Lifetime Student and the Beginning and the End

When you're a teacher, a part of you never grows up. Especially if you never broke rank from high school kid to college kid to teacher kid, fall means something that maybe the rest of the world thinks of as a fresh start. Think: New Years Eve. The hallowed ground that makes you feel like anything you did before doesn't matter and you will own that treadmill and salad lifestyle! Teaching in August is similar: you're ready! Pencils are sharpened and they smell so good! Last year was horrible, so you're due for a better year! New clothes! School supplies on sale!

But June is different. As you wrap up the year and reflect on the heaven (or hell) you've been in, there is a distinct bitter and sweetness to your bubble-wrapping, text book-sorting hours. You're so close to flip flops, hoodies and jeans, obsessive cleaning/reading heaven, but there is that "I should've done" list that you harp over. And inevitably, what you'll do better in August.

I've had the hardest year in my short teaching career. I became a teacher I never wanted to be: I yelled, I cried, I argued with 6-year-olds about being respectful, I left a 3:30 without my papers graded or pencils sharpened. Moments brought me to a certainty that Starbuck's would be my employer in the fall. But the last couple of weeks of the school year made me love what I do even more. It's quite possible that being a teacher is like being in a really terrible relationship where the highs are HIGH and the lows are terrible. I always thought it was those moments that make your heart swell: a note from your hardest student about how he is sorry, hugs when they apologize for doing wrong, when they slip and call you "mama" or hold your hand in the hallway when they're just a bit too old. Those things are all great, but to see a student that used to hide underneath tables during reading centers, throw chairs across the room and fight EVERY DAY at recess begin to argue (passionately, but respectfully) instead of pound his classmates, sit (with a mean mug, but sitting) at reading group in centers and only angrily shove his chair in his desk when he's had it is the most amazing miracle and you get to be a part of it and say, with some certainty that you were at least a part of that kid's transformation. Sometimes, when you stop to think about it, you could have changed that kid's entire world, forever and ever.

That's some heavy stuff.

But wait a second. I've doubted this teaching thing since my first teaching job. Moments and stories of storybook success are rare, paperwork is driving us all crazy and legislation is not only maddening but it's downright insulting to people that give their lives to their classrooms: their money, their family time, their sanity. I packed up my classroom with fervor, and honest casualty, as packing up meant moving, adventure, HUSBAND, new life, all of the things I badly needed for a long time. And now as I near in on a summer ending quickly, quicker as the prospect of teaching in California gets dimmer and dimmer, I'm not sure how I feel.

Here comes my 1/3 life crisis. I've officially stopped applying for teaching jobs. Yeesh.

I thought I would feel relieved, but it's not that simple. A part of me longs to be the teacher I've always wanted to be: creative, fun, silly, stern and soft and honestly love mostly every minute.

I have it in my head. It's there and it involves puppets.

But after three years, I'm getting to the point where the glorified teaching moments in my head constitute for less than 30 percent of my days. The rest are filled with asinine policy, never-ending mandates that slash time to create and dampen fun and silly ideas. The part of me that's sad to leave my teacher tote behind is balanced by the constant feeling of being under-appreciated, over-worked, stressed out and emotionally bankrupt, cursing the pending "endorsements" that aren't cheap while I still labor to pay back my never-ending student loans.

There could be a difference here. I could get out of the inner city, teach in a less stressed-out, more affluent district. But a part of me doesn't really think it will matter. And as 29 years of age is literally around the corner, NEXT WEEK, I'm struggling to identify with a new career. Two non-teaching interviews next week and somehow I'm not sure about any of it. Am I allowed to hire ski instructors for a living? Can I really have a job where it ends at 5 everyday and on Friday? (What does that even mean?)  What do I even do with my library of kids books and movies, half-dried gallons of Play-doh, Christmas glyphs, patterns for puppets? Is there life beyond my flash drive full of Smart Board files?

Sometimes in life you get to this point where there are no certainties. There are multiple ways to go and nothing is guaranteed or certain or even halfway clear. But maybe in that chaos is something I really need: a wild sense of possibility that scares me so much I can't sleep. I can literally do anything I want and at least two prospective employers halfway agree. What does that mean? Maybe this is the best time to start something brand new. Maybe it's time to embrace the unknown instead of letting it scare me. For if I stayed in the same place all of my life, I'd miss out on some of the best things in my present life. Paul. Oatmeal. California.

Here's to rolling new dice, which probably means I should play craps on my birthday....yes?