As you probably know if you have read most of my blog posts, I decided not to immediately look for a teaching job when Drew and I moved to Texas. There were a variety of reasons behind that choice and sometimes I wonder if it was the right or best thing to do, but I can undeniably say that we have been happy to have the flexibility to travel to visit family, I have enjoyed exploring my crafty interests, and we love getting to spend time together each day that is not interrupted or overtaken by lesson planning and grading. Teaching is a special kind of stressful (open up any newspaper in America and find nearly any article about teachers or schools and you can understand why), and I can honestly say that the break has been very, very nice, and certainly welcome during this first year of marriage.
Now, it’s that time of year when we here in these United States are encouraged to show teachers our appreciation. This year it is throwing me into a tiny bit of an identity crisis. And when I say tiny, I really do mean tiny. This is not one of my sarcastic litotic moments, so don’t get too worried about me. However, I do feel a little sad when I think about Teacher Appreciation Week, especially when I see the Chipotle buy-one-get-one ads and I remember all the free food we used to get at school. Isn't that why people get into teaching? Just kidding! I mean, I still have a teacher I.D. in my car, but using it to get discounts would be akin to lying and I just can’t bring myself to do it. Plus, using a Florida teacher I.D. here in Texas would be weird and awkward.
I still enjoy thinking about my three years with my high school students. Unlocking my classroom door every day was a privilege, and I couldn’t believe that, at such a young age, I was entrusted with educating those teenagers. I really miss being able to post on Facebook all the crazy things they said and did. Now, when I talk to people about my experiences, my brain stumbles to find the right words to convey who I was then compared to who I am now. We live in a culture where many people define themselves, at least in large part, by their job title, so I often find myself saying things like: “When I was teaching,” “When I was in the classroom,” “When I was with my students.” I can’t bear uttering the phrase, “When I WAS a teacher.” It is so final and definitive.
There are some jobs that you do, and some that you are. True teachers are called to their career as a vocation. I spent five years studying and working very hard to be able to be a teacher. I sometimes do still think about lesson plans and miss “my kids,” as I called them. Am I doing myself a disservice by having not taught this year? Some might say that I am neglecting that vocation right now, but I don’t really think so. I might not be in a classroom today, and maybe not tomorrow either, but who knows? It's not like I have abandoned the career altogether, I am just doing something different for now. Besides, a formal classroom setting does not define a teacher (although it does provide a paycheck). Just ask anyone who has ever wanted a short answer from me, or better yet, anyone for whom I have answered a question with a guiding question of my own. It doesn’t get more teacher-y than that. I love spending time with my young nieces, counting, naming letters, talking about colors and animals, reading books, and teaching them what the fox says (if you are wondering, they say “wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow”). And someday I will have children of my own and I’ll do the same things with them. And I am very excited that soon I am going to be working part time in a job where I think/hope that my instincts and experiences as a teacher will be useful- it is a great opportunity!
So, although I feel kind of awkward and, at times, perhaps even guilty during this Teacher Appreciation Week, I remember that the most important thing I did as a teacher was teach myself. Not just the American history content, but I learned to exude confidence, how to interact with all sorts of people, how to roll with the punches, and how to show enthusiasm and excitement despite being exhausted and stressed out. And the patience- I learned that there is a boatload of it inside me, sometimes too much in my opinion, but I think I would rather have too much than too little. So, this week I am Teacher Appreciating myself by celebrating the things that I learned during those three years. For now, I may be a teacher without a traditional classroom, but I will never stop teaching. I will never stop being a teacher.
I would like to note how grateful I am that nobody has ever criticized or questioned my choice to take a break from teaching. My husband, family, and friends have all been incredibly supportive and encouraging. So, please know that none of this "internal conversation" was caused by anyone, I have just been thinking about it, because that's what my brain does, whether I want it to or not.
And to all the men and women who ever taught me, from pre-school through college, and those who I am proud to have called my colleagues, thank you so much for all of your hard work, dedication, and loyalty to your field and to your students. I would not be who I am today without you. And to my first teachers, my parents, you are the best I could have ever asked for. Though you did help me with my homework, you also taught me the things that will never be found in a textbook but are the most important parts of life – faith, hope, and love.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!