Baby Steps

Today is my first day of classes at ASU. Last year at this time I had just finished my first "return to college" class. That winter-session was followed by a pretty intensive Anatomy and Physiology course that I completed while finishing my last semester as a teacher. Over the summer I took a couple classes including chemistry. This was actually a big deal for me and don't tell anybody, but I cried a lot. Although I ended the summer course with 100%, Chemistry has been the bane of my existence for years. In high school, it was the only class that I'd ever received a D in. I just didn't get it and I didn't know how to make myself ask for help. I don't think I actually believed I would fail. I think I just assumed I'd eventually understand the material, but I didn't.

Fast forward almost twenty years and it was the science and math components that minimized my desire to change careers. I took one nutrition class in 2011, kind of as a means to decide if this was something I was really interested in. It was, but when it came time to move into the required classes for an actual degree, I just couldn't make myself do it. Not only were some of the courses scary to me, I really didn't want to start over. I allowed myself to believe that I could keep doing what I was doing because it was comfortable, because it didn't require change, and because I didn't dislike all sides of teaching. Like I've said for years, in the classroom everything was fine.

I needed a push to move forward. And I got the fall of last year. An incident happened at school between a teacher and a couple students. I was not involved. At all. I was on my planning period, as they say "minding my own business", when I literally walked right into the middle of a heated discussion between some disgruntled students while in the restroom.

They were mad, but I couldn't gather what had happened. All I remember thinking is how their levels of frustration just seemed so unnecessary. School had only been back in session for a month or two. We were basically still in the honeymoon phase. How bad could it be? The girls, one in particular, was going on and on about how shitty the school was and how they're going to switch schools...blah, blah, blah...the same old horseshit we regularly heard out of some students who just didn't know how to help themselves. It was incredibly irritating to hear.

I know this might sound hard to believe based on some other stories I've shared about my most recent employment, but I took it personal. There were a handful of us staff who really cared. We tried so hard to circumvent a ridiculous environment to be good to the kids, to be helpful to them, and to hopefully teach them enough skills so they could be successful. It was beyond frustrating to hear this student, a student I had personally spent quite a bit of time talking and helping her work through personal issues, categorize the school in such a negative way.

On my way back to my classroom, I stopped to speak with a staff member who was our counselor/behavior interventionist, and the person to whom we went to for this kind of thing. My intention was to share the little bit of knowledge I had gathered in the restroom, acknowledging that these girls obviously needed someone to talk to...someone other than me.  I spoke for maybe thirty seconds to this co-worker expressing my concern when the little push I needed to move on in life arrived.

I'm not going to go too into detail drudging up old bitterness so I'm just going to summarize a bit and say I was yelled at (not by the behavior interventionist). I was admonished like I was a child. At no point during this person's five minute tirade was I treated as a professional or even asked my role in this seemingly blown-out-of-proportion situation. And so why did this happen? The person, this supposed authority figure, apparently thought I was talking poorly about another teacher and "sticking my nose where it didn't belong" by taking the students' side. I didn't even know how to respond. For one, I was actually on the "side" of the school, at least from my point of view and limited knowledge. And two, if I knew then what I know now, I would have been on the side of the students because that other teacher is not even someone I would consider an educator; but that's a whole separate story. However, at that point my information was limited and my "actions" (as minuscule) as they were, were merely in an attempt to seek counsel for the students, because I had no desire to "talk them down" from their anger.

Because I didn't know how to respond to this person who was making crazy accusations at me, I walked away when my tears started. I went to my classroom and just started packing stuff up. I was in autopilot. I vividly remember thinking, "what do I need to take with me" so they can't mess with it. [The "they" is not referencing my students]. I don't even know what I put in my bag. My husband met me in the hallway. He was already reaching into his pocket to give me the car keys. He knew. Bag in hand, I walked out the back door, indignation screaming loudly in my head. I couldn't think. I wasn't ready to drive...safely. I sat outside on the curb for like 45 minutes trying to calm down, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and trying to stop crying. My hands were shaking and all I kept thinking was, "fuck this place".

Many people say how teachers don't get paid enough and obviously that's all based on location and district, but this was the very first time in all my years of teaching that I thought to myself, "this isn't worth it". No one, no matter the job nor work environment, should ever be treated with such disrespect.

So why didn't I leave?

I don't want to come across all Mother Theresa-like (because that is definitely not me), but as mad as I was and in total shock of the day's events, I couldn't rationalize leaving the students. We were just getting started. I had already taught some of them for the previous two years. I knew how that school worked and most likely my leaving would have left that position unfilled, and therefore in my eyes, their education unfilled. Plus, I had made a commitment, no signed contract, but I had made the commitment to be there just as I had the previous ten years of teaching at various schools. Leaving in the middle is just weird.

And so I taught 6th period with my eyes all puffy and red from crying. The students were kind, quiet, and awkward around me, but it was okay. Although I stayed that day, and the rest of the school year, I had decided it was time to move on. On that day I wasn't completely sure what "moving on" was going to look like, but I knew it was already in motion.

Today I start at a brand new campus. I'm nervous, but I've come to realize that's just my nature. I'm also excited. One thing I know is that I agree with Albert; if I keep doing the same thing, I'll keep getting the same results. I might not know what my future specifically looks like, but at least I'm trying to make my future happen.


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