When I started teaching seven years ago I thought that there was nothing else in the world that I would rather do. I was 22 just out of college, living in my first apartment half a country away from everyone and thing that I knew. My first teaching job was on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. I can say that I was blessed to work there. The students and staff taught me more than I ever could have taught them about culture, trust and being different (I was one of about 10 white people on the reservation).
But I also learned a lot about myself. I needed to re-invent myself far from the concerned eyes of family. I needed the space to find out what kind of person I really was and who I was becoming. That might sound strange that at 22 I didn’t know these things about myself, but I know I”m getting a big “I hear you” from all the other middle/peace keeping children out there.
I learned that I was strong, smart and good at my job. That is not to say that I don’t have dozens of first year teacher stories, I do. But it was easier than I expected it to be. I found I wanted to know about my kids and there lives, not just decontaminate information to them. I loved that it took them a year to accept me because they needed to know that I would come back. That I learned how to encourage them and watch for silent cries for help in their speech and actions. I left there a better person. I also found my wonderful husband and got married.
Then I moved to Texas and suffered a bit of culture shock. I went from teaching all Navajo students in the desert to 90% rural white kids outside a major city. I was stunned at the differences in the students, teachers and culture of the school. I grew to love the art department, I had been the only art teacher at my old school. It was nice to be mentored and learn how to work with people. Once again I found the connection with the students to be the most rewarding part of my job. I struggled with the legalities of public school, there is so much you can’t do and can’t say.
In the mean time I had started writing a story. At first it was a lark based off of some drawings I made one afternoon sitting on the coach. I made notes about them, where they were from ect. The next thing I knew I had the outline for a story. Little did I know that it would take the next three years of my life to complete and would become my job of choice. All I could see was the fun I was having with my own thoughts. I read my husband the beginning and he encouraged me to keep writing. By the time I had written the first five chapters he was threatening not to ready any more unless I finished the whole story. So began the weekend and summer writing portion of my life.
A year or so passed, going to school, working on the novel on and off. When I attended a work shop on finding your life’s dream. It came to me that I should not only write my novel but that I should write the entire trilogy. I was invigorated by this awakening and dove into the process with my whole heart. I finished writing the novel that summer.
My dear friend the English teacher did the first rough edit. God bless her for that I know it was terrible. Then I made corrections, she edited it a second time and then we sent it out to the test audience (15 beloved friends and family of all shapes and sizes). They sent back thoughts, corrections and encouragement. It got one more round of edits and then got shipped off to a professional editor for polishing. Then I sent it off to two different publishing houses.
I was in my third year of teaching in Texas by this point. I was established, comfortable but unhappy. I knew what I wanted to do but it seemed unrealistic and vaguely impossible. Still I started attending extended education classes about writing and reading books. Wow, did I ever have a lot to learn. I had not been the best student in middle school when I should have learned about English. So now I found myself at 29 re-learning all that I had taken for granted.
I enjoyed the classes and working on the writing on the weekends. As my passion for writing grew, my interest in the mundane parts of teaching morphed from annoyance, to discomfort, to down right rip your hair out frustration. I felt trapped in a place where my thoughts were now too big and too controversial for the platform. I wanted to have my students take on social issues, make statements, look at nudes – but no, the powers that be said this was all too scary and inappropriate. Still I loved my students, they were the only thing making me want to get up and go to work.
Over the corse of the year I got my two rejection letters. I know now that because of some of the mistakes that I made it was inevitable that this would happen. I also decided that I wanted to get an agent. I went on a few job interviews at other schools but nothing panned out. So when I was gearing up to do another battery of interviews over the Christmas break my seventh year of teaching my husband sat me down and said “why are you doing this?” Of course the concept of not teaching felt like a dream that was beyond what I could see. I had been working every day of my adult life. I had never been without my own financial stability even though I was married. The thought of stepping out into the world of the unemployed by choice seemed ludicrous but it was what my heart was telling me to do.
So I emailed my principle with my intent not to return. I began a blog about my experiences as a new writer trying to figure this all out. I joined two writing circle and in five days I will hang up my teaching licence for good. I can’t lie and say that I’m not scared. Though we are financially fine, I don’t know how I’ll be as my own boss. I will have to adjust and learn and push myself because it’s all on me. In a way it is the most freeing thing I have ever done. There are no excuses, no one to blame. It’s all me.
I could wax on about the metaphysical behind all this, or delve into how much work I had to do on me before any of this was possible but it doesn’t seem right at this moment. As I stand on the thresh hold of the life I have chosen. I want only to hold my head high and say I chose. I chose myself, my dream, my way and it is the single most loving thing I have ever done.