I've made some terrible choices in the last 30 years. The 90s were a decade of poor choices for me--I mean, JNCO jeans, body glitter, and white tube socks with Doc Marten wanna-be sandals?!? My poor choices expand beyond fashion and reach into more significant realms like alcohol consumption and $0.25 tacos at dive bars. Fortunately, I've managed to wise up with age and have made a myriad of good choices, but the one resonating with me the most lately is my decision to step away from teaching.
Now hold up: If you're expecting one of those rant-y, passionate here's-why-I-left-teaching letters, this won't be it. Helping young people engage with the world around them, uncover gems of wisdom from quality literature, and walking with them during tough moments was AMAZING. I loved lesson planning and learning how to more effectively manage my classroom. I loved how political and challenging teaching could be. It was my calling...until I became a mother to two high-needs children.
It's probably a cliche story, but I couldn't juggle my students' needs with my kids' needs. My type-A personality couldn't handle walking away from a pile of 180 ungraded papers until they were finished and massive amounts of candy were consumed. It was a tough decision to leave the classroom. I cried on my last day as I ate cake with my sophomores and hugged a crying 16 year-old boy who gave me a card that said only, "You are my Erin Gruwell." I cried as I watched a group of juniors not so inconspicuously pass a huge homemade card around the classroom during a test filling it with handwritten sentiments.
I even cried when the ornery and sweet boy who got in a fist-fight in my class called me "moms" for the last time. And sometimes I miss teaching high school English, but still--I know it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
Leaving teaching has taught me humility. I wasn't a perfect teacher, but I was good at my job. I had a handle on classroom management and could engage students who some teachers just gave up on. I left a job I was good at for a job I had no experience in: parenting. There was a period of three months when we suddenly found ourselves parenting two kids with histories of trauma and attachment issues. Each time our kids' behavior got tough, I retreated to our home office to work furiously grading papers, creating lessons, etc. as a diversion. After I left teaching, I had nothing to offer me a distraction--nothing to work on when adrenaline surged through my body in the middle of my kids' rages. There were few points in my day post-teaching where I felt successful. It was definitely a shot to my pride as I grappled with understanding humility.
Leaving teaching has taught me the value in white space. When I was a teacher, I was wholeheartedly a teacher. I taught during the day, coached/directed/sponsored activities in the evening, and spent my weekends grading or working on homework for grad school. In the summer, I attended grad school pretty much full-time. Eventually, I even started adjuncting night classes here and there. My schedule was packed to the brim. I loved it and felt like I was really doing my part to make education equitable for all students, but I often found myself exhausted and overwhelmed. I didn't know about white space because I had none. When I traded my full-time teaching job with a part-time job as a writing coach, I suddenly had free time--like, LEGIT free time. I often ended up just sitting and staring into space because I had forgotten what my hobbies were. I soon found myself engaging in a daily habit of writing and reading. I spent time searching for and cooking wholesome meals for my family. I could watch a TV show with my husband after the kids went to bed instead of grading papers. I could take my kids out for breakfast before school instead of dropping them off at daycare at 7 AM (two hours before school started for them). I could take a few hours off work and visit my kids' school to read to their class. I could have coffee and conversation with a SAHM friend and her two littles. I had time to volunteer at local nonprofits. Time to just sit in my rocking chair with a cup of coffee and my thoughts. Even without my full-time teaching job, life can still be a shit-storm; however, I've never felt more in touch with reality and more at peace with my priorities. This white space has seriously been a gift that I don't think I could eliminate from my life.
Maybe you're on the brink of making tough decisions in regards to your roles in life. One of my favorite podcasts, The Simple Show, discusses knowing when it's time to quit something. Tsh and her guest, Kendra Adachi, emphasize that quitting is not the same as failing. Instead, quitting helps us identify which roles are important in our lives, which bring us joy, and which are allowing us to say yes to things we want to say yes to. My full-time job as an English teacher wasn't bringing me joy like it once did because of the demand of my new roles. My job wasn't allowing me to say yes to the things I wanted to say yes to. Taking a leap and quitting my full-time job wasn't easy, but it was a smart decision for me and my family. If you're feeling torn right now about some of the roles in your life, consider taking a step back to reflect and think critically about which roles need to be priority. If you have to let something go, remember: Quitting is not synonymous with failing.