This is something I’ve had to remind myself of almost daily since I stopped teaching.
School is about to begin, and for the past two years the first few weeks of school have been incredibly and surprisingly difficult for me. It feels unfair for me to even say that, because I know firsthand how had it is to go back to work at the end of the summer, and especially how hard it is to say goodbye to my beauties and head off to be with other children all day when I so desperately wanted to be with my own. I know there are teachers who dread the beginning of the school year for the same reasons I did.
But watching my colleagues post photos of their new classrooms and school supplies – even their vents about new principals and meetings – makes me want to break down and cry. I feel so many emotions when I see those posts. Excitement for their new adventure… sadness that I’m no longer a part of that world… jealousy for their dedication… anger over the injustices I know they’ll face throughout the year… eagerness to help any way I can… and immense guilt for walking away from it all.
I was a good teacher. It’s one of the few things I feel confident enough about myself to say out loud. I worked in inner-city schools with intense behavioral issues and almost no parental support. I loved my students as much as anyone can love children, and like most teachers I invested hours beyond what I was paid for into making my students’ days fun, unique, and educational.
But I had to step away.
My priorities shifted.
I’d been blessed to stay home with each of my girls the first year after they were born. Emily was born after my fourth year was completed, and when it was time for me to go back to work I was ready. I missed everything about teaching. Of course, I missed Emily too, but she adapted so easily to her new school and was so independent that it wasn’t hard to dive back into teaching. I noticed a slight change in myself though – now that I had my own child it was difficult to love my students like they were my own, because, well, they weren’t.
Another four years went by, and then I had Julia. She was an extremely difficult baby, and it was emotionally one of the most difficult years of my life. It was also the year Emily started Kindergarten, and as I watched her walk to class everyday it started to occur to me how much of her life I’d missed by being at work. And despite the fact that Julia wasn’t easy, the thought of missing out on her life too started to gnaw away at me.
I remember dropping the girls off at camp and heading to work the first day teachers were due back. Julia was 14 months old and Emily was 6. I tried my best to be excited about setting up my classroom, starting at a new school, meeting new people. But I hadn’t been in my classroom for 10 minutes before the tears started to fall. I crumbled to the floor, bawling like a spoiled brat. I missed my girls so much it was hard to breathe, and in that moment I would have given anything to walk away and pick up my babies. I even called my parents crying hysterically, secretly hoping that they’d take pity on me, tell me to quit, and offer to help us financially if we needed it.
I ended up surviving, but it was an incredibly difficult school year for me. I missed Emily’s open house at her school because my school’s open house was the same night. I couldn’t attend field trips or be there for holiday events because my class needed me. I saw Julia for a little over an hour a day – since she didn’t nap she’d go to bed at 6:30p, within an hour of me picking her up. Near the end of the school year Jay began working at a new job, one that required him to travel quite a bit. It quickly became apparent that it would cost our family both balance and joy if we continued the way we were.
So Jay and I decided that the best choice for our family was for me to focus on our family as a stay-at-home-mom. And it’s proved to be an amazing improvement in our lives on almost every level imaginable. Julia is much happier now, much more compliant and manageable. Emily has become more relaxed, and our relationship is better than it’s ever been. Jay is able to dive into the work he loves so much since I can bear more of the load on the homefront. And I’m no longer depressed because I can’t be with my girls.
I’ve wanted to teach since I was 6 years old, and I never thought that anything would have the power to take that passion to teach away from me. But my girls did that. They had the power. It’s also been hard to not feel like a statistic – another burned-out teacher who couldn’t “hack it” anymore. Deep down though, I know that’s just not true. I do intend to join the workforce again – I’m just not ready yet. My girls won’t stay little for long. And I can’t bear the thought of missing any more of their lives than I already have.
I’m going to send Emily off to her first day of 3rd grade tomorrow. I’m going to smile as she gets out of the car, and cry as she walks away to her classroom. Part of me will wish I was getting out of the car and walking to my own room too. But a bigger part of me will be eagerly watching the clock until it’s time to go pick her up again – something I wouldn’t be able to do if I hadn’t taken a break from teaching. <3