What Is Life Without Growing Pains? [Behind the Scenes #2]

[Harry: This is the 2nd in our Behind the Scenes series from our rockstar Project Manager, Sara]

It is more important to show what you are really like at a given point in time than to try and be perfect. 

A few weeks ago I video-chatted with a 12th grade girl that didn't know I was leaving school when I did. I think I was afraid to tell her. I knew that she would want to talk about it, and it was not something I knew how to explain to her. So I left and didn't say anything.




“I wanted to…but I think I was in shock? And then I got busy…”

And that's when I started to cry. I had thought about Susannah and what she was feeling many times since my last day of school on January 18th, but I had kept thinking: if she wants to contact me, she will. All the other kids who had been my daily visitors did. But she didn't, so I waited. Not a great decision on my part, but reflective of how I was feeling.

There's a sort of separation anxiety that comes from leaving teaching when all you have ever known is teaching. I have been in education since the spring of 2004, but I have been a teacher since the 2nd grade. My Aunt Grace was a 6th grade social studies teacher, and she used to take me to her classroom to help her set up for school and staple papers. It was then I decided that if I wanted a job where buying stationery products was mandatory, then this was for me.

When I was old enough to decide on things, I determined I needed to be a teacher for the following reasons:

  1. The stationery thing.
  2. I would get to do something different every day.
  3. I would not be in an office.
  4. Decorating.

Later on, when I was actually going into college, etc, I further determined that I also wanted to be able to read and talk about books all the time; so I became an English teacher.

In my first 4-5 years, I spent so much time lesson planning and carefully grading all weekend, that I think I had convinced myself that it was fun, because it allowed me to fall into a pattern of thinking that this is how I needed to behave if I were to be successful.

I'm still trying to slowly figure out the layers of it in my brain, but I believe a major factor contributing to my leaving was noticing that, over time, how little I would feel that I was accomplishing with the skills that I had and the amount of time I was putting in. Blame it on whatever factors you may, but for years I would go back and forth in my mind about this intrinsic need for more.

One part of me wanted to stop trying so hard and focus on life outside of school, which was, I was told, where I would find that more. And I definitely did this for stretches at a time. It was relatively easy for me to be very good in the classroom and then focus on gardening and hiking with my amazing dogs when I got home — at least after the first 5 years or so. But also the other part of me heard how ridiculous that sounded.

I found it really challenging to not be a teacher, because being one demanded so much of my brain power and attention to detail and improvement; without that, I used to think, what's the point? I had a good deal of trouble reconciling that. I never really learned how to do both. I've always been way slower to pick up on things the general population takes in stride, and this seemed to be no different. For the first half of my career I used to think it was so cool that I would get to teach for 10 months and then be whoever I wanted for two. Turns out I had the math in reverse.

Eventually, after 10+ years in the profession, I got tired of improving just to impress myself. Around me, outside of school, people were always talking about things they were accomplishing, and raises they were either hoping for or – gasp – ASKING for. And I would increasingly be pushed to the edge of the circle as it was impossible for me to connect on any level with the experiences of people working in the outside world. That's not to say I necessarily wanted to connect with them, but I felt wholly disconnected from the idea of working hard at improving and then getting rewarded for it.

Occasionally, when someone would notice how much work I always seemed to have, and see me grow weary of not being able to participate fully in my weekend, or “vacation”, I would be asked, “Won't you get more money for doing that, though?” I just stared back blankly, in shock that someone could think that I would be able to “ask” for money because of all the extra time I'd put into re-vamping my Great Gatsby unit. There was a huge valley that separated me from experiencing the way the other half lived.

Congruently, it increasingly became apparent that the parts of being an English teacher that I excelled at were the parts that mattered most to students, but were not the parts that anyone cared about. It does NOT feel good to be questioned by other teachers, “Why are you reading that again? Don't you know it by heart yet, no one will notice,” when you are someone who greatly values academic content and structure.

The truth is, no one WOULD notice, but I would know it wasn't the best thing I could do, and my students would know that it wasn't and would let me know. They knew my style and my sense of humor, and valued that consistency in my work, and I never wanted to disappoint them. But as is true for many issues in education, the decisions that are often made have the kids in mind last, and I didn't know how to handle that.

You are exactly where you need to be right now.

I found myself repeating this sentiment to myself last year at various points in my journey, each time as I discovered it, and always with an aura of trepidation. Yesterday, Harry said that exact phrase to me over the phone as I started to cook tacos on the stove and he started vigorously chopping Blue Apron ingredients. There is magic in life's moments when we discover it for what it is right now, and at the same time are able to connect it to the future. I can feel it in my skin every single day that this is true, and sometimes that feeling coincides with someone else's. Sometimes it's so strong I feel like I'm bubbling over and it's impossible that no one else is noticing. And other times I want to apologize for my writing being ramshackle and flustered.

My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.

I hate that I have so much trouble organizing, and consequently this post sounds like I am ranting. If you had only seen it before I took a knife to it you would have surely thought I was trying to piss off everyone I've ever known. What I'm trying to do is talk for the first time, and like all first things, it's hard.

What I'm going through can partly be illustrated by the following conversation that I had a couple of weeks ago via text with a long-time colleague and friend in New York:

ME: Snow day chat today??!!!

HIM: Let me finish my progress reports first.

ME: Haha ok, let me finish my blog!

I could not help thinking about how the universe doesn't want me to forget that I spent the very last snow day I had before coming to California grading literally around 375 different tests, quizzes, and projects. Perhaps I got out for a snowy walk with the dogs, and watched some Netflix in the morning — but I wasn't writing. And I certainly didn't feel creative in any way.

If I were still there I would have spent the day doing progress reports and complaining about it via a well-worn network of teacher text convos. Instead, today I wrote something new, and although I may not have felt great about it, someone asked me to do it and that's enough to make me feel like the growing pains are worth it.

Now it's your turn: what struggles or circumstances or choices in your life have led you to similar states of unrest? I'd love to hear from you.

NOTE: The colleague I mention above texted me again last night with a link to a Newsday column from this weekend that he thought connected well to my continuously unfolding story, and also would provide a deeper connection to the world outside my head. In Teachers, it's OK not to be martyrs Joseph Durling honestly depicts the divided world that many teachers live in when they choose their own own well being over that of their students. 

  • I love this! It rings true to many people, regardless of profession, but especially those in education. My lessons are created to please the ‘higher ups’ and are so structured. It’s all about data and test scores. As you know, I had some tough times in this field. However, everything that ‘went wrong’ brought me to where I am now. I spent/spend so much time worrying and trying to be in control, but things have worked out. They have worked out better than I could have hoped, actually. Every negative ending somehow led to a better beginning.
    I’m so happy to see you are free and experiencing life in a way that makes you feel fulfilled. You were always such a great teacher BECAUSE you are an amazing person.
    I look forward to reading more of your writing!

    • Thank you for this detailed response, Toni! I love that you get what I was trying to say about struggling to balance what I was supposed to do and what I wanted to do. And it’s so important to see the thread that connects each part of our human experience as one that often does not know how to connect on its own: we have to be the ones to help it through.

  • I can relate as I sit embroiled in the Health Care world gazing and wondering what working in the “real world” would be like and wondering what a happy and satisfied “me” would look like. Sigh.
    I recalibrate: the grass is always greener…..

  • Thanks for all you do to support our company. I can’t believe it’s only been 5 months. I’m honored to have you share your journey as I know it will be an inspiration to many. #teamworkmakesthedreamwork

  • So before all else, I’d like to say thank you for all that additional time, effort and drive that you put into your time as a teacher. Many of my fondest memories from high school are from your classes, and may I remind you that I decided to go as Gatsby to celebrity day after being inspired by your Great Gatsby unit…

    Currently residing in the outside world looking in, it seems to me that teachers are in large underappreciated for the work they accomplish, and I guess we only have general dynamics of society to blame. Schools seem to focus on (stifling) standardized test performance and students see most-any work as burdensome – an environment that would quickly chip away at motivation for anyone stuck in the middle trying his or her best to make a difference.

    I found this to be such a great read and wish you the best of luck in your new endeavor, where your originality, creativity and work ethic can fully shine!

    Looking forward to catching future pieces! – Kevin C. Tripp

    • Kevin,

      I wanted to reply to this when I first received it, but comments were disabled for awhile and we’ve just had them fixed. I did not know which Kevin this was until I got to the bottom on the post… and I was like, be still my heart, it’s my little Gatsby. You have always been one of the most caring, well-spoken, interested (and interestING), and genuinely enjoyable people I have known, and it means a great deal to be that you are now reading my writing.

      Your comment about schools being “an environment that would quickly chip away at motivation for anyone stuck in the middle trying his or her best to make a difference,” is spot-on, and resonates with me as a huge part of teaching high school — especially a subject like English which the average student deems “easy to pass,” or thinks, because they somewhat CAN read, that they now shouldn’t have to do it. I always tried my best — as your comments above and those of others on this page prove — but I can’t keep doing it in the same cycle every year. It’s crazy exhausting.

      Lastly, Kevin, some of my fondest memories from high school also involve YOUR classes. So even though I’m not IN a classroom anymore, I can still tell you to remember: there’s a green light BEYOND the green light.

      – Ms. Candela

  • LOVE this – I especially love the comment, “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” I feel with a mentor like Harry your community of like-minded amazing humans will help formulate the constellation so it can shine brighter!

    • We just figured out who this comment is from based on the LinkedIn reply we found… thanks so much for reading, and stay tuned! #shiningbrightly

  • Niiiiiiiice post, Sara! Congrats! It’s great to have you on Harry’s FullCast team. I feel really supported by you & Levi… and naturally Harry! Although working/teaching is challenging, it does have it’s benefits: summer (and winter) vacations, and at the university level, not too many classes or students. Then again, now that I’m retired, I can tell you that retirement has a whole list of challenges all its own. Carry on… with your journey of discovery….. Eric Trules, “e-travels with e. trules” podcast

  • >