I remember being in my 20s and not really knowing who I was as an educator or what my value was. I dove headlong into committees, task forces, seminars, clubs or anything else I could sign up for. It wasn’t the wrong choice for me then. I was single, I didn’t have kids and I was trying to learn as much as I could. As I was trying to find my voice, and I ran myself ragged in the process.
The first two schools I left, it took me a while to realize it was the wrong fit and make the decision to go. I didn’t know if what I was feeling was normal, or if it was just growing pains. I didn’t know what the just-right fit was.
Now, here I am. I have a solid sense of my strengths, my goals, my worth as a teacher. I have made choices to be in a school I feel really strongly about. I am doing work I love and value.
And then the pandemic.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I have jobs I hate now. Online teacher? I’d rather wait tables. Homeschooling mom? I’d rather…every thing I stick at the end of this sentence is horrifying. Just know that I’d never choose this for myself.
Many times a week, sometimes many times a day, the voice in my head says, This job sucks and you shouldn’t put yourself through this anymore! Quit! Find something new! RUN AWAY!
[This is where I jump in and say that I need you to finish this post before you jump to conclusions. I am not saying I hate my real job. I’m saying I hate my pandemic job. Stick with me.]
But online teaching from my apartment with my kids next to me isn’t really my job. This is a temporary terrible job that I have to do until I can get back to my real job. But my inner sense of self worth doesn’t know that. It just knows that I deserve better than this. I do! And that better is my real job teaching in a classroom, at my school, to a room full of real-life middle schoolers.
And yes, I am very fortunate to still have a job. I know that. But knowing that rationally doesn’t change how the experience internally.
Cut to every day when I have to talk my inner voice off the quitting ledge.
We can’t quit. These kids need us. Our colleagues need us. We love the job we get to go back to (someday). We love living in Brazil. We love our brilliant colleagues. [Deep breath].
One thing I’m learning is that it’s both/and.
I BOTH want to quit AND I will keep going.
Maybe that doesn’t seem revolutionary, but how many people acknowledge the first part of that? Our culture tends to emphasize the positivity without acknowledging the real feelings. So, the feelings get silenced or swallowed. That doesn’t work; that only backfires.
So, what am I suggesting? I think we should acknowledge that we want to quit. Say it out loud. When teachers say that we hate this and want to quit but are choosing to stay, I want school leaders to know this is a statement of love and dedication. Please don’t police our tone or chastise us for not being a positive team player. (Magic phrase: this sucks, I’m sorry.)
I know that for some, to say “I both want to quit and I will keep working” sounds purely negative and unproductive. You are dragging us down; you’re disrespecting the work.
I propose that we shift our thinking. When people show up, listen when they tell you how hard it was to show. Hear them. Because they didn’t run away. Hear their pain, and celebrate their courage to stay.
This is part of a bigger strategy that relates to mindfulness. I’m learning that the first step to gaining some mastery over my thoughts and feelings is just to acknowledge that they’re happening. That sounds so obvious, but it’s hard.
“Oh, yeah, I’m starting to worry about that. I’m starting to panic.”
“Oh, look, I’m feeling some dread about work tomorrow.”
It’s amazing how naming it deflates it. The unspoken has so much power–name it and you take back some of that power. It’s a classic trope: you can’t outrun yourself. You’ll have to face yourself sooner or later.
So, let’s face it. Let’s face the dark side, because we withstood it for another day. The dark side didn’t win today.
Again, Glennon Doyle says it better than I can.
That’s the both/and.
Are you sticking around as a teacher even though you want to cut and run? That’s amazing. You’re incredible. You live to fight another day. I’m right next to you.
Administrators, leaders, mentors: can you have the courage to acknowledge what teachers are feeling, really listen to the struggles? Can you also hear the love and dedication implicit in their presence, in spite of it all?
Am I saying you should high five me each time you see me on campus and say, “Woo! Didn’t quit today!” Hey, I wouldn’t mind that at all.