Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Who am I, if not a Teacher?




This is first day fake. My desk only looked like that for 13 minutes.


I am a teacher. It is not just what I do, it is who I am. I gather books and resources all summer long, I write student names on desk tags and bulletin boards and folders and notebooks. I read reports, I input grades, I make phone calls, I pour my heart and soul into twenty two lives a year. I carefully watch for what students will not show, I listen closely to what students will not say, and I love. I love on those kids so hard that when our time together is finished, I am emotionally depleted, mentally exhausted, but wholly satisfied that the way I have chosen to spend my days, my months, my years...has mattered.


“You’re such a natural teacher,” people say.


No. It’s not natural. Intentional, maybe. Pre-ordained, possibly. But, in no way is this career choice, “natural.” To choose minds over money. Fulfillment over power. Disrespect over accolades. It is not easy to neglect your own children for those belonging to other people. It is not normal to go to work sick because there are not enough substitutes. It is not natural to spend your own money to buy books or use your vacation money to go to professional training because you know it will benefit your students, but the system does not have the money to send you.


Dave Burgess, author of, “Teach Like a Pirate,” says,
“I’ve worked my butt off to build a class that is outrageously engaging, fun, educationally sound, and dearly loved by students. It wasn’t easy when I started, it wasn’t easy last week, and it won’t be easy next week either. It’s not supposed to be easy–it’s supposed to be worth it. You can build something incredible if you put the effort in on the front end, and then keep putting the effort in until you turn the lights off and close your door for the last time. But it won’t be, “easy.”
So then, what if I have turned the lights off and closed the door for the last time? I have accepted a new position as an instructional coach, which means I will work with teachers, but I will not have my own classroom of kids. I will still have lights. I think I will still have a door. But who am I if I no longer have a class of twenty two babies wearing my name on the back of their class T-shirts? What is my purpose if I am not at my classroom door each morning, welcoming children, asking about baseball games and dance recitals, calming worried parents or consoling kids who had a rough morning? Will my work still matter if I cannot easily point to a moment when I was there the first time a child found a book they loved or used manners when they asked for something, or found a calm way to disagree with a peer? What about on field day during tug-of-war? Somebody hold me.
I mean, seriously.


As I transition into a new position, a new career, a new role, I find myself with more questions than answers. I am more nervous than self-assured. Let’s just be real- I am actually scared to death. Even though teaching has never been, “easy,” it has provided me with things I have come to value: structure, routine, predictability, a reason to buy school supplies…


For now, I am enjoying working with the Central Texas Writing Project at Texas State University, where my summer days are spent in professional development sessions, journal writing, participating in demonstration lessons presented by committed, brave teachers who are putting the needs of themselves and their students at the forefront. I am presenting, reading books, having collegial conversations, eating all kinds of naughty foods, and laughing about this ridiculous job that I love.
Mayson and I (One of my former third graders)

But when August comes, and you see me wandering around in the school supply aisle at Target, or through the halls at Back-to-School night, please avoid direct eye contact. You can smile and shoulder-pat, even ask how my summer went or where the 4th grade hall is located. But, please do not let your gaze linger...because if you really look closely, you will see a teacher without a class who will be desperately searching for her place in this world.

4 comments:

traceshelton said...

I can totally understand this season of questioning, given how long you've taught elementary school and how much of yourself you've poured into it. If you are not a "natural" classroom teacher, then at minimum, you're really, really good at it. That said, it sounds like your new position would allow you to affect teachers, who then each affect kids -- so really, you'll be affecting more kids in the end, you just won't know them. I think you will be awesome at your new job because you've been such a fantastic classroom teacher. There are so many teachers who don't know how or don't have the passion to do what you've done -- maybe you can help change that. I know the Sheltons are forever grateful that you taught two of ours!

I think if I gave up being a magazine editor tomorrow, I would still know that I was a writer, in one capacity or another. To me, it sounds like you're still a teacher -- you're just teaching a different type of student now. It won't be easy at first to not be in the room with kids, but you'll be equally successful, I have no doubt.

drlcstephens said...

Mandy the teacher is now Mandy the teacher leader! Your natural (yes, natural) talent for teaching and your hard work at perfecting your talent will create the force that makes learning better for so many! As natural as your passion is, that how's natural taking a lead will be. You surely will miss the environment you've created over the years, but that experience will feed into the environment you are about to create. That's exciting! I suspect that this is only one of the several steps forward that you will take in the not too far future. So, take a little time to grieve the loss of a beautiful past and put your seat belt on for a thrilling future!

Susan Payne said...

I remember feeling nervous and clueless when I moved out of the classroom into a coaching role, but I have learned so much! I am a better teacher and leader because I took the risk and now I have the amazing job of learning from other amazing educators. Know that you now have the power to impact many students through your work, even if it is not always readily apparent.

April Padalino said...

I felt this way too, when I left my parochial school district for a public school district. I fel lost and unsure, but time will make the difference. I am no longer in the classroom, but feel I have a lot more children because I work in so many classrooms now. You will find your way and will impact many children. I am sure you will still miss your classroom. I know I still do, but I love working with many classrooms to impact even more students. You will make a difference!