As I got dressed for work one recent morning, my husband glanced at me. “That’s a teacher outfit,” he said. I was skeptical at first: The black cardigan and blue silk dress was an ensemble I’d worn many times to school, but what was so special about it? When I looked in the mirror, though, my clothes did read “English teacher” somehow.
Two years out of the classroom, my closet is still full of “teacher outfits”: sensible sweaters, knee-length skirts and flats. As another school year has ended, I’ve wondered: how much does the teacher in me still show — and how much of the “old me” has been boxed up for good?
Here’s what I’ve discovered in my second year after teaching:
1. I miss being around kids.
There were many days when my students’ teenage attitudes and behavior — and my responsibility for their actions — wore me down. When I started my office job, I rejoiced in my newly calm, predictable work environment. In the past few months, though, I’ve been missing interacting with young people. At their best, teenagers are sweet, silly and spontaneous in a way that puts water cooler conversation to shame.
2. I miss being a mentor.
I also miss the exciting exchange of ideas that could happen in a stellar class, and the satisfaction of helping a student. It’s why I applied to be a mentor for my local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters last fall. Since March, I’ve been meeting with my Little Sister twice a month. Anna is 12 years old and loves to climb, run and play basketball. I enjoy talking with her about what’s going on at school, helping her with her homework and encouraging her to be assertive and considerate of others.
3. My memories of teaching are fading, for better and for worse.
I remember being up all night thinking about some disaster at school — like a failed lesson or uncomfortable conversation — and how I should have handled it differently. Now I’ve forgotten most of the names of the students involved and many of the details of what made me so upset.
Not surprisingly, I’ve also been getting much fewer school anxiety dreams. I still got them regularly last year, but now they pop up once every few months.
On the other hand, I’ve also forgotten a lot of what and how I taught. When a co-teacher I’d worked with told me she still uses the modified essay assignment we’d created for our ninth graders, I didn’t remember it at all. Worse still, I’m forgetting key lines, names and other important parts of stories I used to teach three times a day. I can still recite the Prologue from Romeo and Juliet, but even that may be gone soon, too.
4. I still think of lesson ideas and how I could’ve been a better teacher overall…
This New York Times story about an English teacher who used rapper Kendrick Lamar’s music to help his students appreciate The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison made me feel all tingly inside — and wish for another chance to do Morrison’s Song of Solomon or Kindred by Octavia Butler justice.
I also continue to think about what I could’ve done to reach more students and make teaching more enjoyable. This post I wrote about work-life balance, for instance, helped me understand how cultivating positive relationships with more students — and bringing more of my personal interests to the classroom — would’ve helped relieve the stress I felt.
5. …But I’m glad that grading is gone from my life.
Despite what I’ve lost by quitting teaching, I continue to be grateful that take-home work is no longer part of my job. Last summer, I wrote about the joy of having no more papers to grade, ever. This summer, I still love the lightness of my work bag: just my phone, keys, wallet, food, and a book to read during my lunch break. This, to me, is one of the main reasons why leaving teaching is still worth it.
Next time, I’ll talk more about how my life after teaching has developed — and how I’m still figuring it out.