3 weeks ago I resigned from my teaching post of 4 years in higher education. I’ve been avoiding speaking or writing about it and have only just realised that I have been. Just writing it brings a lump to my throat. I know it was the right decision but it hasn’t been easy at all. Now I am afraid and that is even harder to admit.
Since my joy-filled Venice blog I’ve been struggling to find what to blog about next. Usually it’s very clear and I bounce from post to post. But I’ve been experiencing a block. Not Writers Block per se, but a block in feeling. 4 years of some painful lessons, unexpected rewards, big highs, bigger lows, innumerable relationships with some truly beautiful people, learning to be a teacher on a very uncomfortable journey of self-discovery, has all been put in a box in order for me to be able to manage my decision. Which has led to a sort of numbness and indifference. Realising this has made me feel a little unfaithful to this blog. So I guess it’s time to open that box up…
I started teaching in 2010 for a small agency that provided independent Music and Drama tutors to Primary and Secondary schools. I’m ashamed to say I took the work because I needed the money, not because I was passionate about teaching. Needless to say I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. All I knew was what I had been taught. I deeply lacked patience and fortitude, but from then until 2013 I continued to tutor children from 4 to 16 through various agencies and performing arts clubs. I took my post in Higher Education in September 2011 (with genuine surprise I had even been offered the job) thinking that the transition from teaching children to teaching young adults would be relatively straightforward. It wasn’t.
I started by trying to play the role of the teacher I thought I was meant to be. The students disliked me and I didn’t understand why. It took 2 years to figure out that they respected me far more for being flawed and honest about it than parading around pretending to be better than I am and playing at being a disciplinarian.
After we married in 2013 my focus shifted drastically. I had some deeply challenging issues in my personal life and felt more dependent on my work than ever before. I NEEDED to be useful and I needed to place my focus on others and away from myself. Being completely candid (as ever) I physically clawed my way through that academic year, but extraordinarily had the best feedback from students in my entire career. In fact, my boss took the time at the end of the academic year to tell me my evaluations had all been outstanding and I got the “gold star” from students. I was floored. It seemed that through accepting my fallibilities, acknowledging what I did know and what I didn’t know and making my priority to build the students up as best I could, not break them down, I’d discovered how to be the best teacher I could be to them.
The following September I experienced a horrendous bought of anxiety prior to returning to teaching that academic year. I mean crippling, chest crushing, hyperventilating, sleep-depriving anxiety. Why? I knew I could teach. I had grown to LOVE teaching and I was confident in my planning, preparation and delivery. The anxiety subsided as I got back into the swing of it, but post-Christmas, pre-Spring term, it came back with a vengeance. Uncontrollable sobs in public places with James, unable to really say what I was so worried about. I LOVE teaching Music, I love the challenge of opening up the theory of music to people who are afraid of it, I love showing that EVERYONE can Sing, I LOVE choral arrangements, creating harmonies, directing choirs and most of all I love standing up in front of a room full of dubious people and acting like a mad woman to get their attention! But something was seriously amiss. Unbeknown to anyone, we planned my resignation, agreeing that clearly something was not right and I needed not to be doing that job.
Then the opportunity to buy a house arose. Without knowing what this would entail we embarked on that new venture by exploring mortgages and, as I’ve previously written about, were pleasantly surprised with what was apparently available to us. We agreed that I would try and ‘man up’ and not make any plans to drastically alter my work life until we were moved and settled. If you read my blog about the house saga, you know how that all ended…
In my heart, I took a step back from that job months ago. I was still wholly committed to doing my best but I didn’t feel quite as connected with what I was doing and therefore not as effective. I became palpably aware that my usefulness had run its course. This was one of the worse feelings in the world. Knowing you’ve given all you can and that no matter what you do – taking a course, undergoing additional training, radically re-thinking approaches and delivery methods, observing other teachers work – you’re no longer the right person to be teaching them AND it’s no longer right for you.
It’s been a bit of a running joke that at 31 I still look like a student. I’m often mistaken for one and dare I say I am treated like one on occasion, which irritates me, until I realised that actually I tend to behave like one. My older brother made this keen observation. For 4 years I’ve been caught in a world where on one side people of my generation have got married, started families, taken on more responsibility…grown up. And on the other side my life has been immersed in young people, figuring themselves out, facing very adult challenges but still reacting like children, and training in a career in pretending to be every type of person under the sun! I have the most enormous respect for anyone training to be an actor. Life from 18-30 is confusing enough at times, without learning how to change yourself enough to be the best pretender in the business. It takes such integrity and self-awareness to survive the Acting Industry. My brother observed that I’ve almost kept myself in that world of Development, held myself back from Grown up Stuff, in order to better understand and relate to my students. I didn’t knowingly do it, but he’s right, I have. And this has been at the sake of my own personal development.
When our house sale fell through I knew immediately what I had to do. The hypocrisy here is that I wrote that angry blog about the insidiousness of not being approved a mortgage as a Creative person and that I wouldn’t allow it to alter my course. I now find myself considering a safer, more secure vocation, to help us (eventually) get a mortgage approved. I wrestled for a while with whether this was me ‘giving up’ and eventually had acknowledge the young adult in me, still striving desperately for approval and recognition, and tell her that now is time to STOP.
I am learning not to flagellate myself with the mistakes of my past and also not to plan and analyse our future. In so many ways I am so helplessly out of control of my destiny, but in other ways I have the power to make good and right choices that benefit my soul. Right now, I need to stop. Teaching is a profession that requires the most part if not ALL of you. It can be incredibly draining but also wonderfully fulfilling. For now, I know that I’ve given all that I can and I need to regenerate and repair. I also need not to be worrying about the success of my career but rather be investing time in the things that make me who I am – my Husband, Family, Friends, Music, Writing, Creating… I want to be surrounded by people who simply work hard, without agenda, then go home and cook the dinner, not racing around from one thing to the next, forgetting that nutrition even exists.
But before all of this safe, secure and sensible stuff, James and I have decided on saying YES to a wilder adventure. This October we will fly out to Kuala Lumpa and meet friends who live over there, then spend the next month travelling to Bali, Vietnam and Thailand. How on earth we are going to afford to do all this, I’m not quite sure. But we know we have to take this small window of opportunity for Us and more specifically for me. My body and soul have been weary for a long time and when we step away from real life I start to begin to repair and grow stronger. But before long we have to come back and it feels like I haven’t really had the chance to finish repairing. So we are both saying a mighty YES to this adventure, yes to risk, yes to challenge, but a more important YES to feeding our souls and growing stronger in ourselves, so that we can face the adventure of Grown Up Adult Life with fresh vitality.