I got a call from a teacher friend yesterday. She calls a lot, actually. She likes to use me as a sounding board as she plans out her curriculum and lesson plans. Yesterday she was formulating a plan for an independent reading project, but over the years and countless phone hours we’ve hashed through job applications, challenging students, and administration difficulties as well as mountains of curriculum ideas. Truthfully, she’s very good at her job, so my end of the conversation usually ends up sounding like various forms of the phrase, “yeah, that sounds good.” Occasionally I offer ideas or raise a concern or two, but mostly, I think she just needs to talk through whatever it is that she’s planning, and I’m an understanding ear willing to listen.
I like it. I feel like it keeps me fresh, keeps my brain engaged in a field that could have easily passed me by time after time. It’s funny when I compare our career trajectories, though. We like to say we’ve had some very similar experiences. We met in college and went through our first year teaching at the same time. A few years later we found ourselves job hunting again at the same time. We’ve both worked in an urban demographic for a year, and both left knowing that it wasn’t the right place for us. We have a similar way of relating to teenagers, both enjoy teaching literature more than writing, and share many pedagogical perspectives.
I got that pang again the other day, the “it’s back to school time and I don’t have a job” sinking feeling in my gut. I’ve felt it too many times, often enough to have a name for it.
I am glad for the past year at home. As I’ve said before, I think I needed it. But every time someone brings up how good it is that I can be a stay-at-home mom, I’m quick to jump in with the “for now.” It’s a gut response, a primal instinct to defend the career I worked so hard to establish, a refusal to let go of dreams that have been pushed to the back burner yet again. I poured so much of myself into becoming a good teacher, and I’ve haven’t really seen that work come to fruition in the ways that I’d hoped yet. Yes, being at home is a blessing. This time with my daughter is as precious as it is irreplaceable. But those dreams haven’t gone away. It’s still hard watching my teacher friends prepare for another school year. A good friend just finished training to teach AP Literature, and while I’ve loved hearing about it, man, I’m jealous!
Disclaimer: I promised this wouldn’t turn into a “mommy blog” and I intend to keep it that way. This post will use the word “mom” a lot, and because of that I debated whether or not to share it here. I decided, yes, it applies, because it’s less about my daughter and more about how I prioritize life. That can apply to anyone, parent or not.
Not long after my daughter was born, I got an iPhone. Yes, I finally caved and joined the smart phone world. I’ll admit, it’s been nice. It’s so much easier to look things up, answer e-mails, etc, one-handed while holding a baby. Plus, Netflix kept me from going completely crazy during that first month of all-nighters.. However, the other day as I sat feeding my daughter and looking things up on my phone, I realized how easy it would be to fall into that pattern. As nice as the smart phone is, I don’t want to be that mom who’s staring at her phone all the time. I started thinking about reading. Digital books are nice and convenient, but I want to read physical, paper books now more than ever. I want my daughter to see me reading, not staring at a phone. That led me to the whole concept of leading by example. So much of my adult life has been defined by my career and my role as a wife. Entrance into motherhood seems like a good time to take another look at my life-priorities and how I spend my time. What traits do I want my daughter to see modeled in me and learn from me as she grows up? I grabbed a piece of paper (which was thankfully within arm’s reach) and started jotting down the kind of mom – the kind of person – that I want to be.
I went into “application mode” yesterday. It’s a weird mental zone teachers must enter to fill out their pages and pages of job applications. Adults in other professions, give me some perspective. Do job applications in other fields come with an average of 12 essay questions attached? (That’s a literal number, not an exaggeration.) In addition to the standard questions about training, work history, and individual strengths and weaknesses, do you have to elaborate on things like educational philosophies, disciplinary and instructional strategies, and hypothetical interpersonal situations for pages at a time? Or are teachers alone in this? And of course, the questions are just different enough that I can’t simply copy and paste answers between one application and another. I shudder to think of the number of hours of my life I’ve spent simply on job application essay questions.
I should write something.
That thought has passed through my head multiple times over the past few *ahem* months since my last update. I’ve tried a few times. I came close to a complete post once, but nothing ever came to fruition. And yet, I still keep getting new followers and new comments on old posts, constant reminders that my blog isn’t dead yet, and I really should do something to make sure it stays that way. So here I am.
While I haven’t been writing about it, my career has been on my mind a lot lately. Gwen is over three months old. If I’d had a job this year, I’d be done with maternity leave by now. I’d be back in the classroom instead of home with her, watching her grow and change with each new day. I’m so glad I have this time with her.
And, if I’m honest, I’m glad I’ve had this time, period. I think back to my mental state this time last year. I was feeling the culmination of six years of sacrifice, heartache, and uncertainty – and I was a mess. I kept that mess pretty well hidden most of the time. I projected the happy, confident teacher persona that carried me so well through so many other jobs and schools. I clung to the “just keep moving forward” focus that had been my defense mechanism for so many years.
Hanging on our wall next to our wedding photos is another picture of Dan and I, taken exactly eleven years ago on Feb. 7th, 2004. It’s us on our first date – an 18 year old me in a recycled prom dress with a 20 year old Dan before he rocked his current beard-and-shaved-head style. We look so different, so young. At least in our wedding photos he’s sporting the beard.
I see that picture every day and think about the journey that began that day. We’ve been a couple for eleven years. You go through a lot of change in that much time, and we’ve seen more than our share of adventures, as you all know. Eleven years. Ten different homes in six different states. Two doctorates for him. Twelve education-related jobs for me. Four cars. Countless sleepless nights and stressed-out prayers thrown out to heaven in desperate attempts to make ends meet and find our next step.
And now, one precious little daughter.
Subbing in three different schools at once offers some unique insight into the teaching world. I think I notice it more now because the three schools I’m in now vary so widely in size and demographic. Between my observations of teachers in each setting and my conversations with my personal teacher friends, I’ve thought a lot about an individual teacher’s ability to do their job well. What factors separate a good teacher from an average one? What’s the balance between training, setting, and natural talent? After letting these thoughts percolate for a few weeks (yes, I’m behind on my blog posting, I know), I’ve reached two conclusions.
It’s been a busy several weeks. Subbing has kept me on my toes – I haven’t worked every day, but I’m working more often than not. Most of my work comes from the neighborhood public school, which is a convenient location, but I’ve been less than impressed with the school itself. In a town of less than 3,000 people, there simply aren’t enough students to achieve a balance of attitudes. The end result is that the disruptive, disrespectful kids tend to dominate the school, creating a negative culture that often just drains me. I’ve been ignored, talked over, and sworn at on a regular basis. Not that I haven’t faced that kind of behavior before at bigger schools – I have, and much worse (at least no one here is throwing punches yet), but usually there’s also the opposite side of the coin to balance out all the negative. Usually there are good kids who band together for solidarity against the crappy attitudes and give us teachers some breathing room and hope for humanity. This school is just too small, so the handful of good kids cower in the corner or sit by in silence while their loud, obnoxious classmates overrun the school.
I had a chance to catch up with a high school friend yesterday. What started as a few random texts and an accidental butt-dial turned into an hour-long conversation catching up on major life events and commiserating about the challenges of adult life. At one point she commented on how nice it was that, even though we haven’t talked in years, we could still be on the same page and vent about similar topics. The mark of a true friendship, right?
(For instance, here’s one complaint we had in common: Unless she brings up the topic first, please don’t ever ask a married-but-childless woman if/when she’s planning on having kids. While the question seems innocent enough, the answer is often far too private and intimate for casual conversation. It opens the door to personal, financial, and medical issues – all of which are emotionally charged topics. After fielding that question for seven years myself, I more than understand my friend’s frustrations. Dear world, unless we broach the topic first, please stop putting us through those awkward conversations! OK, sidebar rant complete.)
After we finished comparing stories of uncomfortable conversations about family plans, the topic shifted to the working world. Keep reading!
Through circumstances that can only be considered coincidence, I’ve found myself reading a lot about the educational situation in Pakistan lately. OK, I’ve read two books related to the topic, which isn’t a lot, but enough to get me thinking – especially since I never really set out to learn about it in the first place.
First I read I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, because I was curious about the 17-year-old girl who became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Talk about remarkable teenagers, right?? Now I’m reading Three Cups of Tea by David Oliver Relin. My mom gave me the book because she liked it, but it ended up in storage before I got a chance to read it. After unpacking our book boxes, I’m finally able to catch up on things like this. Relin tells the story of Greg Mortenson, an adventurous mountain climber who accidentally stumbled on the needs of the children in the remote Pakistani villages. Through sheer dedication and determination, he has gone on to build several schools in Pakistan.