Life Lessons (and Lesson Plans)

Classroom

As of June 19th of this year, I am no longer a teacher.

I have been a professional educator for seven and half years. Now I have no classroom and no current contract. And this isn’t just a matter of summer vacation either; I have no job to go back to in the fall, and no plans to look for one. I have no professional plans at all right now, in fact. And this is terrifying because, back when I was a teacher, planning was what I did. Planning was my secret weapon.

I chose to walk away from my current teaching job because I want to take some time to focus on my family and my son. This is, after all, what I told my supervisor and my students when it was time to explain that I would not be returning the following year.

My supervisor, a mother herself, tried to be supportive. “I know that you will eventually have a long and full career,” she said, shaking my hand. “You, my dear, are an English teacher.”

But I’m not. Not right now, anyway. And the truth is, I’m not sure if I will be again.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post:

“…the mounting pressure of standardized testing, coupled with the gutting of salaries, pensions, and tenure protections, have made it very difficult to be an educator in New Jersey. I myself had been laid off twice in five years, and if the new private school job had not come along I might have looked for work in another profession, or taken some time off from teaching altogether.”

At the start of this school year I found myself accepting a job teaching seventh grade in a Jewish yeshiva. Two classes of all boys, one class of girls. Very different from what I was used to, but I thought it was worth a shot. The hours seemed perfect for a mom with a young child at home, and my new co-workers were friendly and positive. Plus, I was finally going to get a chance to teach The Giver–an all-time favorite of mine. I’ll give teaching one more chance, I decided. Maybe this will be the place. Maybe this will be my home.

On the first day of school, I was prepared. I had a bellwork activity, I had handouts with the class expectations, I had a fun group activity that would help enforce everything on my handout. Yessir, I walked into that class with a plan. A teacher’s chances of success rise exponentially with a plan in place, after all.

I can’t tell you why things dissolved into chaos that day. I’m not sure why so many students (well, the boys) flat out refused to complete my bellwork activity, or why two boys got up and had a physical fight during class, or how things progressed to the point that my supervisor came and yelled at them to stop “testing” me. I do know that I drove home that day (through two hours of traffic) wondering if maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew. My husband and I seriously discussed the possibility that I would quit within the first month. In the end, I decided I would see the year through to June, but I had already figured out that this probably wasn’t the place. The workload was simply too heavy, the commute too far, the students (well, the boys) too prone to violent outbursts. When I told my supervisor in March that I didn’t plan on coming back next year, I don’t think she was all that surprised.

And now here I am, telling myself over and over that I’m making the right choice for my family, but terrified deep down that I’m leaving because I just couldn’t cut it in the classroom. I wonder if I’ll ever miss teaching enough to jump through the hoops required to actually get a public school job again, to learn the procedures of yet another new district, to walk in front of of another group of kids who look at me and think, “She’ll be out of here by October, tops.” After such a difficult year, I’m tired of constantly barking orders, and I can think of no more polite ways to tell parents that their kids’ behavior is unacceptable.

“You’re an English teacher,” my supervisor had said. She had said it several times this year, often to make me feel better after some kid had done his best not to learn anything from me. But now, I’m not sure if I believe her.

This week marks my first full week out of the classroom. My first full week with no real plan. The freedom is both terrifying and intoxicating.

For now, I will focus on being a mother. But as much as want the privilege of staying home with my son, I don’t think that’s all I’ll want to do for the rest of my life. At some point, I might just get tired of reading Spot’s First Walk. I may want to pick up The Giver again.

In the meantime, some of my students (well, the girls) are still sending me e-mails. Earlier this morning, on the first day of my first week without a plan, this was waiting in my inbox:

Hi Mrs. Goas. We miss u soooooooooooooooooooooooooopoooooooo much. At the end of the summer we r going 2 see The Giver movie… Would u want to go see it with us ? ☺

“You’re an English teacher,” my supervisor had often said.

Time will tell, I suppose.


Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.

Photo by Kelly Teague, vla Flickr.

Our regular Wednesday writer Leanne Yong will return to the Nose on 16 July.

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