I am a teacher.
It has taken a long time for me to be able to come to terms with that. It was always something I knew I was good at, but it wasn’t always Plan A. Plan A was to write fiction. And then I became a feminist and realized that I wanted to be able to support myself and, unless you are J.K. Rowling, no one supports themselves writing fiction. So I moved to Plan B, which was to become a journalist. And then the Twin Towers fell and the economy crashed and the news outlets crashed with it and I realized I would never be able to support myself as a journalist. So I moved to Plan C. Teaching.
This makes it sound like I ended up with this major in English and nothing to do with it but teach, which is not the case at all. I went through Plans A, B, and C all before I graduated high school. By the time I got to undergrad, I was certain that I wanted to teach high school English. People told me that there was no money in it, that it was a really hard job, that I was too smart to teach. Sure, people also told me how wonderful and stable and rewarding it was, but they also told me all of those other things, too.
Didn’t matter. I wanted to teach. My mom was a teacher, so I knew what I was getting into. I really enjoyed helping people, which sounded like a cliché and probably was at the time, but ended up being true anyway.
Ten years later, and I’m still teaching. Still writing, too, even though I ended up taking a bit of a maternity leave from it for a while there. But it’s the teaching that really keeps me going, even though I thought it was going to end up the other way around. And, while I’m not surprised it happened this way, I definitely wasn’t expecting to end up as a middle-class, white teacher in front of 150 students, most of whom are not white and most of whom would qualify as socioeconomically disadvantaged.
(I mean, I saw the first part of that statement coming. It’s the latter part I didn’t expect. You get my point.)
Here’s the thing, though: I wouldn’t fit anywhere else. These kids are my kids. I am constantly thinking about ways to help them succeed. I’m putting in extra hours, taking on extra curriculars, doing whatever it takes to give them the edge that so many other students in the Chicago suburbs seem to have – that I, myself, had – by virtue of being born into a wealthier school district.
I tried to pull back a few years ago. It certainly freed up more time to do things like write, which I haven’t had time to do this year. But it didn’t work for me. It never felt good to scale back my commitments to my students. Don’t get me wrong – I still have boundaries. When I go home, I’m home and I’m not working. But I’ll do what it takes at work to make it work, and that is sometimes very difficult. I have a kid of my own at home. But I also have these kids at school. And I want them to succeed as much as I want my own kid to succeed. And I’m proud of them like I’m proud of my own kid. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t Freedom Writers or Dangerous Minds or Stand and Deliver. It’s just real life.
If we’re being honest, this school year has been the best of my life both personally and professionally.
If we’re being honest, this school year has been the most challenging of my life both personally and professionally.
Right now, I’m just waiting for a little break this summer, and wondering if I can have one of the previous two statements without having the other. Do I need to be challenged in order to be happy? If so, do I need to push myself to the max like I did this year, or can I relax a little and achieve the same results?
Can I be a teacher, mother, wife, writer, knitter, reader, feminist, friend, and still have time for the occasional glass of wine? Or does something have to give?
I’ve always said that women can have it all, just not all at the same time. Am I just trying to have it all and all of it right now?
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Image credit: Denise Krebs