Last week I took what might be the most frightening job offer of my life. Thank goodness it’s only temporary, because this is crazier than the theater camp I managed, the urban school in Boston, and all my sub stories combined. Four years ago I wouldn’t have considered this job for a second. I would have laughed at the idea and wondered at the discretion of the employer for offering it to me. Even the threat of complete unemployment wouldn’t have changed my mind. It’s not in my skill set, so I can’t do it. Yet, after mulling it over, visiting the job site, and speaking to all parties involved (and then some), I accepted the challenge.
I am now a 3rd grade teacher.
Not just any 3rd graders, either — a group of nine and ten-year-olds so rambunctious that the school called me in as a Hail Mary to help them survive until the end of the year.
Technically, I’m team-teaching, so I’m not on my own, but still… How did even that happen? I’m a high school teacher; I love my teenagers! How did I willingly put myself in a room full of nine and ten-year- old kids all day? And attention-seeking, mischief-causing 3rd graders to boot. Not going to lie – it’s so far out of my comfort zone that sometimes I wonder when I’ll wake up and sigh with relief when I realize I’ve been dreaming.
However, I’ve built my career out of throwing myself into unknown, uncomfortable job situations and making the best of it. As a nomadic teacher, I haven’t had the luxury of pickiness. A paycheck is a paycheck, and I consider myself blessed simply to have been able to stay in the field of education through all our moves. That being said, this is not the first job that I’ve come this close to turning down. It’s not the first time I’ve questioned my abilities to complete the tasks offered to me. I have this ideal dream job built up in my mind — and I’ve been privileged enough to have been offered that job twice in my life.
I know what it’s like to wake up every morning excited to go to work. I know the thrill of career fulfillment, of a passion realized, and the joy of making a difference in the world. That’s why other jobs always scared me so much, and why I almost turned a few down. It’s hard to have felt that joy and fulfillment of a dream job and then face the prospect of doing something that’s way more intimidating than it is exciting. Sometimes the stress of the day-to-day grind without the personal reward got to me. Sometimes I felt like quitting, screaming, or shaking some sense into my colleagues. Sometimes I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning because it meant facing another day at a job I didn’t like. However, those scary jobs that I almost turned down and dreaded working are some of the most impressive on my résumé. The scary jobs have improved my abilities and expanded my skill set. I’m a better teacher because of them, and I’m better equipped for my dream job when it rolls around again. I don’t want to go back to them, but I’m grateful for the role those jobs have played in my life.
So I really don’t know what teaching 3rd grade for three months will do for me, but I didn’t turn down the job. I’ve been in the classroom for about a week now, and I’m still not sure what I’ll take away at the end of all this. Maybe just affirmation that I belong in the high school classroom. Maybe I’ll have a better appreciation for the elementary education students receive before they cross my path. And maybe I’ll take away some strategies that could be modified for high school. I don’t know. Maybe it will be something else entirely. I can already tell I’m not going to be converted to an elementary teacher, but I’ve survived a week and even made a little bit of a difference already. And that’s pretty cool, no matter what.
What about you? How have you benefited from not living the dream?