Sarah loved her Passion Planner. She showed us the color-coded calendar, the monthly reflection pages. I decided to buy one. In January. Of 2020.
The opening activity asks one to list things they’d like to accomplish in three months, one year, three years, and a lifetime. So I dutifully dreamed. In three months I wanted to have my teacher certification completed. In a year, I wanted to be consistently blogging at least once per month. In three years I wanted to be living abroad, be fluent in another language, be location independent (able to work from anywhere). In my lifetime I wanted to become financially independent.
The next task: “Go back to each of the four sections and circle one goal that would have the MOST positive impact on your life.” I circled. Finally, I was told, of the four things I’d chosen, pick the one that would have the biggest impact. “Being Location Independent” was the winner.
When the instructions told me that was my goal for the next year, I was stunned.
No way! That was my 3 year goal! How can I become location independent by the end of 2020? I was in my fourth year of teaching. I loved my job. I had kind students who were eager to learn. I had colleagues whose work I respected, who were one more talented than the next, who were always available with a listening ear and supportive words. I genuinely enjoyed working with my fellow teachers, the staff, my principal, and my students. The idea of becoming location independent by the end of the year seemed so off-the-mark that I did the entire exercise all over again. With the same result.
So I went with it. Begrudgingly.
I continued following the instructions. (I went to Catholic school. I follow the rules.) I drew a “mind map” of the things I’d need to do in order to reach my goal. Declutter my home (so we could rent it out). Find work I could do remotely. From there, I broke things down further. Declutter my office closet, the kitchen, the hutch in our front foyer. Redo my resume, join Upwork (a site for online freelancers), get my first job on Upwork. Each month I chose something to work on. But I still wasn’t convinced.
Spring arrived. After the roller coaster that was online teaching, I watched as teachers retired or left the profession. But I was thinking that, after my much-earned summer break, I would be ready to return to in-person teaching.
I was wrong.
The job I had enjoyed pre-COVID looked very little like the job I walked into in August, 2020. The activities I did with my students, the procedures I had in place, basically most of the things that made me an effective teacher—I couldn’t do those. “No partner or group work or any activities that will have them be less than six feet apart.” Oh no. My around-the-room math scavenger hunts, my science stations. All of my activities that created a classroom of students helping students were off the table. I felt like we were going backwards—to those days of teachers lecturing while students sat quietly copying furiously what was being written on the board. And I never wanted to teach like that.
Many teachers pivoted and did quite well. But I barely had a moment to think about how to change my teaching. I had one 45-minute block between 7:45 and 3:20 where I had planning time. But more often than not, that was spent putting out whichever fire had cropped up.
I came home exhausted–unable to even think about doing anything other than stare at a wall. Explaining it, complaining about it, seemed futile—every teacher in America and around the world was dealing with this to some degree. I only had 12 students. My private school provided us with any technology and supplies we wanted. Who was I to complain?
But I knew this wasn’t going to be sustainable for me. I went into teaching because I like to teach. And I felt like everything I did that made me a good teacher was gone. I felt more like a babysitter or prison guard–constantly telling students that what they wanted to do wasn’t allowed: on the playground, in the hallways, in my classroom. Looking back, one of the things that hurt the most was the lack of positive interactions with my colleagues. Or any interactions with them at all. I barely saw them. We had been split into “cohorts.” Schedules had been adjusted such that we hardly interacted with anyone outside our cohort. If we were outside at the same time, our students were to be in different parts of the schoolyard so they didn’t cross-contaminate each other. Which meant we teachers lost those precious minutes of conversation on shared breaks–that time to listen, to vent, to offer a kind word, to laugh together, to share our joys and challenges. In the moments I did get with other teachers, we tried to be positive. But it just wasn’t enough.
And so it was that I made the decision to walk away from a job that, just nine months earlier, I couldn’t imagine leaving: I resigned.