I’m 30 years old, which means I’ve had the privilege of adulting for quite sometime now. In fact, when I was a teenager, I thought 30 was old, but now that I’m here, well … no one wants to think they’re old.
Next year will be my ninth year in the classroom, and yet every year I find my self immersed in fantasies about other careers, “What are my other skills that I might make a profit from? What would I have done had my parents not forcibly pushed me away from becoming an Art major? What would be another rewarding career that isn’t as stressful as being a pseudo parent to 150 teenagers?”
It’s usually during the hard times when I entertain these fantasies, when I have a stack of research papers two feet high to grade in the span of two weeks, or when am having difficultly reaching a student who makes misbehavior a habit, or when I have found out that one of my students is homeless and no matter how hard I press the school, they do nothing because they claim they can’t, and especially when I’ve seen desks go empty because my students were murdered in the streets.
As a creative kid, I was encouraged to build escape fantasies like these to increase my imagination and problem solving skills, but as an adult I sometimes feel guilty–creating this withdrawal of myself, a safe zone away from my responsibilities as a coping method. When I was a kid and I got into arguments with my parents, I would fantasize that there would be a knock at the door, a social worker would appear, and they would reveal that I was secretly adopted and my real parents wanted to take me home. Of course, I didn’t really want that because I loved my parents and sister, but in the moment, it felt nice to have an out, to let my mind wander with the impossibility that I might have an entirely different future. I don’t think that is far from what I do now.
In fact, many of my 20 something and 30 something friends do the same: entertain ideas revolving around new careers when the going gets tough. My usual gut reaction is, “Well everyone loves a new pair of socks.” To which they respond with a pensive head tilt, but it’s not quite as simple as the appeal of novelty.
When I was reading the graduation address of Brendan Leonard this last week, it finally hit me when he stated,
“Instead of focusing on doing what we love, I think we should focus on loving what we do. I have not liked 100 percent of any job, whether it’s scrubbing pots and pans or writing my weekly blog. This is an important distinction, both in work and in life.
Loving something is different than liking it. For example, it is very probable that your parents love you. But trust me, they don’t like you 100 percent of the time, “
That part really stuck with me. A few years ago, when it was clear that I was really struggling with staying with the profession, my former mentor teacher stopped by and dropped off a binder with some instructions. She told me that I needed to create a binder full of my best moments as a teacher so that I could look back on it when I felt hopeless or under stress. Since then, I have filled the pages with silly one liners kids say in class, notes they pass that make me giggle, self portraits, and thank you notes they give me. Students have noticed the binder and paged their way through it, and its presence has not only changed the way I reflect on my days in the classroom, but affected the students that really want to make a difference in my life as well. Some kids really want their teachers to know that they love them, and through the presence of the binder, they realized what exactly I value, and low and behold I’m getting more thank you notes and silly doodles than ever. I made my love language a visible and tangible thing at work and since then it has blossomed.
While I still find myself adventuring onto some new career in my mind, I find that my days in the classroom are becoming richer in joy and memorable moments because I am focusing on what I love and allowing that to define me, and not what I do.