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!
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.
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.
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.
This is what our “nursery” looked like for a long time. We’re slowly chipping away at it. (Photo credit: wikimedia commons).
Now that we’re settled in a more permanent place, I have the task of sorting through all those boxes that have been collecting in storage over the years. The basic home-living type boxes were unpacked early and quickly. Those were fun to open – discovering items I’d forgotten that we own, since we hadn’t used them in so many years. I opened one box and discovered a set of bowls that I’d been missing ever since we moved to Boston. We found Nerf guns, stuffed animals, camping supplies, renaissance faire costumes… all that we hadn’t used in years. It was like Christmas!
Next we purchased some bookshelves off Craigslist and unpacked our many boxes of books. There were less surprises in those boxes, but it was nice to once again be able to see what we own and arrange them on our shelves, instead of keeping it all in storage.
A friend recently sent me a book recommendation with the comment that she thought of me when she read it because she knew I had “a passion for intentional adulthood.” I don’t think I’ve ever used that exact term before, but it is a good description. Growing up doesn’t just happen. Careers, education, and success don’t accidentally appear in someone’s life – at some point people need to act, choose, and pursue the kind of lives they want. Those words all imply intentionality. Yes, opportunities come unexpectedly, and new interests surprise us sometimes, but only if we’re out living life instead of sitting back waiting for it to happen.
Passive education doesn’t even look realistic. (Image credit: Wikipedia)
For students, this means engaging in active learning and taking personal responsibility in their education and maturation. For adults, this means pursuing a goal with purpose. We can and should be intentional in our careers, communities, and families. Make the decision to achieve something, and then take the steps necessary to make it happen.
However, the problem with intentional living is that we can’t do it in a vacuum. We live among other people, and what they do impacts our lives, too. What happens when life isn’t all smooth sailing? Keep reading!
I’ve dropped a lot of hints that things are changing in my life, and I’ve wrestled a lot with how and when to make this announcement online. In the end, the best way is to just come out and say it.
(OK, deep breath…)
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m pregnant, due February 3rd.
We found out at the end of May, soon after Dan landed his job, while I was still wrapping up finals at my last teaching job. Friends and family have known for a while, but we’ve decided to forego the big “Facebook announcement.” It seems like such a personal thing to publicly announce to hundreds of people, most of whom I never speak to in real life. And yes, I see the irony of saying that on my blog, but I kind of have to announce it here. After all, I write about my life, and this changes everything. Plus, you’ve made an investment in my life just by spending time on this blog. In my mind, that’s more significant than just clicking “like” on a Facebook post. (So if you are Facebook friends with me, can we keep this news off there a little longer, please? Thanks!)
It’s taken me a while to figure out that “back-to-school” time does bring changes for me this year, despite my lack of employment. Initially, I watched the hype unfold with a sense of detachment. I walked past sale racks of notebooks and pens without feeling the urge to walk through and pick out fun new stuff. My friends went to their meetings, posted pictures of classrooms on Facebook, and even asked my advice on curriculum, but none of it seemed to really apply to me. It wasn’t until I drove past a school building and saw kids and parents streaming in and out of it that I was jolted into reality.
My plan is to sub this year. It’s my fallback when I don’t have other consistent employment, and all-in-all, I don’t hate it. It gets me into the classroom, spending time with teenagers, using the skills that make me good at what I do. Sometimes it leads to connections and more long-term work, too. And of course, subbing leads to stories that make good blog posts. 🙂