To teach or not to teach? Is that the question?

I’m a working (outside the home) mom. Right now I’m working 80% of full time. For me that looks like 7:30-12:00 five days a week. I commute during my lunch hour and need to do grade papers or plan at least an hour when I get home. At first I didn’t like this set up much. It’s very isolating both at work and at home; I rarely get to see my colleagues and I only have an hour in the late afternoon to meet up with other moms at home (which I never do). It’s also stressful because I have very little time at school to make copies, plan and prepare my room.

This past week I had to turn in my Letter of Intent to the district office. In my letter I requested a return to full time next year. I don’t really have a choice in the matter; we need to put Isa in a full time day care/preschool and we can’t afford that if I’m not full time. I’ve know I would go back to full time since the year started. Isa is already enrolled in a Spanish Immersion program and we’ve paid the deposit. There are no surprises with any of this.

Still, I’m bummed out. The idea of going back to work full time is stressful. It stokes my anxiety. The thought of coming home, in traffic, picking Isa up from a long day of “school” (I’m not even getting into how stressed I am for Isa to be at “school” for 8.5 hours a day) only to go home and be with her for a few short hours while somehow also managing to stay on top of the chores and maintain my sanity, makes me a little panicked. I know I can do it, I did it last year, but I also know it was hard. Really hard. I was tired, so fucking tired. And if I’m pregnant next year, which I’m hoping to be at some point, tired isn’t going to be an adequate descriptor.

The truth is I’ve gotten used to this schedule. It definitely has its drawbacks but there are positives as well. I like having time, during Isa’s nap, to make myself lunch and eat, to write, to do laundry (no one is ever using the machines at 2pm on a weekday) or sweep floors or finish up dishes or do whatever else needs to get done. I’m not as tired when I come home in the middle of the day. Even though I need to bring work home from school, I’m more relaxed with the current arrangement.

I’ve never considered myself a career woman. I never wanted to be anything when I grew up. When people asked me that question I always answered “I want to be a mom,” at least I did after deciding styling My Little Pony hair probably won’t pan out. I went to college because I love to learn, and I guess I assumed I’d do something with myself when I wasn’t focused on my family. But I never had any grand aspirations, I never felt drawn to any particular callling.

I became a teacher kind of by default. I always loved kids; every job I had growing up revolved around children. After college I started subbing to make extra cash. I decided teaching suited me and even though I had grand plans to try something not kid-centric before I became a teacher, I couldn’t think of one other thing I wanted to do.

My mom cautioned me that teaching didn’t pay very well and that the benefits weren’t very good but I ignored her. I think, looking back, I figured my husband would do the “heavy lifting” when it came to making money. My job would be more for improving our quality of life, not maintaining it.

I’ve been teaching now for eight years. I enjoy it but it’s tiring, sometimes grueling work. If you’ve never had a job where you need to stand in front of people (if 34 hormone addled, easily distractible, always disgruntled middle schoolers can be called people) and convince them to give a shit about something they inherently do NOT give a shit about for five consecutive 55 minute intervals, then you have no idea what it means to be a teacher. It’s intense, exhausting work. You never have a moment to yourself. You can’t  eat when you want, you can’t relieve yourself when you want. Sometimes it feels like you can’t breath when you want. You have to be “on” for the better part of seven hours, five days a week. There is no hiding behind email or Twitter or Facebook or a blog reader. There is no hiding behind anything. You must be there, present and accounted for, from the moment the first bell rings to the final ding of dismissal. Sometimes you even have hall duty, or a staff meeting after school.

As if that weren’t enough there is the constant grading of papers and dealings with parents. Parents these days feel incredibly entitled and it’s not uncommon to get irrate emails on a Monday morning, demanding the answer to a question asked on Friday night (that question is usually why you, the teacher, are giving their child a D in your class). As if all of that weren’t enough, schools, and teachers, are expected to solve (or at least work around) the problems of chronic hunger, malnourishment, abuse, and language deficits, just to name a few. All while remaining understaffed and underfunded and always underpaid.

It’s no surprise that 50% of teachers quit before their fifth year on the job.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my future, specifically the job part of my future. I’m not sure if I want to be a teacher for the rest of my life. The reality is I’m not sure if I can handle being a teacher for the rest of my life. I doubt I have the stamina for it. When I imagine what I hope to be doing ten years from now I draw a complete blank. In the next five years my biggest hope is to be working a 3-4 day week, though I have no idea what I could find on that schedule. If I wanted to keep teaching I would have to move to a lower grade or find a high school with a block schedule; no six-period a day school will allow a teacher to work part of the week. The lower grades have never interested me and I don’t know of many block schedule high schools in the area. If I leave teaching, even for a few years, I have to figure out what will happen to the money I have in STRS (teacher retirement). I can’t move it to Social Security and then back again, as I lose a huge percentage of it with each move.

The thought of not being a teacher is terrifying to me. I have no idea what else I could do. I have no other skills to speak of (except maybe writing, which is guaranteed to make me less than I do as a teacher). I’m not really qualified to do anything else. And I must admit, the thought of finally arriving at that place in my life when my kid(s) are in school and not having their schedule is frustrating. I became a teacher so it would work well with being a mom and now I’m too burned out on teaching to make it to that point when being a teacher is beneficial! I just don’t know what to do.

It’s all so hard, so complicated. There are so many things to considere–money, retirement, benefits–and if feels like happiness is the least important of them all. Simply entertaining the idea of leaving a very secure job in such a dismal economy wreaks of all kinds of insanity. It’s bat shit crazy is what it is. I don’t know what I’m even thinking.

I wish I knew what I wanted to do. I wish I had some kind of calling. I wish it were clear in my heart what would make me happy. Instead I just know I want to be home more with my daughter and I don’t want to be so bone tired at the end of the day that I can barely interact with my husband. Not very much to go on at all.

Do you love what you do? Do you even like it? Do you feel like you have a calling in life? Do you wish you did? What does your ideal work situation look like?

14 responses

  1. Calling… hmm.. I am struggling with that one too. I always wanted to be a mom and teach. Kids are my calling. But I am constantly avoiding burn out. I did the speech therapist thing instead of teaching, and I was burning out from the intensity of it all. The always being on. The having no say in when to eat or go to the loo. The all eyes on me, even when my eyes really just want to cry.

    I think I have realized that teaching is my calling, but I need to find a way to do that that doesn’t kill me. The testing.. the paperwork.. the removing (or at least decreasing) of having a creative say in how to do the teaching, the blaming of parents and administrators (rather than brainstorming), its all really tough. And the people who go into this type of work.. i don’t know, sometimes I feel like to do the job well you have to have an open heart and somewhat thin skin, and then the job rips me apart of it. I am hiding doing a phd for another year to sort it out.

    Best luck — you aren’t alone. It is super hard. Enjoy those lunches till you go full time and thanks for sharing some of that precious time to write words to share with us!

  2. That sounds like a nice schedule, actually. It’s more or less the schedule I have now, just a little earlier in the day (I work 9:30-2:30). I never really thought about whether I wanted a career or motherhood – I always assumed I’d have a career and move up the ladder as fast as I could, and my child would go to daycare. Period. Then I had a few less-than-perfect work situations, and I saw out out of balance my life was with full-time work and full-time motherhood. And now, I’m seeking balance much more than career advancement. I do struggle a little with feeling like my job isn’t as high-level as my previous 2, and there’s no room for advancement. But I think I am really lucky to have this schedule, and I think I can deal with the lack of advancement if there are pay increases!

    P.S. Gaby at thejohnsonglasshouse.blogspot.com used to be a Spanish teacher, and now she is a professor at one of those all-online universities and a SAHM. I have no idea how hard those jobs are to get, but it sounds like a perfect situation.

  3. I’m a lawyer (7 years in) and don’t like it at all. Have tried different areas and it didn’t help. I’d like to be home with my daughter but my husband had an awful job and I was the breadwinner, so he quit and stays home with her.
    I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up either! I make it through the days because I know what I do enables us to live a certain lifestyle (including a stay at home parent), but I CAN’T do this forever.

  4. Oooh: I like Deborah’s idea of online teaching! That sounds like it has potential.

    I’m surprised I didn’t pick teaching as a career: it sounds completely opposite of my strengths. I tend to pick things to do that don’t suit my personality at all.

    Actually it sounds hard as shit. I never realized that teachers can’t go to the bathroom during class! Why aren’t you interested in teaching lower grades? Just curious since you’re so good with younger kids too…

  5. I was supposed to teach high school English. Took the Praxis, completed student teaching, was good at it and enjoyed it, but after I graduated college, I decided not to teach. I knew I could do it, but I didn’t want to do it every day and if my heart were not in it, I didn’t think it was fair to my school, school system or students.

    Teaching is hard, and I don’t envy you. I like the idea of online teaching too!

    I don’t know if I have a calling. I like what I do. I’ve been doing it for 11 years at the same place, and at times I have loved it. I’ve also hated it. I’m feeling restless and less happy recently, though, so maybe it’s time for a change; like you, though, I’m not sure what that would be.

  6. I hate my job. Truly. I’d love to be a full-time mom with some kind of social action project…like, 3 hours a week doing something for people who need it. But who knows. I’m waiting for the sign to tell me where I should be…BTW, your blog posts lately (well, always, but especially as of late) have truly spoken to me! xoxo

  7. Oh dear. My only experience with teaching has been college and it sounds like it is A LOT easier! 1 or 2 classes/week as opposed to several back to back every day. I never realized you had such a heavy load. No wonder you’re tired! I wish I had some good answers for you. It seems that many of us have similar struggles. There are very few jobs that provide decent conditions for parents of little ones. It seems that the more stimulating the job, the more time and energy it demands, which makes it excruciatingly difficult for those of us who want very much to be active career-wise, contribute financially AND be a steady presence in our kids’ lives. I imagine I will be thinking about this for some time to come. I promise I will share any wisdom that I am lucky enough to encounter.

  8. Hmm…your story sounds very familiar. A lot like mine, actually. The only things I ever really wanted to be were a mommy and a writer. I “ended up” teaching and did it for 5 years before I burnt out. Now I’m in early intervention, and , while I don’t think it’s my calling, it certainly suits me better than being stuck in a classroom all day long. But dealing with young children and families poses its own challenges, especially in the midst of dealing with infertility. My current aspirations are for Hubby to get a well-paying job with excellent insurance so that I can stay at home with our (eventual) children.

  9. well, you know *my* story. I quit my job without knowing what else I might want to be when I grow up. 😉 (And for the record, I wouldn’t recommend that route. Doesn’t do much good for the family financial picture.) I think I’d like to be a writer, but I don’t write often enough, nor do I know what I’d write about. I do feel like I’m good at (and enjoy) advising young people.

    My parents were both teachers, and my mom taught middle school Spanish for 40 years. I don’t think she loved it, but it was one of the few options open to her at the time. That said, I don’t think it made her much more “available” to me when I was growing up. I guess we had summers, but I don’t remember much about them other than going to the library every day, sometimes going to day camp … not because my parents were working, but because they needed something to do with me.

    I think you’d love online teaching. It’s a good medium for you. Along those lines … how about a job in social media? Online community manager of some kind? You’re so much more on top of Twitter than I am. I feel like I’m drowning in social media overload, and I haven’t figured out how to manage it yet …and you seem to be able to be present in multiple media at once.

    Or guidance counseling? Or teaching yoga to kids?

  10. Oh hon, I feel for you because it sounds like we have done very similar paths. I taught middle school for years, tried part time for about four months. It was sort of the worst of all worlds because I was pulled thin at work and pulled thin at home. I did end up leaving teaching, and for a few months, there was a what-am-I-going-to-do period. I ended up tutoring once or twice a week in the afternoons. And then the writing gigs started coming. It took two or three years after that until real money was coming in. This is pretty much my ideal right now — I write during the day and I’m done when they’re done with school.

    I don’t think you’ll regret staying in a job that gives you that after school life you want. That gets you two out around the same time. Though I hear you — it is so hard to be “on” for the entire day.

  11. My life experience has been very different, but I wanted you to know that I read this, i am listening and I feel for you.

    When Bob and I were dating he wanted “his wife” to be a SAHM. I wasn’t so sure about that both because I had career aspirations and because my mom raised my sister and I to be independent and not marry someone who we needed to survive financially and all. So I worked hard through undergrad and grad school to put myself in a position not to “need” someone else to support myself. I was very lucky though that my parents paid for most of my undergrad expenses. I never needed college loans and that certainly put me in a different position after graduation than some. I did put myself through grad school, through having assisantships and have borrowed money (which I have always paid back quickly) from my parents over the years to get through tight times. Again I am very aware this is not the norm and that I am lucky. I also know my parents worked very hard to be able to put my sister and I through college and they didn’t want us to have jobs during the school year, so we could focus on our school work.

    That said, when I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Bob, I “came around” to being a SAHM. We planned our life together knowing this and did our best to not live beyond our means. When we were both working we could have afforded to big a much bigger/nicer home that we started out in, but we purchased a small two bedroom, based solely on Bob’s salary, which was not much at the time, as we knew we wanted to get used to living frugally. The last year that I worked, most of which I was pregnant with Sean, we were able to bank my salary, to give us a cushion and practice living just on Bob’s.

    Anyway, I know this doesn’t help your situation now, but I just thought I would share that piece of my experience. We have a lot of friends who didn’t plan ahead for their family building/work-life balance and “couldn’t afford” for one of them to stay home. I know that many people, like you an Mi Vida truly can’t afford it, but we have a lot of friends who bought houses and other things that put them in a position not to be able to afford it and then they regretted “not having the choice.”

    I like what I do a lot, many days I love it and some I don’t. I feel blessed and lucky to be able to be a SAHM, though it isn’t easy. I do miss a lot of things about being in the professional working world and there are many things I don’t. My field is parks and recreation program management. I liked the years I spent working in it and helping people have fun and be healthy in their free time. I especially liked working with teenagers, senior citizens and summer camp programs.

    The last job I had before having Sean and staying home, was in ministry. I worked with high school students and loved having a faith based job. As much as I prefer to send my kids to public school, it was a unique experience for me to work in a job related to my faith.

    I believe that my calling in life is to try to help other people who have also experienced loss (whether it is through infertility, pregnancy/neonatal loss, illness or the loss of their lives not going as planned). I want to write and help people that way and down the road when I return to the professional world I want to do something with ministry (youth ministry in a high school or church or something like that) or train to become a hospital chaplain. That is something I think I would be really good at.

    I don’t know when and if I will go back to work full time, maybe not even until our kids are in college, to help pay for it. I feel blessed and lucky that Bob and I have built our life together in a way that I don’t *need* to work and I am proud that we have been frugal over the years to make it possible. But I still get that isn’t an option for you or everyone. When I do go back, whether part time or full time, I want to be conscious not to become a work-a-holic again, as I was in my first “real world” job out of grad school. As a perfectionist and being very career driven, I quickly fell into that trap and worked long hours and it was not good for Bob and my marriage.

    Anyway, I know this is really long and rambling here… I like the idea of online teaching for you… Do you? I think you are an amazing writer and following Mel’s path, there could be potential for you there. What about something like hospital chaplaincy or hospice worker? Would that be too depressing for you? You are such a compassionate person, so doing something where you help people, listen, comfort, etc. seems like a good fit.

    (((HUGS))) to you. Thank you as always for sharing so openly here. xoxo

  12. My first job was at a level 12 group home for girls. 18 years old. Stayed there for 10 years. I LOVED the first 7 and then getting abused by small children lost it’s sparkle. The system hurt my heart. I loved the people there and the pay was horrible, but I never went to college. They offered me a job as a house parent, but you have to live there, with them, all the time. I needed to be able to go home.
    I describe myself as genetically unambitious. It’s like we just don’t strive for stuff. I have NO CLUE what I want to be when I grow up, but I better figure it out soon.

  13. I decided at the ripe old age of 8 that I wanted to be an Architect. I was far more interested in “boy” stuff and activities. I was often the only girl in science and math classes and programs. I went to architecture school and realized that I didn’t want to be an Architect-with-a-capital-A. Meaning I didn’t want the license. Luckily I found my dream job right out of college. No real pressure to take the licensing exams. I honestly loved my job. It was a perfect fit. But along came Nav and the military life. I got lucky again twice while in Tucson with good but not perfect or even great jobs. But they were jobs doing most of the parts of construction I loved and not a lot of the parts of architecture I don’t love.

    But now after 3 years of not working in the field, I am out of the loop. Not to mention the housing market has dried up. It was impossible for me to find a job here in Virginia (even before twins were in the picture). And now with the boys, I’m “stuck” being a SAHM. It’s not a great fit for me. I struggle each day trying to keep them and me sane. Nav thinks I should try to get a job at a daycare when we move to ABQ. But I know that would not be good for me. And reinventing myself would take schooling so not something that is going to happen in the near future.

    It’s hard to explain to him because of his military background. He does the job he does because the Air Force tells him, not because it’s the one he wants to do. He has all of these hopes and dreams for when he gets out (in as early as 5 years). I don’t want to hold him back but it’s still a long way away.

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