on maternity leave, however you want to perceive it, I can feel myself longing for the person who was ‘just’ an English teacher. There is something about the label of ‘mother’ and ‘wife’ that just aren’t enough for me right now. I need to be able to point to an accomplishment that is solely my own and say “LOOK! I DID THAT! ITS MINEEEeeee.”

From my perspective, I wasn’t JUST an English teacher. I was more than that. I was passionate, I was political, I was environmental, I was a dancer, I was a photographer. I loved live music and craft Texas beer with my friends. I was drawn to artists and musicians and creatives; other liberal arts junkies who spent too much money on a degree to never have the career to it pay off. We sat around on old couches in indie coffee shops and solved the world’s problems. I was interesting, and outgoing, and fun, and positive.

Favorite representation of me- pre marriage and babies.

Now I stand at preschool functions making random small talk in hopes another mom will befriend me. Now I send mom memes to the women who used to watch live music and go dancing with me to try and keep a hold of whatever connection we have left. Now I use the portrait mode on my iPhone and pretend that it validates the art and photography classes I took in community college.

I feel boring sometimes. It feels like postpartum anxiety making me hate the idea of socializing because somehow I know I’m not going to be good enough. I feel bitter because I miss that person I used to be.

Can you be both? Can you be the person you were before parenthood and a good parent? Or do you have to lose yourself in your children?

This transition is temporary. I know that as time goes on, and I process the past 6 months, I will find a balance between who I used to be and who I am becoming. The mother of two. The Californian.

I think the most important thing to remember is that non of us are written in stone. The only constant in life is change.

I do love the happy moments with my family. I love the dinners on the back patio free of humidity and mosquitoes. I love living down the street from my in laws. I love watching my older son love on my newborn so beautifully unconditionally. But the next time I pour one out (to be honest it’ll probably just be me accidentally spilling breastmilk on the counter) it will be for the women we were before we were mothers.

This is harder than I thought…

My other blog posts were written when everything was going well. When I wasn’t having obvious complications and my overall well being was pretty positive. This is not a positive post.

Things have taken a bit of a difficult turn. Last weekend I spent two days in labor and delivery on Magnesium Sulfate to stop signs of labor. One nurse jokingly called the medication “a hangover without a party.” Basically I felt like someone had given me a strong benadryl that made me horrendously nauseous, gave me a splitting headache, and made me feel like I was literally on fire for over a day. At one point I began sobbing because I couldn’t take the feeling of the medication and I wanted to peel my skin off and go home.

I was so depressed because my son was too scared of me in that state, and of the machines, and the noises in labor and delivery to come visit. Plus, I spent 2 out of 4 of my days with my amazing Abby completely incoherent. She was, as usual, a wonderful friend and bed side nurse. It just wasn’t the slumber party I had imagined when I was counting down to her visit. Cameron is an amazing rock, and reminds me that when we got here a month ago I’d be willing to do anything for baby Owen, but ever since that trip upstairs, I’m broken and am questioning my limits of ‘anything’.

I’m on 24/7 heart and contraction monitoring for Owen, which means I can’t sit or lay comfortably. I have to lay or sit in a way that nurses and doctors can constantly monitor baby, which at 27 weeks pregnant, means I feel uncomfortable. ANY maternity book you read says, “when pregnant, don’t sleep on your back.” Guess how I’m being forced to exist? On my back, slightly inclined. I get one break a day, my shower. It feels so good to not be lying down or have the monitors slowing giving me a rash. (I get heat rash easily and the gel from the doppler makes it worse) They usually ask me to rush out of the shower so I’m not vertical too long.

On top of that, they’re monitoring my blood sugar because my glucose test said my fasting sugar was too high. So four times a day I have my finger pricked, to the result of a normal sugar level. (It’s usually between 93 and 115). However, I’m still on a limited diet unless Cameron brings me outside food. Today Cameron brought me a Five Guys burger and shake. Even after my delicious cookies and cream shake, my blood sugar was only 120.

I can’t go on a walk. I can’t go outside. I can’t put my son in bed or take him to the park. I can’t pick my clothes from my closet or choose my food. I can’t teach. I can’t even wrap my hands around my belly to feel Owen move because I have monitors covering where he is. I can’t nest and wash Owen’s clothes or prepare his nursery and I’m so done not having any control over anything.

I swear to anyone who says “Oh but you’re getting such good rest!” I will kill you. If you think this egg crate mattress and CONSTANT disruption in the middle of the night to adjust monitors is “rest”, by all means, allow me to trade you. I am a blow and go, do it all and then some kind of person and I can’t handle the vegetative, isolated, shell of a person I am.

Today, when I was denied a walk outside and began crying, the nurse asked me if I wanted to discuss an antidepressant with my doctor. I wanted to say: No, you psychopath, I need sunshine and fresh air, not a chemical. You want to know what’s wrong with me? Read The Yellow Wallpaper.

This is not to say that I’m not incredibly thankful that we made it from 22 weeks and 4 days to now 27 weeks and 6 days. The fact that I had almost no fluid and am now at a normal level is nothing short of a miracle, especially since I haven’t gone into full labor. I know that the sunshine, prayers, books, craft supplies, face masks, and love that have been sent our way have made this so much easier to handle.

But I’m not made of steel. I am not resilient against feeling alone and helpless to do something for my little fighter, Owen. His heartbeat is always in my ear, and each time it begins to slow, or drop, my heart stops too. My body is literally broken, and we’re a ticking time bomb to his arrival. Advice from doctors on what to do? “Rest, and drink water.” GREAT. Thank you. I’ll get right on that.

So if you feel the need to send us something, first send prayers for strength and positivity to make it to week 34 (that’s 7 more weeks). If you must send something tangible, make it for baby Owen or big brother Colby, but not me. A mother’s joy comes from the light she created in her children, and when it shines through their laughter or smiles, that’s when we’re the happiest.