(Song Dedication: Sweetness by Jimmy Eat World)
As in ‘back in the saddle’ if it were someone else’s custom built, worn in by their britches saddle. And no reigns because they’ve either fallen off, disintegrated or were never there to begin with.
I became an elementary school teacher in 2006. I “did my time” teaching on call (TOCing) for a few months and built up tiny contracts until I had enough seniority 7 years later to bid into a contract of my choice at the school down the street from our home in Penticton. Then we moved 4 months later. Wompwomp, I know.
For many of those years, teaching felt like a calling for me (or my Ego in hindsight). In those early non-jaded days I would come home with enthusiasm to spare talking about how I finally broke through with a kid or saw incredible growth in their reading ability…my husband would sit quietly amused and finally interrupt with, …some…times in our life…we all have pain…we all have sorrow…LEAN ON ME…
We’d have a laugh and I’d say Fuck off! and come home with another story the following day. I loved it. I lived for it.
And then we began talk of starting our own family and I used teaching as my pause button. With bargaining and pleas like, “Just let me get a continuing and then we can have a baby.” or “One more year and then we can.” I did this song and dance for a while until I could postpone no longer.
We got pregnant the spring of 2010 but unfortunately miscarried 3 months later. To distract myself from the loss, I took a posting I thought would keep me so busy I’d never have to face the actuality of events. I was wrong…never became eventually. Teaching being only a pause button once again.
That year, I found the classroom composition tough, but the isolation of an unwelcoming staff far harder to navigate. It’s one thing to deal with behaviour and learning challenges because you prepare for that to some degree in the teaching program. There is however, little to no mention of interacting with co-workers who do not share the same approaches or belief systems. I suppose it’s like this in most workplaces. But I believe the climate of the staff can dictate the energy that resides within the school setting. You know, like happy wife, happy life? Happy staff, happy students. It doesn’t completely hinge on this but it has a significant impact.
So I found myself questioning my very calling as an educator. I was unhappy, I felt like an island and I had unresolved personal issues from the miscarriage and well, just read any random blog entry from the past two years and there is an onslaught of unresolved issues to pick from like an un-food safe smorgasbord…seriously don’t touch the fish.
My health was also failing; my chronic pain was at it’s worst and I was sinking into a depression like an elephant in quicksand. The rest is literally history but what I can tell you is my husband stepped up and encouraged me to see my doctor, who in turn referred me to an excellent therapist and pilates instructor (that’s right my GP referred me to pilates to manage my chronic pain), and I agreed to decrease my work week to 4 days from 5 to better care for myself. This was phase one of my self-care practice that carried me through the next 7 years of my teaching career.
In those 7 years filled with many highs and lows, we had our son in the winter of 2011 and after a year of mat leave I eagerly (because I knew how to teach far better than how to mother) returned to that dream teaching job in our neighbourhood school and shortly thereafter, life took another turn, when we moved home to Quesnel after 15 years in the Okanagan.
I found myself back on the TOC list in my hometown where we had both gone to elementary, junior and high school. Weird. I felt I had so much to prove and put extra pressure on myself to display my teaching passion and ability. I worked my ass off again, piecemealing contracts together to make ends meet, anything to move from the TOC call out to something more predictable, something stable. I didn’t know at the time that if you lack stability within yourself, no framing, foundations or levelling acts of any kind will help you feel truly balanced.
I gas pedalled my way into the contract I believed suited our busy lives best, taking a 70% classroom contract but still pouring 120% of my being into the work, leaving -50% for that other job I still couldn’t wrap my head around, being a mom.
When things that have been built on shaky ground experience continuous instability, it is inevitable that cracks will transform to crumble and that’s what happened. My cookie crumbled into chronic migraines, pain and addictions to things like work, food and shopping. The distractions no longer worked when I was laid up with migraines 6 out of 7 week days.
From there things changed. See my entire library of 85 posts to witness this massive upheaval of all things.
Today is my 85th post. Today was also my second day back in a classroom after nearly a two year departure from all things changing the world one child at a time mindset.
People wanted to know…what are you doing here? Did they force you back to work? Are you better now? Why did you give up your contract? And on and on the questions came and went as I answered each, feeling a bit exposed and entirely unprepared once again for dealing with colleagues. Again, not the students, they don’t care how long I’ve been teaching or how long I’ve been away from it. They want to know if I’m gonna be nice and if I’m gonna take them outside before the bell goes.
With two days under my belt this is what has changed: my entire relationship with the teaching profession. My appreciation for what teachers go through every single god damn day in and day out. And I AM a freakin teacher…I was just so wrapped up in myself before that I couldn’t compassionately understand that teachers are human beings that have their own lives outside the school to contend with too. I had become that compartmentalized, that I lived for what went down in the four walls of my classroom. My non-teaching life taking not even the backseat, more like a why don’t you get in the trunk and I’ll holler if I need ya? type displacement. I taught this way and it alienated my colleagues, my family and let’s be honest, myself.
And then what teachers on call have to conjure within to be on top of it, in it and ready to flow with whatever personalities cross your path? It takes courage to walk into the unknown. It is a true test of presence and I would say that I’m getting a C+ right now. It’s early days though so time will tell if I learn more and progress or become indifferent to this process all together.
I can’t ignore the contrast of my once love of teaching to the other creative journey I am also currently exploring. The fact that I could come home after teaching today and feel a meditative release as I edited some photos from a recent shoot, putting me in a better mindset than the one I left where at some points I thought someone had hit my mute button accidentally, because the students were simply tuning me out. Being ignored kinda sucks. Or that I’m writing my way though all of this murkiness right now and, feeling better for it.
I don’t know what it all means, but know this is acceptance and I welcome what I have voluntarily integrated into my life at this time (because no…no one forced me to get back in the classroom). I know I will be better for it all, and maybe a few kids will be too, because there are the ones that still want a positive connection and do listen. I will focus on them when I am there. But when I am not, I will continue to focus on me and my family. I will take pictures. I will write. I will speak my truth because if I need to hear it, someone else likely does also.