In pursuit of an integrated life

A little over one year ago, I quit my full-time teaching job to pursue part-time work. Teaching English to 180 students in an urban school was just too much for me to juggle with parenting two high needs kids adopted from foster care. Like many teachers who decide to leave the profession, I felt guilty for leaving. I felt like I was abandoning my current and future students while also letting down so many folks (administrators and colleagues) who had such high expectations for what I could or would go on to do as a teacher. It's taken me over a year to realize why leaving my full-time teaching job was best for my family.

In episode 22 of The Simple Show, Tsh Oxenreider talks with blogger, Haley Stewart, about a compartmentalized life versus an integrated life. Stewart explains that for her, a good life, is an integrated life; one where her passions can all work together rather than as separate entities (listen at about minutes 18-22). Oxenreider adds that an integrated life is more sustainable over the long haul.
I've thought about this for a few weeks now, and I think this concept of an integrated life is really the reason why I left teaching.

My life as a public school teacher often spilled over into all aspects of my life, but I couldn't be the kind of teacher I wanted to be while also being the kind of mother I wanted to be. It's not my nature to compartmentalize. I can't leave work at work and parenting at home. While I was teaching full-time, my schedule didn't allow for me to pop over to my kids' school whenever there was an issue. I couldn't make the phone calls I often need to make to seek support for my kids. When I was at home, I couldn't fully be present with my kids because I had a bag full of 180 papers to grade each week or a long list of parents to call or lesson plans to revise. I know many teachers (including my husband) who juggle teaching and parenting so well--they do a good job of compartmentalizing.  But for me, the lines between my different roles are not often clear; they are blurry and messy and they bleed into all areas of my life. Teaching high school English just wasn't a job I could integrate in with my family and my other hobbies (I'm learning now about the value of setting aside time for things that make us happy). I couldn't quite explain this when I left teaching...especially to people who are so good at compartmentalizing.

Now, I have a job that I can integrate with my life.

At 31 hours a week, my gig as a writing coach is a part-time job. My supervisors have allowed me to set my hours to work around my kids' therapy appointments. When I'm not working with students and when I'm caught up on the day to day tasks of my job (creating supports for students, reaching out to faculty, etc.), I can write and read. I can step out and take a phone call or make a phone call if I need to. If I have to miss a day of work for my kids/family/self, I can do so with a fair amount of ease. My job feeds my desire to help people, allows me to utilize a talent, requires that I be mindful and exercise empathy, allows me space to be intellectual, and requires no take home work (right now, anyway)--all things that I value. Of course, there are downfalls to any job--but right now, this job offers me the chance at an integrated life where my passions and hobbies and values can easily intersect.

Let me back up and say that I am aware how privileged this feels. I realize that not everyone is in the position to fully live an integrated life.  It wasn't an option right away for us, either. We had to make some significant changes to be able to do this (i.e. a big move and a career shift for my husband as well as tighter budgeting) and we had to get creative and be willing to take a few risks. My point is: It's possible to make this shift, but like any lifestyle change--this shift from a compartmentalized to a more integrated lifestyle requires a significant amount of planning, creative-thinking, and risk. However, there is freedom in realizing who we are, how we function best, and pursuing a life that fits.

No comments: