The Pros & Cons of Staying or Going

This week, after regaining my senses following a month of depression, I made a list of pros & cons about my current situation. There are so many reasons that I must leave the classroom. First and foremost, my mental health will not get better until my daily routine is built around healing activities and a less stressed environment. Second, that still and small voice of intuition is screaming at me that my daughter, a 12 year old in middle school, needs me now more than ever. And, finally, my life outside of work is non-existent, as I have no energy for the good things in life after I spend it all on my students. 

The days of the past week were filled with additional stresses facing all classroom teachers. Students with learning disabilities and emotional issues demand much of the time we have to focus on teaching, as each lesson must be customized, all conversations documented, and our choices questioned to the point that it makes us wonder what the original goal might have been.

Then, the current issue of entitled children who think it’s acceptable to tell us what they do and don’t wish to do in our classroom troubles me deeply. As a teacher who works hard to accept all students and create a comfortable environment where they can all thrive, this is a new obstacle for me. At one point in time, when I entered the education field, this option would not have been available to students; they were all required to comply with teacher’s reasonable directives to complete assignments. However, my conversation with an administrator this week, regarding that exact scenario concluded with the response that “we should probably address this later, as the student’s current mindset wouldn’t lead us to a good resolution”. A phone call to the parent revealed the source of the student’s attitude, as the person on the other end explained to me how the way I had addressed the behavior (unplugging a computer on which he would not stop playing games) embarrassed him. I reminded the parent that the verbal disrespect and refusal to comply with my requests had initially drawn attention to the child as my other students were shocked by the way he’d addressed me. I’ve been told that this situation is probably not resolved, and I should expect a meeting. I lack confidence that I will be supported as a professional in further discussions. 

Now, let me remind you that my paycheck after ten years in the classroom is $2400 per month. Yes, I get the summers off. But the month or two of rest does little to build up a person who must deal with 75 different personalities every day, and the increasing demands of every year. This week (which began our Thanksgiving Break) ended with active shooter response training. While I know that these things happen, the irony of the timing of this training is not lost on me. A time that once included wishes for a relaxing break and a sigh of relief for all was focused on a presentation hi-lighting situations where evil crept into our sacred schools across the country. No specific safety plan was delivered, leaving us all a little more fearful of the environment we work so hard to create for transforming lives and building futures every day.

So, back to the list of pros & cons. My pros now consist of insurance and a paycheck. The career that at one point seemed to be the biggest blessing now feels like it is sucking the life out of me. So, this Thanksgiving week, I will spend making plans for ending this chapter.

After fighting through the chemo brain fog of the past few years, and being asked to teach a new class and learn new subject matter without sufficient curriculum each year, I realize that I have no more to give to this cause. I must plan breast reconstruction while I still have insurance, as the reflection I see in the mirror each morning reminds me that I’m stuck in my current situation due to breast cancer that occurred 5 years ago. I have given myself time to heal before enduring an extensive surgery, and I now realize I’m ready. I’m hopeful that my employer will allow me to use FMLA for reconstruction, and not consider it “elective” after so much time has passed. At one time, it would have saddened me to leave my students mid-year for any reason. But, now, I know that self-preservation must be my priority, so that I can find my way back to a life of peace and contentment. 

My hope lies in the vision I have for my future, my precious family, and a life of purpose and gratitude for all of the little things.

What a Difference a Day (or Two) Makes

School this week was filled with extras. One day, there was a duck & cover drill (in case of an active shooter) where we had to huddle our kids in the corner, turn off the lights, and remain silent as administrators walked the halls making loud popping noises, while banging on our doors and rattling door knobs. This drill sends intense anxiety through my bones as it brings up fears of “what if”, while I see the same thoughts reflected in the eyes of my students. I realize that we must be prepared for a situation like this, my heart breaks for the fact that our kids have to think about this possibility at all. I work so hard to create a “safe place” for ALL kids in my classroom, but societal norms and fears will always find a way to creep into our zone. 

Yesterday, our district held the annual community Veteran’s Day Program. It is always a huge production, complete with performances by students of all grade levels, and a guest speaker who has fought for our many freedoms. As the daughter, ex-wife, and Aunt of several Veterans, it is always an emotional experience for me. This year was no different, as I planted myself amidst the crowd of students to take in the celebration and ceremony of the event. Students around me were laughing, mocking, and talking throughout the entire program. While the highly decorated guest speaker reminded us of the sacrifices of men and women who defend our rights and freedoms, students were throwing items at one another, and complaining because it was taking too long. This was a clear picture of the stark contrast I see every day between the respect that young people have for our beautiful country and the people who make it that was. Next, I fulfilled my obligation of cafeteria duty, visiting with students who were having lunch. When the bell rang, I walked through the tables left behind by students anxious to attend the next class. Heaps of trash were left behind, and I did my best to gather and throw the items away on my way back to class, trying to lessen the visible sign of disrespect left for our custodial staff each day.

Each of these scenarios reinforced to me that there are many battles occurring in our daily lives which are beyond my control. I do believe in the power of one, but I also believe that my family deserves 100% of me. What I give every day to fight causes where I may or may not have an impact is the small portion of mental energy I have available. The time has come where I must use what I have for the improvement of my physical and mental health, and the good of my own family. I know that many other teachers face this same challenge. In this case, I am grateful for cancer as its short appearance in my life provided clarity for me to see where to aim what I have to give.