Elegy from an Educator
I knew from the first day I entered Greenville-Weston High School I didn’t want to be a classroom teacher for the rest of my life. This wasn’t a negative thought that accompanied first-day jitters. I’d wanted to be a teacher for years. The feeling crept in, settled down and embedded itself into my being when the expectations I knew I’d never be able to meet mounted, even on the first day. I didn’t want to start the first leg of my new career with a deficit mindset, so I quickly tucked the thoughts away.
As my first year flew past, the idea of leaving the classroom faded because I discovered my passion for working with children. I realized early on that a passion for students was different than a drive to work in a classroom and teach. But the teaching? There wasn’t any of it that I loved—the planning, faculty meetings, data binders or state-mandated testing. None of it.
While there are millions of great educators that have the motivation to do all those things, I am not one of them. I was determined to give it my all until my time was up, and I still wonder if I did. With teaching, there is not really a way of knowing whether you did your job or not. My students’ success could only be indicated by standardized tests and my ability to reach them where they were, and build long-standing relationships.
Now, five years later, my teaching career has expired. I made my physical and mental health my main priorities, which ultimately became the deciding factors when I left the classroom.
Until this school year approached, I didn’t realize I had unchecked guilt for leaving. I began to worry about my replacement. Who is the teacher? Is the person highly qualified? Was the school even able find a teacher at all due to the staffing shortages in Mississippi?
I sent texts, called, and e-mailed my teacher friends to see if they needed anything for their first days. Copies? Lesson plan ideas? Wine? This was my way of self-soothing against the negative feelings I had about my career change. I’m sure we’ve all felt guilt before, even I have. But this teacher guilt was new, this constant feeling of “ I should have done more” and “I am letting my students down by making this decision” hasn’t quite waned.
There is no doubt in my mind I made the right decision. Truth is, it’s overwhelming to feel responsible for children’s success. The fear of leaving my students is palpable. There are a few things that relieve the guilt and serve as a reminder that I not only did my job but impacted students, though. Because of my new work, I connected a former student with a national organization to work on a graphic novel about adverse childhood experiences. Another former student and I FaceTimed (something that would be illegal if I were still a teacher) on the day she moved into her dorm at my alma mater, Jackson State University. Sharing that momentous occasion with her and her family was filling for me.
Still the guilt of and teacher instincts after leaving the classroom linger. The group of rowdy middle school boys in Walmart I saw recently were just begging to be corrected, if they knew it or not. While at the bus stop with my 11-year-old daughter, I heard a young girl using foul language singing a not-so-age-appropriate song; I had to suppress my teacher voice and have a conversation with myself about whether or not I would correct her. I do give looks, but that’s it (most of the time). This isn’t because these children are no longer my responsibility, but because I am able to channel the passion I have always had for them into the work I’m doing at The Lighthouse.
While I am no longer a classroom teacher, I’m still a teacher and at peace knowing my passion for our children will remain, grow and manifest into something beautiful and real.