Retirement, NaNoWriMo, and other things
So what have I been up to since August? Quite a lot. But, being the consumate story-teller, I like to begin at the beginning.
All along I knew that [insert name here] school would be my last school, even on my first day there. I just never knew when until now. So so many things have happened in that brief time; the stars aligned, the Universe gave me a gigantic shove, and I resigned from my very last teaching assignment on October 25th. It was rather unceremonious; no parties, no nothing, and I gave them scant warning. I left that last day (the 24th) with a grade III migraine, fed up and vowing not to put myself through one more day of torture again. I had not intended to leave right then, but those pesky stars.... When I woke up in the middle of the night, certain I was doing the right thing, I sent The Resignation Email that had been saved in my Drafts folder for over a month. So at 3:29 am on October 25, 2017 my eighteen year, benighted odyssey in education was at long last, over. I officially retired from mathematics education. And I'm still recovering.
There is a thing that Off-the-Track Thoroughbreds (OTTB's) or "Retired Racers" go through after their last race before they're started in retraining; their shoes are usually pulled off and they're put out to pasture. It's called 'letting down'. It's an opportunity for them to rest and recuperate from their usually grueling training schedule- like any athlete. But more importantly, it's a time for them to just be a horse, again. Eat when they want to. Sleep when they want to. Run when they want to without anyone on their backs telling them to run faster. I feel like that right now- sleeping when I want to, eating and peeing (trust me, it's a teacher thing) when I want to and working when I want to without anyone on my back telling me to work harder/do more/go to this PD/sit in this ridiculous meeting/deal with this insane parent. It's time for me to just be a human, again.
At the beginning of my career, I didn't care much for little children, but could tolerate teenagers if I was teaching something smart- i.e. I had smart, GATE-type kids who were mature for their age and great to be around. So I was a reluctant educator from the moment I stepped into my first post-graduate, teacher-education class. And I had a bad feeling in my gut about my intended career path from that moment, which bore itself out over the ensuing decades. Whether it was budget cuts, my 'fit' at a school, being driven to the brink of suicide or insanity (take your pick), mine was an unhappy tenure. Oh and did I fail to mention, my gut feeling way back then was that I would never get actual tenure.
Teaching seemed a Sisyphusian task to which I may have been well-suited, but unfortunately ill-disposed. I hated that it was such a traditionally female (read: weak and helpless) world. I hated that I was forced to be meek and mild and feckless when I was nothing of the sort. I was an intelligent, strong, female my whole life and still am. I was once fired from a job because I was told that I was the type who couldn't work in an office building, but could build it. It took me nearly two decades to find the compliment in that one, to be sure. And in the teaching world, strong females with the leadership skill-set to build skyscrapers are not allowed. Though there are lots of very intelligent people, none of them- not even the administrators (especially not them!) had the leadership skill-set to build skyscrapers. I was doomed from the off.
So I struggled always half accepting, half rejecting the role I was forced into. So why did I even do this job? Because it was supposed to be temporary. It was supposed to be "just a job." Then like Sisyphus, just when I thought I found a way out of this profession, it would roll back on top of me, and I would be pushing that damn teaching rock back up the hill, again. Oh there were so many of these times, I lost count. But the most memorable one was The Great Recession. It ended every hope I had of finding some other way of getting that rock up over that hill. But something happened in a moment of clarity back then when I was subbing, sitting with little Olivia after school. She had come to me for tutoring and half way through, a client called me complaining at me like a banshee about the floors. I ended the phone call and went back to little Olivia patiently working on a problem set I'd given her to occupy her during the call. Sitting down with her again, I realized the simple joy of helping a girl learn mathematics. It seemed so vital not just for that one girl Olivia, but for so many other girls, for half of the human race that suddenly my clients seemed like the ones being childish and a waste of my time.
You see, learning mathematics gave me such power over my destiny, even in that fraught moment, that I wanted to give that empowerment to other girls. In that moment I understood that teaching math to girls was the most vitally important thing I could do with my life. And when The Great Recession put the final kibosh on any other ambitions I might have, I went back to teaching with relief. I thought I would finally have smooth sailing.
Things still did not get any better. But they got more interesting long about the time I blew out my ACL. I had over a year of being TTD to realize that I was in my own Heroine's Journey story. I was Dorothy gone to see the Wizard, to meet new friends, to defeat the Wicked Witch and to see her friends' fondest wishes fulfilled. But still there was nothing in that wizard's bag for me. He even floated away in his outrageous dirigible, leaving me behind.
And, I've lost people along the way. My grandmother, whom I wanted most in this world to live to see me published, ironically is the reason I will be able to get this thing over the finish line. I know her and my grandfather are still praying for me to get published and make a living at writing, from Heaven. I've also lost friends and lovers whom I realized could not be with me in this new chapter of my life, for one reason or another. I am grateful to them all for their love. I hope they can forgive me for ending things with them however I did; I was laboring under a Higher Power with greater demands than an ordinary life could sustain.
I have learned so much in these eighteen years. I learned how to be kind in the face of cruelty. I learned how to persevere. I learned how to be considerate of others on levels I had no idea ever existed. I've learned how to rejoice in others' success. I've learned so so much and I have not lost the strength I had within me when I started this journey. I like to think of myself going into the teaching profession as a lump of coal and through the tremendous pressures I have had to endure, coming out a shiny, diamond. Though, it seems in actuality that I'm just more neurotic than I was two decades ago. But the narrative I'm gonna push out there'll be "shiny diamond".
Moreover, teaching taught me how to appreciate a woman's traditional worth in the world. Coupled with mathematics specifically; because I could teach math and (according to most) teach it really well, I was never without a job, unless I wanted to be. For a woman in this day and age, that's saying something. I have had a degree of independence and freedom most women (and men) don't have. Being a mathematics teacher was the ultimate education in Women's Studies.
Within the last year, I have been presented with not one, but now two opportunities to finally finish my first novel and get it published. I sit here now, putting my novel up against the external goal-setting of NaNoWriMo to get the second (and final) draft finished knowing that it will get done. It will be a great story and I will finally, at long last earn my living as a writer.
In looking back, over the long view of my life, I think I have learned that life is a journey of magic. Not the Expecto Patronum kind, but of the wishing upon a star sort. It's the click of Dorothy's heels that sounds the intrinsic magic which proclaims, "You had the power all along, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself."