I accidentally found this piece of writing from 2010 when cleaning up my google drive. It was labeled "Untitled Document", but I felt compelled to look into it before I hit 'delete' and I'm glad I did. So many people ask me how I became a coach, what did I do before and how I left my job to pursue a life of entrepreneurship, creativity, service and joy. First of all, I have always known, since I was very, very young that my voice was my greatest tool. I was a fighter for justice, fairness and happiness since I was in second grade. I wanted to go into the world and show people that if they just tapped into their own power, their story, their strengths and their own tools, they could change their lives. Coming from a traditional family background and not having exposure to magic makers like the internet and never ending social media in the early 90's, I thought that becoming a teacher was the most meaningful way to do this work.
I don't regret my years as a teacher but I will undoubtedly say I'm glad they are over. I know teachers reading this that may think this is weakness or think I just couldn't handle it, you may be right. You may be tougher than I was, willing to put up with more, willing to "truck on". People often say that I could have taught in a different school or not have gotten so emotionally involved with my students and families but that just wasn't an option for me. I could not robotically show up to work each day and follow along with public education policy that was not helping anyone, especially those little faces that I somehow managed to fall in love with, bad behavior and all (You can read more about why I left teaching here).
I guess my point in sharing this with you is two-fold. One, to any new teachers that may read this: you are not alone. Teaching is sooo fucking hard and I applaud you, I truly, truly do. The second reason that I am sharing this is proof that we are never stuck. I hear a lot of frustration, guilt, despair and mostly hopelessness from what I wrote here years ago and I never want to feel that way again. Clients often come to me now because they want to get out of a career that is causing them to feel the way I felt writing this. I didn't just quit teaching after that first year, I stayed for five more years and tried like hell to love the career that I had spent my whole life wanting to pursue. Eventually though, enough was enough and I made the tranisition from teacher to coach (that story is here). If you are feeling hopeless, start taking action. You are not stuck, I was not stuck and I hope if I taught my students anything over the course of my teaching career it is that they do not have to be stuck either. Moving on, moving up or moving forward is a choice that every human can make if they want it badly enough.
Here's how my story began:
Quick fast forward to the end of my first year teaching. Scene: in a meeting, in a small rundown principal’s office in an old rundown school building in Southeast Washington, DC. This is Ward 8 to be exact, an area only explored by those that live here, a lost traveler, public servants and teachers (I prefer to be referred to as a warrior, adventure seeker, or better yet struggling optimist?). No matter what you call it, this is where I traveled, everyday for one complete, mildly disastrous and utterly insane school year.
Now, back to the meeting. I sit around a cluttered table beside my principal as she runs through the failures of my first year. Without a glimpse of praise (which I have come to expect) she runs down the list of reasons I scored a two or three instead of a four on the IMPACT Teacher Evaluation: I yell too much, I don’t give enough praise to the well behaved students, I do not put in an extra effort to boost attendance...the list goes on and on. What I would like to say is:
“Fuck off, what do you do? You’re the one who repeatedly states that you are just ‘trying to keep your good government job’. You, sitting there rating me when you made it to my classroom only three times all year, twice to fall asleep during my observation and once for coffee. You, who didn’t know my name other than ‘the other white teacher’ for the majority of the school year. But, you’re right, I’m a shitty teacher.”
What I probably said was something more along the lines of, “Okay, got it.” Although it is unlike me to just accept my failures without fighting my case, I was maxxed out. I was done. I needed to get out of that place before I lost my mind (perhaps I already had). As far back as I could remember I was a fighter, now I was in a situation where I just couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t fight, I just wanted to escape.
“But my teacher told me that I should always express my feelings”. -Me, circa 1992 after declaring exactly why I refused to comply with some Catholic School rules of second grade
This may be where my belligerence began. I am constantly reminded by my parents that i have been an outspoken pain in the ass since second grade. I would like to “blame” my second grade teacher for her insistence on self expression, but instead I think it better to thank her. Although I put away this side of me for the majority of my first year teaching, while trying to be compliant and easy going, I have held back too long and have realized that I have become far too infuriated and agitated to keep quiet any longer.
I hate my job. I hate just about everything about it: the long days, the lack of support, the fakeness of other faculty members, the ignorance of the parents, the injustices of the whole system. The list goes on and on. I hate the fact that I spend hours upon hours trying to be creative and clever and teach the kids something of meaning and importance only to be scrutinized and scolded by my principal and other teachers. Other teachers who have become robots to the system, who have become the captains of their ship steering in one direction instead of exploring the seas of education. I cannot steer my ship this way. I cannot pass through the beauty of science, social studies, math and reading without exploring all of the little pathways to expand the minds of our youth. I cannot become like these other teachers, who from day one of each school year can only see one destination: high state test scores. This means nothing at all to me, and if possible, means even less to my kids.
I work in the ghetto. I work where children are taught that education is meaningless and that the sneakers that you wear or the jeans that you put on will determine your future. I work where welfare checks are commonly triple my monthly salary and children will come in unfed yet toting along the newest in handheld technology. I work where parents care more about the clothes and birthday parties thrown at school than any report card, test score or behavior problem. I am the teacher, the latter problems are my problem.
As I sit writing this the summer after my first year teaching I feel somewhat guilty for making these generalizations about the children, their parents, the faculty and the system. I feel very guilty that I hate my job. To be honest, I only realized how much i hated it a couple of days ago. I drove by the old dilapidated building and felt sick, panic stricken and so terrified of going back that I would have jumped on a plane to anywhere if someone handed me the ticket. God knows I can’t afford my own.
I have spent the past year of my life sugar-coating the reality. Yes, I share my tales of woe with my friends and they “oooo” and “ahhh” at the thought of the “white teacher in an all black school”. I make it humorous, I make jokes about it, but in reality it is not funny. There is no humor in youth gangs, violence, drug abuse, homelessness and hopelessness. My stories of chair throwing youth seem funny on a friday night over multiple shots of tequila, but hiding in the teachers’ bathroom crying in frustration and downright defeat is not one bit funny. I never fear the acts of violence that do occur or potentially could occur, I fear the feeling of defeat and helplessness that always occurs.
I recently began reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell about the fascination that human beings have for the way others think and what exactly goes on in other people’s heads; how we think, how we feel. People simply want to know. People want to know if the fictitious stories glorified on the big screen of education in the inner city are similar to my situation. The answer is no. The answer is no because the movies are not real. What I deal with is real. These are actually children, these are living and breathing human beings put in the absolute worst situations, unspeakable situations, unrelatable situations. And, the worst, absolute worst part of it all is that I have the ability to help them out of these situation and I do not even know where to begin. There is no political dictatorship, no war, no laws that inhibit these children from becoming full functioning, contributing members of society. It is possible, it is just far too close to impossible for the children (and adults) to see a pathway out.
Afterward: I'm not sure why I stopped writing this piece so abruptly. If I had to guess, it would be the feeling of hopelessness taking over. If nothing else serves your from this post, I hope that it allows you to feel hopeful. If you are unhappy or feeling hopeless, just start taking action. If there is one thing I hope that my students remember and take with them through life it is that they do not have to be stuck, they can choose something different, something better, something hopeful and so can you.