“I don’t want to be crushed by this process” is what I wrote in my journal nearly one year ago at the crack of dawn, typing away at our beach cabin’s kitchen table instead of making pancakes. “I ran so far, so fast, so determined these past three years to simply get here,” I wrote. “I don’t want to implode now.”
But implosion would have been far too concrete and straightforward.
A few slow, luxurious spring-break days later, while the kids snoozed in the loft and Mr. Black went for a late night stroll, I waited for the digital stroke of midnight, keeping a stoic vigil over the Seattle Public Schools Web site. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. And suddenly, there they were. Next year’s special ed teaching jobs. MY special ed teaching job somewhere in there, just waiting for me to activate my future with a click of the “Apply Now” button.
This was a turning point from which I never truly recovered. Up until that moment I’d been running. Driven. Braver and more ambitious than I’d ever been about anything before. I’d seen the light and bolted toward it so determinedly that I still can’t quite remember even making a conscious decision to bolt. It’s like I was raptured here or something. One minute I was working the sensory table at Little Grrl’s coop preschool wondering what I was going to do next year, and then I was blazing ahead toward a goal I’d never even seen on my horizon before. Volunteering, subbing, working full-time as an instructional assistant, attending graduate school and student teaching, and then…here.
It wasn’t as if I’d never hit an obstacle before. Oh, there’d been obstacles. All those instructional assistant jobs I’d applied for that first summer that I didn’t get. Humiliating mistake after humiliating mistake. Bites and bruises and two pairs of broken glasses during my first official year. Finding myself in stark opposition to my own ideals time and time again, feeling lost and wrong and judged. Sputtering Lorax-like over episodes of outright discrimination toward my students from…kind of everywhere. (And each year it comes into sharper and sharper heartbreaking focus – there’s more discrimination toward these children than not.) Still, I kept running.
But now, with the actual prospect of job hunting ahead of me, the landscape had changed. This was my pause at the edge of a cliff. And as I considered my next step and every possible outcome, it all caught up with me. I doubted. I hurt. I opened myself up to acknowledging all the pain and uncertainty and unfairness and impossibility of all that lay in front of me and all that I’d spent the last three years running through to reach this point. What would happen now?
And then…well…instead of taking an intentional next step, I started tumbling down the side of that cliff under the cumbersome momentum of the job hunt. Calls from principals offering me an interview. Or not. Interviews that went beautifully. Or not. Jobs that seemed perfect until they suddenly and frighteningly didn’t anymore. Jobs I wanted so badly even as I felt them slipping away from me in the unimpressed faces around the interview table. Jobs I was sure were The One that didn’t even respond to my initial application. Job offers for jobs I hadn’t even applied for and didn’t want.
May. June. July. And still I tumbled, slowly, awkwardly, head over heels until I finally landed a job that felt like more of a relief than a calling anymore. I wouldn’t be left behind. That in itself was enough to make me feel elated, even as I knew in my heart that this job was so far from what I’d set out to do in the first place. By the time October came and the District displaced me to an entirely different school that needed a teacher, I didn’t even know which end was up anymore.
Yes. I can admit this now. None of this is what I had in mind when I first started running. I knew it would be challenging. But I hadn’t counted on feeling so alone. I hadn’t understood how much it would wear me down to be immersed in other people’s relentless anger and disappointment – the students, their parents, my colleagues. Everyone’s slogging through their own obstacles and pain, knocking each other over and stepping on each other’s toes. No one seems able to recognize their own power. Even I don’t often recognize my own.
I do still love the work. The puzzle of it intrigues me, and there are always plenty of wrongs to right; plenty of injustices to untangle. My students can be such glorious shitheads sometimes, but they are hilarious and brilliant and I love them dearly. It’s a quieter kind of love than the blazing passion that drove me here in the first place. It’s more like working a dozen different complicated puzzles at once, and every so often you get a few steps closer to what looks like a pattern before it deviates back into chaos. But, you know. Sometimes it’s a hopeful chaos.
And here I am, a whole year later, still tumbling down the side of that cliff. Landing my first teaching job wasn’t the end of this story. And it wasn’t a beginning, either. Whatever it was, it’s still being written. Whatever happens next…well, we’ll just have to wait and see.