For the past several years I’ve wanted nothing more than to have a career, and for the past several months I have been actively searching for one. I have never had a salaried job before, and I’m almost 30. It chills me to my soul when I think about how long and how desperately I’ve wanted this. And ironically, I’ve had absolutely no time at all to process it.
A week and a half ago I was hired as a second grade teacher at the visionary start-up, where my children attend school. The experience so far has been intense and all-consuming, but overall quite extraordinary.
Earlier this month, I’d applied for the classroom assistant position they’d solicited for on Indeed Jobs. My cover letter was 2 pages long and damn near outright begged for a job. I wanted it that badly. Every day after getting off of my shift at Nourish, I would swing by the school and bug the poor woman at the front desk. Had my application been received? When were they going to call me for an interview? Was there any update?
I was quite persistent. I had a good feeling about this one and I wasn’t about to let it go without a fight.
Honestly I never really did have a formal interview. But then I was offered a bonafide teaching position I never dreamed I would be considered for. A salaried position with benefits and retirement and almost double the salary of the job I’d applied for. My room was purple, and Alice and the Cheshire Cat were painted on the wall behind my desk. In that instant, it felt like a fairy godmother had waved a wand and all my dreams were magically coming true. It really was almost too good to be true.
My room was purple, and Alice and the Cheshire Cat were painted on the wall behind my desk.
But it was true, and very quickly I would find out just exactly what I had signed up for. Since school started on August 13th, I have been at the school from about 6am til 9pm every day, and I often have more work to do afterwards at home.
My husband José has also been volunteering substantially at the school, and he and I were there for several hours Saturday night getting more done. On Sunday I ran errands for school. There is literally a never-ending laundry list of tasks that demand constant attention. I’m beginning to wonder how I will ever find time to pay my credit card bills when I can barely even find time to shower.
The depth of love between a teacher and her students.
The deeper I go down the rabbit hole of this new career, the more I find myself coming alive by the sheer thrill of being challenged to build and sustain a vision every day. And the cause is great. The cause is the children – 27 of them to be exact.
You never really do understand what it means for a teacher to be in love with her students until you are one yourself. I spend 9 hours every weekday with these kids – in reality that’s more time than their parents. On day two I was already completely in love.
I could have predicted it. But I don’t think I could have predicted that I would fall even further in love with my own children. This may be because I am teaching the same grade that my oldest daughter is in now, but “coming home” to them every day after spending 9 hours with their peers has made me appreciate them so much more.
It’s not that my students are “bad” or worse in some way than my own kids… I don’t want to say that. But it is true that my own kids have been raised with a lot of love and attention. I’ve practically smothered them with way too many kisses since the day they were born, brought them to countless story times and playdates and field trips and kid hikes, taught them how to read, and homeschooled them. Their Mommy and Papi are still together, and their Papi gives them love and “all the different tickles” and teaches them to garden and takes them out on dates. We do movie nights on Fridays when we all shove our faces into the popcorn bowls. We have Blaze pizza nights where we pick up personal pizzas and eat them together on our front porch while licking our fingers and laughing about how we are bringing down the property value of our house.
Only five of the 27 kids in my class have parents that are still together. And I hate to say it but it was very clear to me whose were and whose weren’t on the first day of school. When I looked at the enrollment papers I was not in the least bit surprised.
Kids tell you things too. Disturbing things. “My Mommy left my Daddy because he was hurting her so now he lives in another state.” “My mom hates me. She says she’s going to kill me.” It’s very clear which kids haven’t gotten enough love at home because they are the ones with the infinite flow of questions and comments that disrupt class – the ones who crave attention.
Having been blessed with an idyllic childhood myself, and having giving my own daughters a relatively blissful childhood thus far as well, to me the home lives of my students feel tragic.
There is one boy in my class who regularly gets out of his seat and runs up to me to hug me sporadically during class. I have to tell him every time to get back to his seat, but I know he needs those hugs. He needs them because all people need physical contact. And children need it like they need oxygen, and like they need frozen school lunch pizza and cartons of milk.
I say “coming home” because in reality my kids are stuck with me at the school for all 14 hours of each day that I spend there. “Coming home” feels like it’s somewhere in between “unattainable dream” and going straight to bed.
It pains me that I just sent a letter home with my students imploring their parents to help our class succeed by putting their kids to bed early, since so many of them are falling asleep at their desks in the afternoon, while here I am at the school after enrichment ends at 6, til 8 or 9 every night with my children playing nick jr games on my computer just so I can vacuum and tidy my classroom before the next day starts again there at 6am. They are at the school past their dinner time, and past their bedtime.
Twice already José has brought us Chik Fil A and we’ve eaten a family dinner on top of all the crap at my teacher’s desk. Poor 6 year old Josephine is falling asleep haphazardly in her booster seat on the car ride home every night.
I wish I could promise my family a better work-life balance, but I don’t know what the future holds. I do know that it isn’t always going to be like this, but I’m also not totally delusional. I know it’s never going to be easy either.
The thing is, I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the school yard fence. I know what it’s like to be jobless, purposeless, broke, and directionless. I’ve lived my fair share of days believing that my own brilliant business plan would succeed where so many others had failed. That life of never-ending dreams wasn’t for me. I won’t go back.
What’s really beautiful about this job is that it is so perfect for me. I was thinking the other night about why they hired me. I hadn’t applied for the job or thought I was qualified. I decided to go back and re-read my resumé and cover letter from the perspective of the school employers, and see what insights I could perceive.
It was an enlightening exercise indeed. Ah. I thought. So that’s why they hired me. In my cover letter, I was obsessed. 100% consumed with everything I’d ever laid my heart on. I didn’t have to wonder. It was obvious.
And the funny thing is they didn’t even read my cover letter, or even my resumé, so it wasn’t even that. The only possible explanation is that everything I am spoke for myself. I told the story of my resumé and cover letter without words; without having to be on a page. I don’t know about you but that kind of essential, soul poetry kind of makes my heart skip a beat.
When Leigha asked me if I would be a second grade teacher and if I would be able to “jump right in” and hit the ground running, I replied with a smile, “I am open to all opportunities.” After I said it, my thoughts went to the little orange bag still sitting by my bedside. This would mark the consummation of my efforts to attract opportunity into my life.
And I thought of my second meeting with Angela, when we officially welcomed Mia onto our team. Angela had said, “I always wanted to be part of a Stacy project. Because Stacy GSDs.” It’s become a lovely joke to me to consider our work for the blog “GSDing.” I thought about all the GSDing I could do at this school. No, I had to stop thinking in conditional verbiage. All the GSDing I would do at this school.
And GSD I have! I was thoroughly surprised and honored when Mia chose to highlight my GSDing abilities in her most recent and first ever blog post for Gold Millennial. And it made me realized even more why the school hired me.
Learning as I go.
My classroom is really coming together and I am way too proud of it. I have rearranged the kids’ desks for the umpteenth time and I think I am finally satisfied with the arrangement. I taped a grid around them on the floor with painter’s tape so that the kids can position and straighten their desks “within the blue lines” before they put up their chairs for the night. The first few days I had to do all that myself before I could vacuum, so the new system has been saving me about 20 minutes each night.
I am always looking for ways to streamline my classroom and manage my time in it more efficiently. I am paying close attention to the minutiae now so that later I can spend less time dithering over the details and more time teaching (and sleeping!).
After I threw together the preliminary display behind my desk, I hung up a schedule on the bulletin board, then decided to add the word “SCHEDULE” in rainbow glitter letters, then later added a small clock. On the other side of the word of the week chart will be a job chart that I haven’t put up yet. I did put up a calendar though and another large analog clock on the opposite wall (the largest clock I could find at Walmart).
Since second graders learn how to tell time if they haven’t already, I am insisting on nothing but analog clocks in my classroom, and I will only be wearing an analog watch. I feel that digital clocks make it too easy to be lazy and cheat when they’re available, so I just eliminated the distraction.
José made all the kids’ cubby names and I spent way too long on a mission to Fed Ex to laminate them because the laminator at our school doesn’t have rolls of lamination sheets yet. While I was there I decided to print two 24x22inch posters from pdfs I’d bought from Teachers Pay Teachers as well.
I am still working on laminating the desk names and affixing them to the desks. You wouldn’t believe how disruptive it is for 7 year olds to have paper name tags floating around on their desks. Believe me, just about everything has happened with and to them. They’ve been drawn on, drawn all over, ripped, soaked with water, traded with neighbors, knocked off desks, and found on the other side of the classroom, if not lost entirely. I never would have imagined how such a simple thing could make such a big difference in the educational value of an early elementary classroom.
Learning the value of classroom design has been just one of the many lessons I have encountered as I have gone through the fire of my initiation into elementary school teaching. I’m beginning to suspect though that the course of rites of passage will last at least 5 years.
Today I learned that small group work is my biggest classroom management challenge, and if I don’t want to lose my voice again like I did on the third day of school, I need to get smarter about my classroom management strategies. And maybe do less small group work until my class respects me a little bit more.
Overall though my class has been earning accolades from the staff we pass in the hallways. For 7 and 8 year olds I am proud of the level of self-control they have been able to demonstrate so early in the school year when so many school rules are still so new.
I am beyond exhausted, but if I am truly honest with myself – beyond happy. I don’t think I know how to think anymore – I only know how to teach. This job has afforded me no personal life whatsoever outside of the school, but I am happy. I’ve accepted it because there is no alternative. This is the opportunity I was meant to catch in the little dreamcatcher of my soul.
I honestly can’t see myself at the end of a 40-year teaching career, but school administrative work – now that I can imagine. Who knows? Maybe after a few years of teaching I will get my masters in Educational Leadership and Administration and further my school career path.
I am looking forward to many more days in the classroom with my amazing second graders, and many more days of my career ahead. But first, I’m going to catch my requisite 5 hours of sleep.
Much has been studied, hypothesized, and published about “work life balance.” In fact, I recently read an article that said that “work life balance” has become increasingly popular only over the past two decades. Most millennials now agree that the word “balance” is overrated – and that really we ought to be using the word “harmony” or “integration” instead. Although I tend to scoff at younger millennials when it comes to their fussing over diction, in this case I may have to admit that they have a point.
How have you been able to “balance” an all-consuming career with family and personal life?