Life After Teaching, Part Seven: Five (More) Things I Learned in Year Two

Last time, I wrote about how teaching is still woven into who I am, two years after quitting. Like it or not, my teacher side shows in my thinking, the clothes I wear, and, it turns out, my accessories.

Since the last post, I remembered that I’d also been carrying one of my teacher bags to work. It’s a black canvas number roomy enough for several sets of papers.

Though I’ve switched to a smaller bag that better fits my essay-free life, I’m still thinking about what I’ve learned after leaving the classroom. Here are a few more items I’m adding to the list:

1. Not teaching has helped me make healthier choices, but there’s a catch.

I start most days with fruit and yogurt, instead of the sad cereal bars or bagel, egg and cheese bombs I used to eat when I had time for breakfast at school.

a much healthier way to fuel the day

a much healthier way to fuel the day

My lunch break also gives me ample time to eat a complete meal and take a long walk around the block.

The downside? On an average day, I consume a lot more calories than I used to. What’s more, my cushy office job is actually too cushy: I spend more than six hours a day sitting! (Cue the tiniest of violins.)

But seriously: I went from never worrying about sitting too much at work, to knowing every day at the office is boosting my risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

I like to think that my lowered levels of everyday stress still put me ahead, but sometimes I’m not so sure.

2. Teaching has had a lasting negative impact on my confidence.

Even though I’ve written about being proud of what you’ve gained from teaching, it’s been a challenge to follow my own advice. Years of answering to hundreds of people  — be they students, parents, or administrators — often made me question my judgment. In fact, the longer I taught, the less confident I felt in what I was doing. As my old colleague used to say, “Teaching makes me feel bad about myself every day.”

I wish I could tell you I’ve left all that negativity behind, but it still gets to me. I continue to doubt myself in small moments and major ones. And despite knowing better, I sometimes think about how I wasn’t “good enough” to last as a teacher. In two more years, I hope to be more comfortable in my choices, including my choice to quit teaching.

3. At the same time, teaching made me feel powerful.

When I think back to those seven years in the classroom, I wonder, how did I do that? How did I stand in front of those students each day? How did I grade hundreds of papers each year? How did I get up for work all those times when I dreaded it? Part of my self-doubt now is feeling that I’m no longer strong enough to teach.

4. Making up for lost time isn’t easy.

The calls avoided because I was too drained to talk to anyone; the visits cut short because I was anxious to catch up on grading; the times I was impatient, cranky and generally not fun to be with — I see how they added up over the years. Knowing that I let my personal relationships suffer because of teaching makes me sad. I’m trying to be a better wife, daughter and friend by calling, initiating plans and showing up more — but it’s going to take a lot more work to close that seven-year gap.

5. The most surprising thing I’ve learned? I’m not content with “just” an office job.

When I first quit teaching, I thought a quiet cubicle job was all I’d ever need. I was wrong, of course. I’ve attempted to fill the intellectual, physical and emotional space that teaching used to occupy with cooking classes, an improv class, several seasons of league volleyball, mentoring and signing up for Skillshare.

I’ve also been thinking about my old teacher bag:

a second life for the old teacher bag

The bag was a gift from a fellow English teacher. She had designed a senior project that asked students to take positive social action in the world, and invited me to use the assignment with my own seniors. I remember enjoying the experience of helping my students develop their action projects and present them to the school.

Toting the bag as a non-teacher, I felt its white-hot letters prodding me with questions like: What are you doing now to be socially responsible? and How can you make an impact beyond the classroom? 

Two years in, I’m still figuring out Life After Teaching. Though I’m not planning to return to teaching, I know it’s the most significant public service I’ve done. This year I learned that I don’t want it to be the last.

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