When I was in fourth grade, I watched the Challenger space shuttle explode, killing all seven astronauts on board - including a high school teacher. I then decided I was going to be an astronaut. In middle school, I made my decision even more specific - I would be the first woman to walk on the moon.
In high school, I volunteered in an elementary school as part of a course titled, “World of Education.” I didn’t want to teach; I was tired of school and ready to be done. The class was supposed to be an easy “A” for me. And it was; except, I loved what I was doing. I loved making a difference in a child’s life.
I decided I would become a teacher.
I went through college on a mission - to graduate and find a teaching position close to my home. I did both. And I have taught in the same elementary school for ten years.
Now, I’m tired. I’m burned out. I’m frustrated. I don’t feel like I’m making a difference. I don’t feel valued or respected or appreciated. And to make it worse, I’m a mom now. So I come home from work after spending six hours with other people’s children and feel I have little energy left for my own child. I feel like the best of me was spent doing things that I don’t want to do with people I don’t want to do them with. (Does anyone ever really want to spend an hour discussing equivalent fractions or the rules for apostrophes?)
So, what do I do now? I’ve got a three-year-old at home, and can’t afford not to be a two-parent-working-family. The economy isn’t exactly booming and jobs aren’t exactly plentiful.
I wanted a job, a career, that was meaningful and beneficial, that made a difference. Teaching is supposed to do that. I wanted a career to be proud of, that my son would be proud to say, “That’s my mom.”
Yet, more and more, I find myself intrigued by the idea of a more “simple” job. “Simple” meaning you go to your place of employment, work your hours, and you’re done. No work to bring home. No papers to grade while I eat a bagel in the morning. No lessons to plan after my son is asleep at night. A job that would have a definitive start and a definitive ending time.
I really noticed a change in my thinking a few months ago. Struggling with an on-going health problem, I realized that if I was told, heaven forbid, that I suffered some sort of fatal illness, I would not keep teaching. I would resign. I would not want to spend my limited time at my current profession. But, time is limited. I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t think this is how I want to spend my present.
“Dreams to Jobs” is the name of one of our fourth grade Open Court Reading units. My students come from families who practice a myriad of jobs - ranging from housecleaning to nursing. I inform my students that all jobs are important, all jobs matter. And I mean it. Now, as a ten-year teacher on the verge of burnout, I am reminding myself of this same thing. The person who works at Coffee Bean is no less important than I am. I go to Coffee Bean assuming someone will be working and able to prepare my beverage correctly. I shop at Trader Joe’s with the assumption that the food will be properly displayed and a cashier will be operating the register so that I may pay for my groceries and go home. Those jobs are important. They matter. Their importance (and stress level) is just different than that of a teacher’s.
As a mother, I think I want to spend my time differently. I want my concerns to be more about my child than other people’s children. I want to go home at the end of the day feeling like my work was appreciated and valued. (I regularly thank any cashiers and retail employees I come into contact with.)
When I was nine, I knew I would be an astronaut. I was certain of it. I was wrong.
When I was sixteen, I knew I would be a teacher. I was certain of it. I am. I’m doing it.
Now, I’m thirty-five. Maybe it’s time to try something new.
But that’s the scary part ...