Leaving Teaching Was Hard, but Not as Hard as Staying.
I said goodbye to my students forever, again. I’ve been doing so four or five times a week for the last few months as my decision to stop teaching became more and more final.
My dreams are full of students from eighteen years, as 8th or 10th graders again, usually. They are there to look at me sad and disappointed as I try to explain my goodbye, one student after another after another. I wake up with another little bit of my heart scooped away.
But I had to leave.
Teaching with anxiety felt like standing with my back to the ocean. Once a wave knocked me over, it was impossible to get my feet because I kept getting hit and tossed and hit again.
I had to leave. Not because of the kids, not because of my school or its leaders or my colleagues, but because teaching is so much; got to be too much. Because it was getting harder and harder to get my head above water long enough to breathe.
Teaching didn’t cause my anxiety or my depression, but it amplified them, made it so much harder to get better. Leaving teaching didn’t cure my anxiety or depression either, but it helped.
I recently went back and read something I wrote last year, one of the last pieces I wrote while actively teaching.
I wrote then:
I wish teaching didn’t hurt.
Teaching is the best thing I can imagine doing, but it has a sort of half-life, a point at which it hurts more than it doesn’t.
Mine snuck up on me, and here I am. I reached for my fight and there was none there. It had never been empty before.
I have never finished a year without carrying new wounds. This work is beautiful and this work is painful. It wears at us, all of us. There’s a dull weight to it always, and at times there is a sharpness that digs in just under our ribs.
Teaching hurts. It is consuming, and it consumes. I love it, still, because it is full of joy and beauty and growth and purpose, still. And still, teaching hurts.
I write now:
I wish that I could teach and be healthy; that leaving or going back was more of a decision, less a necessity for me.
And still, when I hear someone talk about the funny inside-joke thing one of their students left on their desk, when I drop my own kid off at school, when I read or watch or experience a thing and start to think about how I’d use it in class, I miss it. I miss it all so bad it hurts.
I miss never questioning if I was doing enough good, even while always questioning if I was good enough.
I miss my allegiance to my students, the anchor and the compass they were for me.
I’m pretty sure that teaching will be the most important work I’ve ever done, and also that it broke my heart in ways that are long from healing, and also that it breaks my heart to have left.
A few days ago, I saw this on twitter:
I liked being Mr. Rad. I miss him too.
I really like my new job, and I really like my new work. I work with good and talented people whose eyes light up talking about books they’ve worked on and loved and the books they’re working on now. I get to help find new writers, new books for teachers. I’m incredibly lucky.
Books have always felt like a bit of magic to me. To have a thought in one head, and if the right symbols on paper are arranged just right, that same thought will appear in a totally different head? And that thought can travel hundreds of miles or years without losing even one small bit of its quality? What a very cool thing we figured out how to do. What a very cool thing to be involved in.
But then, I don’t laugh nearly as often, and never as deeply.
But then I don’t feel quite so miserable about any part of my day that isn’t perfect. I don’t go through the wild swings of stress and frustration, of joy and reward.
But I also miss this huge part of my identity, the work that became who I was.
But then also my family doesn’t get so much less of me for so much of the year.
And also I’m as solid and settled as I’ve been in a long time. I’m growing. I have space to grow into.
And so much of every day is spent thinking about the teachers out there struggling to face that next day, that next class, to reclaim all the best parts of teaching. Still anchored by my belief in students, those teachers are my new compass. I have hope for and from them that I can be part of the work that makes it easier to stay.