But it might be ugly
Twelve years ago I left a job I loved. I left after a year of daily tears and gaslighting by the administration. I left after months of someone tapping at my office door and crooking a finger at me in a “come here” motion while I was in a meeting as if I was a naughty child.
I left after email upon email requesting my entire schedule from the time I walked into the building until the time I left as if I wasn’t working if they couldn’t account for my whereabouts…my whereabouts being in other people’s classrooms teaching them how to use strategies and tools to teach reading in their subject areas, or doing observations.
I was once called on my way to a documented meeting off-campus to come back and return a school laptop I was using after my meeting because a member of the admin team needed it, only to find out that the person who called me also failed to tell me that her colleague was gone for the day and wouldn’t need it at all.
This was all in an attempt to keep tabs on me and the distrust and manipulation became too much for a place I once loved.
I had wonderful colleagues, but as time went on the administration’s manipulation of the staff caused many to become distrustful and closed off. The final straw was when the administration started writing me up for made-up offenses. When I started looking for other positions the principal told me that he would “purposely blackball me” so that I couldn’t find a different position in my school district.
I had been teaching for nine years and was a new mom. New motherhood could not have possibly been that hard, could it? But it was because it was compounded by a horrible working environment where I couldn’t seem to do anything right even though I was doing everything right.
I didn’t know at the time that gaslighting was a thing, but in looking back, it was and it broke me.
I had never felt so inferior in a job where I knew that I was doing good work, where my students were thriving, where I had built a rapport with my colleagues only to have it come tumbling down when new administrators came on board.
When Margery O’Hare tells Alice Van Cleve in The Giver of Stars, that she is never trapped, that there is always a way out, this really struck a chord with me. Especially when Margery says, “Might be ugly, might leave you feeling like the earth has gone and shifted under your feet.”
This. All of this.
I wish I had realized that it was never going to be easy getting out of that situation; that I would feel defeated every time I went in to do my job. It was ugly when I left and it definitely felt like the earth shifted from under my feet.
When I left teaching, I lost a huge part of my identity. I didn’t know who I was anymore.
I am a person who hates confrontation. I would much rather avoid an uncomfortable situation. I’ll stay quiet after being reprimanded or yelled at or belittled and then I have zero desire to be near that person again. It will take quite a bit for me to respond; because I never want people to feel the way they have made me feel.
I felt very stuck in my career. I loved the work I was doing: working with reluctant readers and helping my colleagues reach their reluctant readers. I loved teaching. I loved my students. I hated the bureaucracy and the red tape. I hated working with intimidated administrators who continued to belittle the work I was doing and were wary of the connections I had made with other colleagues who valued my work.
I was also very tired of giving my very best to a job that did not love me and giving my son the scraps of my day.
He needed better than that from me. He needed my attention, my energy, my smiles. Not my fatigue, my tears, and my frustration after a long and hard day.
It would have been one thing if it was temporary. But I cried every single day of my last year of teaching. I cried on my way into work and I cried on my way home. I cried on Sunday night dreading having to walk into that building again on Monday.
I was tired of being bullied and pushed around. So I left.
When I walked out of the building on that last day of school, a tremendous weight had lifted off of me. It wasn't until after chatting with other colleagues who left after I did that we realized that we all suffered similar experiences. Mine wasn’t a one-off. It was just one of the many.
I’ve been out of the classroom for more than 12 years now and it was the best decision I ever made. While it may have taken me a little longer than I would have liked, I found myself again. I was gaslighted into thinking that I was not good enough and that I would never be good enough, but it wasn’t true.
It was never true.
Here I am and here are a few things I realized:
- If I had stayed in that environment I would have likely had to have spent years in therapy to undo the damage to my self-esteem.
- I was never going to be good enough in their eyes. Never.
- I would always be a teacher, but my classroom would look different. It would be at the local pond as my youngest and I counted turtles, talked about the environment, and asked questions like, “Do turtles hibernate? What do turtles eat?” Or my classroom might be right in our kitchen as I taught my children how to cook. We would measure, learn how to read a recipe, and follow steps. Sometimes my classroom would be inside our minivan as we listen to audiobooks and discussed characters, plot, morals, ethics, and social justice on our way to swim practice.
- I would probably not have had four children. I would feel guilty being away from work when I was with my family, and when I was with my family I’d feel guilty from being away from work. There would be a lot of resentment towards a job that would demand too much of my time and left me too fatigued to spend what time I had left with my children.
- I would never have found a love for running and found myself in the process; known what courage, strength, and determination looked like within myself.
- I wouldn’t have found time to write essays that resonate with other people, to write a book, or find that I could be paid doing what was once only a childhood dream.
- I would not have realized that motherhood would be my true vocation. I would never have known that while motherhood is at best messy and imperfect, that I would be good at it. I have treasured this time in a pandemic because I have been able to spend more time with my children. Yes, I am one of those weirdo moms that loves summer vacation not just because my kids get a break from school, but that I get to spend more time with them.
- When I felt loss and heartbreak when I left my students, I didn’t know the joy I would find when I found myself all over again.
I am a better wife and mother. I am kinder to myself. I have found that passions and dreams can become reality when you lose everything.
Margery O’Hare was right, “you are never trapped.” It might be ugly, but there is always a way out of a situation. And I am grateful that I found mine.