A few months have passed since May, when I was last a teacher. I ended my 15th year as a high school English teacher by starting this blog on the last day of school. Then I spent the summer in varying stages of grief before finally feeling free of it, for the most part. People – my mom, in particular – kept asking me what I was going to do next. But all through June and July I didn’t know.
I actually had no idea whatsoever what I was going to do next.
I wanted it that way on purpose. I thought that if I completely emptied my mind, that eventually some way forward would emerge. So I purposefully spent those summer months allowing myself to feel whatever. I reflected a lot. I focused on my family and friends and fun times. Sometimes I had to force my mind to be blank.
At times, I was angry about what was happening in public education. Like how teachers are leaving the profession in droves. And how maybe the resulting teacher shortage was a concerted effort on behalf of the reformers so that we would come to rely on inexperienced teacher drones who have been “trained” by TFA or fake teacher schools (I’m looking at you, Relay!). Or how what may be coming next is the bold (read: scary and ridiculous) plan to incorporate “adaptive” technology into the classroom so as to diminish the role of the teacher, otherwise known as Personalized Learning or CBE (you can read all about it on this blog). And don’t even get me started on standardized testing and the folly of the accountability movement (see here, here, and here for some insight). Then there’s the group of billionaires who seem hell-bent on destroying our system of public education (see here and here for some background). And when you see how schools are underfunded and inequitable and how teachers are underpaid and not respected, it’s beyond frustrating. Or locally, here in Nashville, there’s an awful lot going on (hmm, grrr, argh) that makes me angry… Wait, my blood pressure is rising… Frankly, there are a LOT of things to be angry about in education. Take a deep breath. I’ll write about those things at length in other posts. But for now, relax. Count from 1 to 10 slowly…
At times, I was worried about what all that meant for my 8-year-old 3rd grader.
At times, I was anxious: Did I do the right thing by quitting? What will I do know? What will I do to fight for public education? Will it be enough?
And at times, I felt like a failure of sorts, as in I spent a lot of time and money in school training to be a teacher and now I’m just walking away?! But that decision clearly was not that simple (see here, here, here, and here).
Mostly though, I tried to enjoy this period of “empty space” in my life, this time of transition, and tried to make peace with it.
Sometime in August, a light bulb went on for me. I had established some loose criteria about what I wanted to do next in life: 1) I like to help people, 2) I like working with people, 3) I want to do work that is meaningful and/or brings joy to others in some way, 4) I need something with flexibility in scheduling and work hours, and 5) After years of making my own decisions as a teacher, I want a career where I am in charge. #controlfreak
And since my mind was really open to all possibilities at this point after several months of wandering and grieving, when I saw a friend on Facebook post about getting a massage at the Mind Body Institute, a massage therapy school here in Nashville, I suddenly had an idea. I started researching the field of massage therapy and talking to people I knew who were massage therapists, and I realized that this career met all of the criteria that I had for what I wanted. I was sold.
I made an appointment at the school to talk with the owner, and I immediately felt at home. I had that intuitive feeling that this was right. I applied, got accepted, and started school in early September.
So now, I am a student. The tables have turned. It’s kind of funny – this program is a 9-month program that goes from September to May, pretty much the same time frame I was used to as a teacher. So that was an easy adjustment. Only now I’m the one taking notes, studying for tests, completing homework, and anxiously awaiting my scores on class exams.
Those first couple weeks of being a student were full of revelations and little in-jokes for me. Like laughing on the inside the first time I had to show my teacher my completed homework and thinking so this is what it feels like to wait for the teacher to come to you to check your work! Hope I did it right. Or when I was preparing to take my first exam – on all the bones in the body – and I made note cards and studied and felt confident, and then when I got the test and freaked out for a second – this isn’t what I studied! Oh no! – before realizing it was all going to be okay. Hey, I got a 91 on that test, and I was pretty happy about that. Or when my teacher is teaching, and I am making mental notes and critiques about how the subject is being taught. Or when some of my fellow students and I stay after class to study together, and I find myself talking in my “teacher voice” as I review concepts.
It’s definitely been interesting. I guess on some level, I will always be a teacher.
I have to say, I’m loving being a student. Even as a teacher, I always felt I was learning new things, like having new revelations about literature I hadn’t had before or seeing things through the eyes of my students, so that part isn’t new. But having the space to only be a student, where I can really focus on what I’m learning, is a luxury. And what I am learning is all completely new to me – anatomy, Swedish massage techniques, therapeutic massage techniques, business principles, Eastern theory, ethics related to the massage industry, etc. – but it has been fun and challenging. (This weekend I’ve got to study 19 muscles of the body, where they are located, proximal and distal attachment points, how to palpate those muscles, and their movements within the body. It’s hard! There’s a test Monday.)
[Update: I got an “A” on my test! I’ve got great teachers!]
My experience thus far has also made me reflect on what I miss about being a teacher.
In August, when the new school year began, I felt sentimental. On Facebook, I saw teacher friends preparing for the first day, and I felt a range of emotions – mostly nostalgia with a tinge of sadness – about not having my own classroom to prepare and new students to meet.
I found myself reflecting a lot on my years in the classroom. Was I a good teacher? Do my students remember me fondly? Or at all? Did I make a difference? Could they see that I cared about them and their education, their future, their possibilities? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I realized what I was going to miss the most about being a teacher.
I will miss my interactions with students.
That is what I loved most about my own experience as a student back in the day (I shudder to think about how long ago that now seems). I loved coming to school each day and learning new things from my teachers. Sure, at times I was driven to find out more on my own about things I was interested in, but for the most part, I loved learning from my teachers. I loved that Mrs. Luckey made donuts with us in kindergarten, that Mrs. Moore encouraged me to put on these silly one act plays for my class, that Mrs. Fox gave us weekly spelling tests (and oh how I loved when I got a positive written comment from her on my test!) and cool options for our book reports (I remember making a very detailed movie poster with a plot synopsis about an Agatha Christie book I had read during my Agatha Christie phase in 7th grade)(I still have that poster), and that Mr. Moseley told us all about his travels and how they related to our study of US History. I could go on and on with examples. These experiences have stayed with me and ultimately inspired me to become a teacher because they touch upon the most important thing in life – relationships.
So now, I miss that I have no students, no classroom, no knowledge to share, no a-ha moments to be experienced as a classroom teacher. I feel a great sense of loss about that.
Even though I am really excited about my new career choice and feel good about my decisions that got me to this point, I can’t help but look back at my teaching career. That feeling of mattering to someone, of being a part of someone’s life (even if it’s only for 9 months), of caring about them and their well-being and all of the possibilities that exist for their future, of feeling proud of them and their big and small accomplishments – that teacher-student dynamic – that is the essence of teaching. The heart and soul of being a teacher. It can’t be taught in teacher preparation programs, and yet it is the single most important thing about teaching. And I miss it.