If you played with me from the years 1976-1981 we would have played school. I would have been the teacher. And because I was a great teacher, you’d have been my pupil, because good teachers have students; the great ones have pupils.
Every birthday I asked for my teacher supplies to be replenished: chalk, paper, red apples for my desk. Every professional dream I had until I was in my 20s was to be a teacher.
I remember the day my mom told me that I didn’t have to be a nun to be a teacher, which was my mis-impression from years of Catholic schooling. I almost choked on my Tang. Why didn’t you tell me? I can teach and marry Tad Martin from All My Children? It was the best day of my first decade of life.
My career path was settled. Eventually, I honed in on my discipline– English. I could picture my future Christmas trees decorated with hand-painted apples that my students made for me. I’d have a whole jewelry box full of education-themed charms and brooches.
And yet twice I’d walked away from the profession.
After a student teaching stint in rural Texas I got cold feet. The students were bigger than I was, and it seemed like there were hundreds of them crammed into desks. There weren’t enough books! I couldn’t believe the state of public education. I couldn’t stomach the penury of teaching in a private school. Subjectively, it didn’t feel like I always thought it would. Real life teaching had to live up to two decades of fantasies and dozens of influential teachers like Sister Annel, Senora Benke, and Ms. VanHoozer.
So I bailed. I dashed off to graduate school so I could become a professor. Maybe if I teach at the college level it will feel “right.” But it didn’t. There was too much reading, loneliness, and pressure. Everyone I knew was depressed about the publish or perish mandate. I fled the ivory tower faster than I fled that over-crowded classroom in Texas.
Today I’m bailing for the third time. This time, I am stepping away from teaching legal writing. If teaching was Jesus, I’d be Peter and a cock would be crowing. I’m teaching my last legal writing class and feeling that familiar mix of relief that the interminable grading and lesson planning is over but sadness for the realization (again) that teaching isn’t for me.
Because it’s not. Not now. Students deserve more than I have to give; I deserve to follow the barely visible trail of my true bliss; my husband deserves a life without me whining about grading papers.
I can see teaching in my rearview mirror and the little girl in me is mystified that we are breaking up again. She’s annoyed that I don’t like it and that I don’t think I should do things I don’t like. I am consoling her as we prepare our goodbye remarks and prepare to live different dreams.
It’s going to be ok, I remind her. You deserve to do something you love today not something you thought you would love when you were a little girl. It’s ok to outgrow your old dreams.
I hope I’m right!