Tuesday, May 02, 2017

reality is: the flailing and the failing

I wish you had the mental image of how I'm writing this, to help you prepare for my frame of mind.
Let me try: I'm on the couch, just home from school, changed into a tank top and shorts. I've got my pint of Strawberry Blue Bell beside me, a big ol' water bottle on the table in front of me, and Judge Judy on in the background (cause my momma raised me right). Today is Tuesday- not the best day of the week, but not the worst. I think today is election day for city council/alderman positions but my polling center wasn't open, and I have not the energy to figure it out, so I'm just not going to vote.

I don't know much why all of this matters, I just feel heavy from it.
Today was the monthly meeting for the elementary music teachers in my district. My Tuesday was really pretty good up until that point. I always struggle with those meetings (they tend to start late, end late, and have not quite enough content to make it feel worthwhile), and today was worse than usual. On top of my usual annoyance with the meeting, a lot of the teachers today announced they would not be returning next year, as they are moving on to bigger and better things.

One is getting married and moving to Tennessee. One is moving to the beach. One is changing subjects and going to a new school. One is going to the school I student-taught at, and that's the one that made me most envious.

Two weeks ago, I signed and turned in my renewed contract for the 2017-18 school year with my same school and district. A few hours later, a teacher-friend of mine let me know her wonderful school had a music opening. Two days later, I learned of THREE other music positions opening at swanky schools in our area. Immediately, I lapsed into the "Ugh, God, Why didn't I wait three more days to turn in my contract?"

I am envious and struggling to accept my 'fate' for the upcoming school year. I am worn down and burned out and want to move on to a "nice" school. I am having a lot of trouble finding the light, remembering the truth, and accepting any kind of victory right now. I feel like a mess, like I'm not doing enough/any good. I feel like am not a good enough teacher to have a job at a "nice" school anyway. I feel like I may never be capable enough to put on big programs that people love, to have students who understand and love music the way I do, to earn my National Board Certification (which is my ultimate goal), or any of the achievements on the way there.
All of these feelings are centered on me alone, and I hate that.

I know they say your first five years teaching are the hardest. I so get that. I doubt myself every day and cry more than I smile, I think. This is, I would say, the least happy I have ever been in my life. Not that the other components of my life aren't wonderful; not that I don't love my students or family or friends or Casey, or find joy in unexpected places. I do, and those parts of my life are what is keeping me afloat. It's just that most days I dread going to school, and I really want that to not be the case.

Has anyone else out there been here? Any other teachers that can be a commiserating soul? Today I'm up to my ears in the struggles of teaching, and I'm flailing a little bit. I could stand an outstretched hand. I don't like this phase of life very much. Not in an ungrateful sort of way, but mostly in an uncomfortable sort of way. I suppose the flailing always is uncomfortable. There's a lot of weakness-revealing, and as always a lot of tears. Sometimes, I think the tears are caused by something else, but most of the time once I start talking about my spaghetti-tangled emotions, at the bottom I find something related to teaching. It could be my own fears and inadequacies with teaching, or something that happened that day, or overwhelmedness with impending programs and deadlines, or empathy for a bad situation.

Lately, I've found myself wondering if this is really my cup of tea. If I really want to spend my days laboring and pushing and pulling and prodding for fruit that I may never see. If I really am good enough at working with these babies to get them where they need to be. If I really am a talented enough musician to put together cohesive programs that make sense and entertain and simultaneously MEAN something. If the "love" part of "tough love" is obvious enough for these students to know that someone out there genuinely cares for their well-being and success. If I can really stand to do this for the next 30+ years; if I really have that kind of energy.

I already feel so old and lethargic.
I already dread the Mondays so much.

When I was in college, everything related to teaching seemed so glittering and exciting. It was that fairy-tale view of teaching that college has to puff you full of so that you can survive your first year. "wow, I am going to mean so much to these kids, we will love and respect each other so much. it will be 'hard' some days and I will be 'tired' sometimes but I would stay up all night and give everything away for my students to get what they need. I am going to be the best teacher because I am confident and flexible and I work hard and everyone will love me" and on and on it goes.

I don't want to sound like the jaded I've-been-teaching-for-three-years-and-I-don't-love-it-anymore teacher, but that is kinda reality.
Reality (at least for me, at this school, with these students, at this point in my life) is
"That kid would not speak last year, but now he does a little bit."

Reality is "His dad got taken to jail last night, and he watched it happen, and I know these crocodile tears of his are not over his work, and I don't know what to say or do."

Reality is "I think I have called this mother every week this semester to tell her that her child is rude and disrespectful and she doesn't seem to care to help me work on that."

Reality is "Last year I spent $500 of my own money on things for my students, and that's just the stuff I saved receipts for."

Reality is "Post-tax, my income is below the poverty level and I am a single with no dependents; how in tarnation am I supposed to be able to support anyone with this money?"

Reality is watching pro sports on TV and realizing that the players make more in one game than I will make in my entire life.

Reality is writing a kid up, and making them hate you because they don't comprehend that you did it because you care about them.

Reality is this student literally begging to leave my classroom because, what I have come to firmly believe, the presence of the Lord is too strong and spiritual warfare is so so so real.

Reality is a fourth grader finally being honest with me and saying, "Miss Stovall, I hate coming to your class because everyone tries to act up and it makes you mean." and having to genuinely apologize to this undeserving child for taking my frustration out on him week after week.

Reality is humiliating moments like that over and over again, all day most days, on repeat.
Yes, I am oversensitive.
But I firmly believe teaching will knock you down about 24 levels and send you home in tears most days, in reality.

I have to remind myself that people are worth more to me than anything else. These students are worth more to me than my income, my circadian rhythm, my pride, my dreams of travel and/or teaching at a "nice" school that has PTA breakfasts and iPads and big fancy programs with backdrops.

I have to force myself to look at their eyes, to really look at them, and swear to myself that I will give them every last bit of me that I can. That if somewhere along the way they fall off and don't succeed and don't become the very best person they can be, it won't be for my lack of trying.
I have to remind myself that encouragement is more powerful than chastisement.
I have to remind myself that flailing and failing are okay, and good, and necessary, and they make me more pliable in His hands.

And I have to remind myself that no matter how much I want to, I cannot be all the things. I am not God and I am not anyone's hero.

I am one person who cares a little bit too much, and that is all. Hopefully, someday, or somewhere along the way, that will be enough for a student or two.
Hopefully, I will not leave the profession to become a travel agent, or gymnastics coach, or personal shopper for a rich lady. (those are my top three alternative professions, if you're wondering... hairdresser is a close fourth.)

At the end of it all, I just hope that this will matter someday. Today, it feels as if it matters very little and my work will not stick around past May. Maybe that's asking too much, for my work to matter to someone, or more than one someone, but it's what I want. I want the flailing to yield fruit. I want the failing to bring fortitude.

I want to sow seeds that bear fruit that matters and lasts and sustains someone. I want to reap them too, but if I don't get that far, I'll think be okay.

welcome to midnight.

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