I wanted to start this post with something witty; namely, my private running joke that ex-teachers need a version of Alcoholics Anonymous to help us detox(someone more serious than me should really look into this) . I’ve cracked myself up over the months with different ideas about what the twelve steps should look like, but in each draft, I am only on step three or four. Thus, I figured it was better to start this post with something else, a plain fact that I used to know, left, and have recently come back to:
I am slow.
I’m not referencing my intelligence here or that of anyone with developmental challenges, but rather the pace at which I feel best about my life. I have always felt like I was being swept away by the speed which others seem to adopt with little to no problems. Maybe I have only started articulating it recently, but I have come up with so many ingenious and ill-fated ways to try and make more time, put the brakes on the current zip and zoom, and pretend that I fit in with the rushers throughout the years, that I know this has always been true for me. I had no real plan to deal with this mismatch, until I started conscious dance in the Open Floor a few years ago. Unintentionally, blessedly, I started to give and receive permission to come back to that original state, churning deep and slow, with no need to apologize. It was and is freeing in a way I can never express in words. Since this return I have learned at least two things:
- Unless I want to join my conspiracist father in his dream of making a compound in the wilderness for the end of days, I have to keep living in the delirious speed we are born into. This means sometimes, I am going to have to make final decisions before they feel final.
- I WILL NOT GO BACK TO IGNORING MYSELF. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end if you are listening. I want to be there for all of it.
Enter Thursday. I came home to a letter from my school district which basically said, “Knock, knock, know that leave of absence we so nicely gave you? You’ve got about a month to let us know what you’re doing with that. Hope this didn’t fuck up your day! Love, Bureaucracy.” I knew it would be here eventually, but it still came as a shock.
The day leading up to it couldn’t have been a better expression of how unprepared for decision making I am. My first month’s book revenues were withheld because I misread the copy regarding tax information and disbursement periods—aka…I realized it is likely my rent check will bounce in February. I felt not only disappointment at my mistake, but the creeping panic and shame that comes with thinking I won’t be able to take care of myself. A salary looked pretty tempting after reading this letter Thursday night. I also worked my third eight hour day of a nanny fill-in position I’m currently muddling through. More than just hating the stay-at-home dad’s mansplaining and hovering, I realized again that I do not want to be anywhere for eight straight hours a day. Coming home from that day I felt that sense of stagnation that used to be so familiar to me. I wanted to take the few hours left to myself at the end of that evening and just not feel anything, especially my desire to not go back.
There continue to be both reasons to return and reasons to stay gone.
But the bottom line is, this Chelsea-not-Miss-Delaney-dance, is not finished yet. Whatever this is that I am doing, I am somewhere in the middle of it. Historically, my first year of anything has never been a good predictor of its reality. My first year teaching, every hour came with a joy so extreme I wanted to cry and a fear so extreme I wanted to hide. My first year living without roommates I almost poisoned my family with a gangrenous turkey at Thanksgiving. I thought I loved my first boyfriend after our first date. However, as time wore on the joys and terrors of school became more manageable, I read directions more carefully when I cooked, and I realized that love grows slowly, in proportion to action. As much as I would like there to always be a win-win, sometimes there isn’t because ripening takes time.
About six weeks ago, when teaching was far from my mind, I piped in with this little gem: “You can change all you want Chelsea, but the system is not changing.” This weighty little truth bomb continues to send shrapnel into old resistance and work into the blood. I can’t make the process go any faster than it’s going to go, and so today I will tender my resignation. I will write something clear, succinct, and meaningless, but first, what I wish I could say:
Dear Assistant Superintendent,
You want to know what my plans are? First off, let me say that I don’t think you deserve to know. No one is owed the heart just because they pay for the time, the mind, and the body that carries them. And if I have no plans, if I am following an intuition and embracing the uncertainty of a journey, well you don’t deserve to know that either. But, I know contracts are a thing, and I wish only beautiful things for my school, so here goes. I plan to have a school shaped scar on my heart, right next to my god shaped scar. Don’t worry, I’m not afraid of scars, at least not mine which are laced with both sweetness and regret, pride and shame. They are holy, and as I age, I consider them a mark of risks taken, life lived.
Public education takes too–the hopes of hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, and does them little honor. You have asked children and young people to disconnect from play, from intuition, from their hearts, from their everyday lives, in order to present you with an empty container to fill. That filling may lead to money and prestige, and in the best of schools, a sense of responsibility to the greater world and an ongoing love for learning, but they ache for the parts they left behind. They ache until the feeling is too strong and they stop feeling. I have seen it. It is chilling.
You’ve taken millions of hours and dollars and tears from teachers, and still not given them some of the things that were actually in your power to give. You’ve taken their health and their relationships when you could as well. Do you feel the weight of that? Or have you too, as an institution, dissolved your own bones and stopped feeling? For all but a very small group, we have been lied to. Yet we’re expected to keep, ‘focusing on the positive,’ ‘worrying only about what we can control,’ ‘stop putting yourself so far out for them,’ and ‘getting so worked up, it’s a marathon not a sprint.’ They all kind of sound like synonyms for ‘shut up.’ So my plan is to stop eating my integrity. My plan is to meet young people, all people, where they are at. Maybe this will bring me back to the classroom, maybe it won’t. Part of me knows it would be the easier answer and longs for it, but would you be able to handle it if I came back? I wouldn’t be sweet and compliant anymore. In fact, I would probably be a huge pain in your ass. And I’ve seen how you treat your pains in the ass–your Sharons, your Carmens, your Cathys, your Phoebes, your Teresas, your Anthonys. You don’t honor the fucking immense brilliance it takes to scrape up resistance to the system when you have already given each drop of you in the classroom.
My plan is to slow down; to create and support things simply because I love them and they meet my standards alone. I really tried to do that in the classroom, and the better I got at presenting the obedient teacher façade, the more you left me alone to do it. But we could never expand far enough. Even when we were flying, we had to keep one fingernail looped to the window ledge of the school building. They had to sit and click test bubbles, and I had to sit and understand my complicity in the system that was hurting them. My plan is to let go. I started to dream it when you gave me Creative Writing for the first time, so really the fault is yours if I have become unruly and confusing. Watching them build their worlds and display their intelligence with no holds barred was revolutionary. I couldn’t pretend anymore. I couldn’t push and lift and bend them into things they didn’t want or weren’t ready for anymore. They were fierce, connected, and powerful. They already had the tools they needed to do the communication that was important to them. When they didn’t, they were gathering tools around them, things we usually didn’t consider worthy or academic. We missed it.
My plan is to follow myself and see what happens, to cheer for and participate with people who are making a new world. I still want you to be part of it, badly in fact. I have a child’s disappointment in you that I am ready to turn back into love if I could only find the slightest incentive, the slightest loophole, a way of being and responding that could make the disparities, conundrums, and WTF moments, “okay enough.” My plan is to laugh enough, sleep enough, and create enough while I am away. And I’ll do something for money, that’s a given, but for now I’ve untwined money and meaning. The jury is out on whether or not I will retwine them.
Thank you for the gifts: strength, sadness, joy, heartbreak, rage, mirth, inspiration, regret, shame, intrigue, expectation, and disbelief, just to name a few. If I never return, I will pay you back for these things off campus.
With Mixed Mind and Strong Heart,