Today was music to my ears. So was yesterday. Yesterday I found out that I would be offered a contract next year after months of worry if I was good enough to teach at my exclusive private school.
It had been months of feeling inadequate, demoralized and as if I were in the wrong profession. My principal’s decision to keep me for one more year told me that he had a belief in me. He’s not good at giving praise, so I must take all the praise I need from his decision to keep me. He must see some good things in me.
He said that sometimes my classes were good and sometimes they are not and that he will be continuing to observe me next year to see if I have a permanent place at the school. He asked if this process had made me feel like the school was not a good fit for me.
Of course that was the case. In fact, it has made me wonder if teaching is not a good fit for me, if education is not a good fit for me. It’s forced me to analyze, reflect, inquire, research and dream. And I do thank my principal for encouraging me to dream even if that was never the intention. I don’t think he sees me as the curious, talented, clever, hardworking, motivated go getter that can do whatever I really want(as long as I consider what I want really carefully.)
Today was music to my ears because it was a change of pace day where we listened to music performances in the morning and do art projects in the afternoon. One of my students whose father just left the family played a piece he wrote himself. He got a standing ovation when I know he really needed it. Another one of my students is a brilliant dancer. Her legs flexed as she bounded across the stage were so strong and beautiful. She could leap in perfect posture, she had the face, the smile, the eyes, the movement, the rhythm, the beauty. The choir and jazz band filled with my students sang “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. Same old song. Just a drop of water in an endless sea. All we are is dust in the wind.”
Of course, I’m reflecting. My brain never stops reflecting. I’m wondering, Do I like watching these kids? This potential. The best of the world before the world spoils it. I care about them certainly in a broad sense. Do I want to work with them individually or in education in some other way. Do I like listening to musical performances?
I thought about the people on stage. The day was clearly much more high stakes and stressful for them. But they got applause and positive feedback and all of those things that I want. A book I picked up in the teachers lounge later talked about the difficulty that young adults have maturing and growing because so much of their feedback on their own self worth is from adolescents. My feelings of success and failure are so tied to whether or not the kids listen to me talk about math, if they do well on their tests, if they write me a note saying “Ms. Byerley, YOU ROCK” on an apple punched into red construction paper.
One thing that almost losing my job has taught me is that I need to seriously consider my life’s work. I am jealous of the parents of my students who are traveling all around the world, working as scientists, owning businesses, buying their children a wonderful education. I want to be a parent of a student at my fancy private school more than I want to be a teacher. I want their lives.
A friend recently told me that I shouldn’t switch career paths entirely and start over at the bottom. I don’t want to start over, to work in a job that doesn’t challenge me or reward me as teaching has. But I need to figure out how to leverage my skills into what I really want to do.
Hence the self-help books.
They suggest writing about your dreams. Forgive me if this is boring. Maybe just skip it.
1. What is easy and effortless for you to do? What’s as easy as breathing? Where and when are you doing it now? These are your gifts.
Clearly blogging is the obvious answer. Even during my most depressed, tired and challenging days I find writing effortless enough to engage in. I have 15 full journals. I write when I’m happy, upset, confused, inspired. We have to write comments about our students at work and I think I’m the only teacher who finds it kind of easy and fun. I’m not great at grammar, spelling, or editing but I guess I could suck it up and do those things if it was for money. Since the blog is for free I resist. I liked writing the school improvement proposal at my last school. I would like to write and publish articles about Walla Walla for my dad. I’d like to write and publish with my photographer boyfriend. Writing.
But that’s not all I’m good at and I’m no James Joyce. I don’t have ideas about stories, about non-fiction. I don’t have tombs of poetry just waiting for a bunch of snapping in a candle lit room.
Reading Wikipedia is effortless. Reading new information about math, science, history, the world is easy. Telling people about these things is easy too as long as I’m not also in charge of their bladder, grades, motivation, etc.
Passing standardized tests is effortless. I don’t have to study to do well on them. They fit my verbal and mathematical skills nicely. I once angered a bunch of future lawyers by scoring 170 on a practice LSAT and having to ask what the score meant because I knew so little about the test.
Analyzing and problem solving is easy. I like trying to come up with new ideas for my classroom. I’d much rather think about how next year I want to differentiate instruction in this way and organize students in that way and incorporate the real world in this other way than actually do it. In fact I like to problem solve so that I minimize the amount of time I actually spend speaking or engaging in negative interpersonal situations with students.
Reflecting is effortless. I spend all day with my mind spinning. I don’t watch TV. I have trouble keeping my worries and ideas out of my dreams. I have the energy to think and plan all day. I have to ride my bike to escape it.
So these are my gifts.
What was the first thing you did that you ever thought was fun, that you really enjoyed, that you felt special at? What did you like about it? How are you doing that now? These are you gifts.
When I was in grade school I had the most accumulated points on the challenge math tests at the end of the year and received a small trophy. In high school I edited the opinions section for the school newspaper and loved being a part of an organization.
In college I got a teacher a job back by creating a website disseminating information about her unjust treatment and by starting an organization to battle the school district. Writing the speeches, brainstorming my strategies, enlisting the support of others all was fun. Traveling has always been fun, especially to remote destinations where anything may happen and my blondness is entirely unexpected and out of place. I liked being on the school improvement team. I love staff development days. Studying for finals is fun in a weird sort of way because everything comes together and all the final connections are made. Same thing for writing a paper. You really have to put it all together. I love being outside. Going camping with my family is fun.
I’m doing some of these things now. I’m organizing a classroom. I’m reading about math and figuring out how to present it. I’m making broad connections and synthesizing information.
What was the first job you ever had that you really enjoyed? What did you love about it and what gives you the same kind of feeling now? These are you gifts. Honor them.
Teaching can’t count as really enjoyed. There are parts of it that I enjoy. The Wikipedia aspects of it. The talking to my colleagues. The absolutely brilliant and hilarious things that some students say. But still. It isn’t it. There has been too much struggle with my students, my parents and my administration to count as really enjoy.
I’m really enjoying helping my boyfriend start a photography business. But I only am doing the find ideas part. Not any of the actual work. (Do I get to count coming up with ideas as work? Some jobs do.)
I love thinking that I can analyze the world and see where needs are and how to fill them and to create something from nothing. I love how the world is an infinitely complicated puzzle. I love seeing how the world is connected together. I love thinking about how technology and you tube can positively impact my classroom. I get these feelings teaching special topics where it’s me and a few kids trying to figure out things about the world.
I liked working at an art foundry because I was the girl who did the random jobs. Sometimes they were awful and involved noxious chemicals and repetitive annoying loudness. But the jobs were always temporary and at the end of the summer I’d learned a lot and done a lot and on the whole it was a great experience. My favorite days were when I got to leave the foundry to go to the library to do research on a project and go collect driftwood for the horses. I also liked figuring out how to quickly and efficiently make a lot of decorations for a gala dinner. I liked the freedom of my math grant. I like doing work at Wallawo lake.
I liked welding flowers and marketing them because I was successful and received a lot of positive feedback. I never felt like an artist though. I liked writing about my travels.
Look at what you hate doing, procrastinate on, or are constantly struggling with. Write these thigns down. Choose one thing from the list and delegate it to someone else.
I hate discipline. I hate trying to get unmotivated people to work. I hate excuses and hearing them. I don’t love repeating myself or my explanations. I procrastinate on cleaning. Going to parties and being social is a struggle. Communicating with friends is a struggle. I can do it but I have to think about it. I don’t love shopping. I don’t care a lot about my appearance. I hate having no freedom. I hate being constrained in stupid situations. I hate it when I’m misunderstood by my bosses. I hate negative, miserable depressed people.
I try to delegate some of the repeating myself to the students.
List as many of your gifts as you can and rate them by how much you enjoy them.
Taking Tests 10.
Creating efficient systems 5.
Projecting enthusiasm. 6.
Solving Problems 7.
Learning new things. 2.
Creating metal flowers.
Accepting criticism. 11.
Caring about others. 12.
List as many skills as you can and underline the five you enjoy most.
Analyzing. Research Methodology. Technology. Teaching. Behavior Management. Sewing. Drama. Pagemaker. Peruvian Bus Navigation.
Interviewing. Website design. Skiing. Camping. Yoga. Repairing Trailers. Counseling. Grading Papers.
Make a list of all the things you’ve dreamed of doing.