Notes from the Field: My First Week Unteaching….

I wanted it to be heroic.  I wanted it to be visible proof of good decisions.  If sad, I wanted it to be poignant sadness, a single tear rolling down my cheek to the music of violins.

It has not been any of those things.

My colleagues at Graham went back to school on Monday.  All around the Bay, teacher friends are doing the same this month.  I thought that if not teaching is the opposite of teaching, I would simply listen more than talk this week, not try to control anything, get plenty of sleep, not care what I wore or said, eat well, and focus on the few instead of the many.  Instead I woke up with my alarm Monday morning sobbing.

“I don’t w-w-w-want to go to school–I AM NOT READY,” I wailed to Cat as snot bubbled out of my nose.  I sat there trying to wake up and realized I didn’t have to go to school.  “But wait, everyone is going to school without me!!!”  I started in with a fresh wave of heartbreak.  I threw myself down and set the alarm for another forty five minutes and planned to Uber to work.  Enter the scariest dream I’ve had in a while:  I had been kidnapped, and the kidnappers said they were taking me back to my house to kill my parents and that it would be my fault.  While dream me didn’t know this, me watching the dream somehow knew that my parents were setting me up to see if I really loved them.  I managed to escape from the garage of the house when the stupid kidnapper accidentally locked himself in the car, and I fled through the streets of San Francisco with the second man in hot pursuit.  I found an unlocked building and ran into the antique elevator with cage doors.  The elevator had been freshly painted white and was hanging by just one cable between two floors, but I knew that at least I was safe if I didn’t move too much.

I woke up and emailed four of the many tremendous and rooted women in my life: “Dear Power Rangers, I need help today….”  I got to work somehow but before an hour was up, I slipped in sunscreen I had been putting on little campers and slammed my right side into the ground.  I sat there tearing up.  “Teacher, teacher should we call 911?!?”  No, I thought, you shouldn’t.  I am an almost 40 year old woman lying in sunscreen in the middle of a summer camp office.  I am stupid, I don’t deserve help.  And for the rest of the day the voice continued to pop up like whac-a-mole: stupid, stupid, stupid.  The clumsiness, not a new phenomenon for me during times of emotional stress, continued also.  One girl who had been waiting for her mom in the office for about an hour finally says to me, “Are you okay?  You keep trying to drop things in the trash or put things on the desk and not quite making it.”  At lunch time, the school campus on which we are holding our camp erupted with teachers in the middle of a prepping for work day.  They were purposeful, they looked jolly and collegial, and at one point I kid you not, three of them unlocked and opened their back doors in perfect fucking synchronicity.  All they needed was a musical soundtrack and some cartoon mice to make it a Disney movie  By the time Byron came in to the camp office late afternoon and puked on me, I didn’t even say anything as I cleaned him up.

At dance that night I felt I could rebound.  One of my four Power Rangers brought me flowers as I was laying on the warm concrete stoop of the dance hall, waiting for our teacher to show up.  I started ugly crying as she handed them to me.  She said they were flowers for ‘my big day,’ and asked if she could share the stoop with me.  My big day, I thought, yeah, it is a big day, I am being brave I thought in shock.  Go me!  Before I left to set up the dance hall she said, “Remember I have your back, I mean it.”  Some more of the weight lifted.  The set up crew chatted and laughed as we worked and my breath finally returned and settled completely.  When the warm up finally started, one of the first songs was about being tied in a corner.  No seriously, the song was about being tied in a corner.  Hmmm…coincidence, or the by-product of being friends with your dance teacher?  Either way, I realized I was not going to get away from this dislocation.  That meant one thing: I had to explore it.  If running was not an option, and in some hearty new part of me it really isn’t anymore, then relationship, in all its sticky, delicious fuckery, is where we need to go.

Enter dance teacher as ninja: the topic of tonight’s class was proprioception and exteroception.  Simply put, how do we know where we are in a space, and how do we know what makes up the space around us.  Long story short, it was one of the hardest classes I’ve done in my two plus years of conscious dance.  I cried, I flapped, I panic attack breathed, I walked out of the room and back in.  But at no point did I say or quiet a voice saying, I can’t do anymore tonight.  I felt I was cracking into something vital.  Ask someone on a given day how they know where their elbow is, and there’s not much emotional charge to it.  But halfway through the exercises our dance teacher asked, “What is the relationship between how you understand where you are, and how much risk you are able to take?”

Flashbulb.

The place I compulsively poured myself into is gone.

I don’t know where I am.

If I don’t let my body lend it’s wisdom to this reteaching, I will end up never having done more than just “taken a year off.”  I will go back to teaching because I can.  The sense of being coordinated that one gains from a habit, although comforting, is not as alive as the gracefulness and coordination that comes from a living, breathing investment of trust.

I can articulate this today, but by the end of Monday it was a series of monosyllables and stutters when someone tried to make me talk.  Even now I’m aware of hoping I can sneakily write myself into place even though there is none right now.  Tuesday was a blur of emotional hangover peppered by minute kindnesses.  One of those being a teacher friend that reached out to say that she too was leaving teaching next year.  We continued the conversation this morning, and while my reasons are still full of open questions, hers were unapologetically bold: “It feels stupid to work so hard within a system that we KNOW is broken and has no possibility of correcting itself….”  I hate to see so many teachers hearts end up broken, juiced and left behind, but I loved that she knew where she was in her dissent.  It heartened me so much to talk to her that I was singing by the time I got to work and greeting the trees on Encinal Avenue.  Someone was making the same decisions and transitions as me in real time.  As the wisdom voice in me already knew, I wasn’t stupid.  I just like to move slowly and deeply as I roll and push into transitions, acquire new heart and head knowledge, and make a place where both entities can live.

I would love to end this post on a high note, but twelve hours later I was crying my face off again listening to Save Yourself by Kaleo, thinking of public education writing me a tearful goodbye.  I am going to feel dislocated.  Maybe just for a week, but more likely for a long time.  Last year in my creative writing club after school, one of my fellow creatresses wrote a line that still sticks with me, “Maybe the question we should ask isn’t who am I, but where am I?”  It felt utterly true then and now.  Thus, I will try and take my time and meet my fear of the space around me with a fiery, love stubbornness.

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chelseadelaney79

I am a former teacher, writer, dancer, aspiring Taiko drummer, and artist. I am trying to listen to the journey, no matter where it turns, and pump out a whole lot of magic while I do.

One thought on “Notes from the Field: My First Week Unteaching….”

  1. C, Love! Dislocated, Ok, I get that. The teaching community is a noble profession and to feel “dislocated” means you have had a great training to lead whatever you choose and create things unimaginable to those who haven’t stood in the front of the room, repeatedly. You got this! Hold on, you got this!

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