December 14, 2011 by Nicole
Okay, this post is somewhat premature. Technically, my “last” day of student contact is tomorrow, followed by four days of getting grades finished and then submitting them, followed by coming back to campus to turn in keys and whatnot. THEN, I am finally free of school.
I realize what a blessing and a gift it is to be moving to Pennsylvania in about three weeks; very few people have the opportunity to make a clean break with their chosen career path (and, on good terms, no less) in order to face a future wide open and full of endless possibilities–and only having to work if I want to and not because I have to. When you stop and think that with the exception of one brief 9 month period of taking a medical leave from my teaching position–I have been in a classroom either as a student or an instructor for over thirty years. It’s crazy to think that all I have ever done in my entire life is learn and teach. Even when I left my high/middle school position and thought I was ready to walk away for good, I landed in a job where I taught dogs, and then a few months later, went right back to teaching people.
I have experienced the joy of watching kids “get it” and had a great run of 2 years of teaching at the college level, where most days I could hardly wait to get to school and teach. I have also dealt with the frustration and cynicism that goes part and parcel with working with people who are rude, hurtful, narcissistic, vindictive, and sometimes just downright cruel, and the burnout and exhaustion that comes from caring too much about your work to the extent of losing sense of your priorities. I have felt the anger and indignation that comes with caring more about your students’ progress than they do, and I have experienced the uphill battle against angry parents and angry students because of my principles about hard work and personal accountability.
I have treasured those special relationships with my own professors and later in my career, those handful of students who you have had the opportunity to develop a relationship into a friendship and become a mentor. I have done the happy dance because I stumbled onto a teaching method that was unbelievably effective, and I have wanted to tear my hair out because of having to direct high school plays. There have also been a few times in my life when I was stretched so thin that I thought I would be unlikely to survive the week.
I tried to do the math once to figure out how many student essays and assignments I have read/responded to/graded, but if you multiply 12 years of teaching by an average of 150 students a year by an average of 4 major papers a year, I think that comes to more than 60,000 essays (or more than 300,000 pages) I have graded since 1999 (No wonder I am sick of reading student writing!). Oh dear.
Well, for me, that’s a scary question. Do I write a book? Finally finish writing my play? Tutor? Finally try to make a go of it as an orchestral musician? Pursue my Ph.D. ? Go back and finish my B.F.A.? Become a full time soap maker? In some ways, that question is hugely daunting to me, largely because for twelve years, the answer to “who am I?” has always been the same: “a teacher.” Part of me loves working with students and being in a classroom, and part of me is sick and tired of doing this for a living (I think it’s the part of me that never wants to touch a stack of essays ever again.).
The even bigger question, though, is what is God calling me to do now? He used me as a teacher–as an educational servant–for such a long time, and the first time that I thought I was ready to be done, He wasn’t finished with me. When God’s calling for you is to teach, it’s a calling that is difficult, mentally draining, and often thankless (Then again, it’s not like He doesn’t know–His own son was sent to do the same thing.). His ministry and vocation for me have been quite clear over the past decade, but now, I find myself at a unique crossroads. I can’t say how I will feel three months from now, but at this present juncture, a part of me feels that 2012 marks the end of this particular ministry for me and the beginning of a transition into something new. It will be interesting to see what my Boss has in store for me next.