When I stopped teaching, it felt like I was dying. The sight of math books, grammar DVD’s, or anything school related undid me. The label that told me who I was (teacher) wasn’t going to exist anymore. I would picture my sons, looking up at me as I led an assembly, and burst into tears. How could I quit before I ever got to teach one of them? How could I take away something they were proud of?
The months that followed were an excruciating relief. Relief because I badly needed rest. Excruciating because on the way to getting it, I realized things. My kids didn’t really care that I quit teaching. Turns out their pride in my accomplishments was a happy smile in a day, not a sustaining factor in their lives. They liked my improved availability.
Although I had put in hundreds of hours to non-teaching related helps to the school, nothing fell apart when I left. My students had enjoyed my classes, but no one’s education came to a grinding halt. That something I was an integral part of could be okay without me was “totally new information.”
I knew that I had been slowly bleeding to death trying to do it all. I didn’t know that with the best of intentions, I was choosing to die. Or that no one had really asked me to. I thought I was special to the people at the blood bank. I never realized that they accepted what I had to give because I was standing in the line to give it. That they weren’t even marking gold stars by my name for donor of the month. When I left, the blood supply did not even hiccup. Life went on.
A friend teaches kindergarten. If a someone’s mother has a baby, if chicks hatch, or something important happens, they make a poster. They always put “BIG NEWS,” at the top, and then tell you whatever it is. As I rested my body and spirit (something in my case that should have been done years earlier) this was all very big news to me. At first it made me feel small and depressed. With no official employment, not only did I no longer matter, but I had never mattered. (This is what it felt like.) The thing that I felt as vocation and claimed as identity, teaching and school involvement, was gone. I was left facing the fact that I had not been as important to the picture as I thought I was.
An invaluable gift came wrapped in these painful discoveries. I found permission to rest and permission to wait. I wanted to write, but I was hesitant to go rushing off to join the hubbub of facebook likes and incessant small talk. I intentionally stayed back from the maddening crowds and focused on what I could learn in quiet, without promotions, recommendations, or commendations. (I would have been okay with some of that but since it wasn’t available I learned to make do. )
I didn’t quit teaching five years ago to be noble. I quit because I couldn’t function anymore. Some days I miss it. More days, I’m glad. All the grief I felt then at walking away from something has grown into the firm conviction that I was only ever walking towards something. Perhaps this is one of life’s secrets, that a little honest effort will suffice to keep the boat on course. We journey on a wide and forgiving river nudged gently along toward the good, when we know it and when we don’t.