Monday, February 16, 2015

My Next Calling

15 February, 2015

I used to be a great teacher.
A performer.
I used to weave effortlessly
between learning styles.
Between lessons.
I used to be a great teacher.

I used to be a great manager.
A diffuser of tricky situations.
I used to hire enthusiastically
and fire compassionately
and train carefully in between.

I used to get glowing
performance reviews.
I used to get promoted.
I used to get noticed.
I used to be great at my job.

I applied for and got a new
job last year. A university
job in a town near Gareth's
with a schedule like Gareth's
and with promise of giving
me a chance to do my thing-
do what I did best- teaching.

I left Gareth back in a hotel
room in Daegu the morning
I interviewed for my job. "I
don't need to wish you good
luck," he said as I gathered
my things and searched for
my purse. "Anybody who
wouldn't want you doesn't
deserve to have you. You're
an amazing teacher." And
he kissed me goodbye.

And I kind of was. I mean,
I seemed to have an infinite
passion for teaching. I
seemed to have an uptapped
energy supply for putting into
lessons. For coming up with
creative solutions to otherwise
boring learner objectives.

I used to be a great teacher.

My new employer was promised
this teacher in my interview. Why
wouldn't I deliver what I said I
would? It used to be effortless. I
used to feel gifted. My new employer
has never seen this teacher. Death
has pulled the old bait-n-switch.

I used to be good at what I did.

Maret teacher did not show up for
her first class. Phone calls were made.
Classes were canceled. Some were
covered by other teachers. Maret teacher
was not standing in front of her new
class, dazzling get-to-know-you
activities in place. Rosters ready to
be checked. English ready to be spoken.

I was instead waiting. Waiting for
visiting time again so I could cross
the threshold of those double steel
doors and lie with my love. Waiting
for his family to make the long flight
from New Zealand. Waiting to see
them walk down the hospital corridor.
Waiting for the news we already knew.
Waiting for signs that apologies were
heard. That reassurances were felt.
Waiting for my love's heart to stop.

I was not there in class for the days
that followed- the days of ash. The
days of dust. I returned on the Monday
of the second week of classes. I
returned an empty shell of what I was.

I used to be a good teacher.

This facsimile of myself, this
person who walked like me and
talked like me, got herself dressed
each day and put herself in front
of a classroom of students. She
smiled and bounced and whirled
and twirled. She hit "next" on
the powerpoint slide each and
every time. She was good at hitting
"next." She used to be a good teacher.

It took 100% of my energy to
appear 25% as engaged as I used
to be. Blinking hurt. Breathing
seemed no longer an involuntary
activity. For an 11:00 class, I was
often sobbing in my car until 10:58
and back at it at 11:05. I showed up.
And I did the absolute very best
I could, which may be adequate.

I used to be more than adequate.

I've completed 2 semesters in
this job and am returning soon
for a third. I've twice started
voluteering with our university's
special needs population and
twice dropped my intentions
because if energy went towards
volunteering, it seemed to be
taken away from somewhere else,
like having the ability to feed
myself or order a coffee without
bawling. I used to be able to
take on more. I used to be able
to give. And give. And give.

I think back to that interview
and imagine what they thought
they were getting. I can't tell
you how much I wish my boss,
my co-workers, my students
could have met that person.
The one I was before. Sometimes
I can picture what she'd be
doing now. Developing interesting
classes and testing them out.
Collaborating with other instructors.
Getting students involved in
learning in a way that makes
others stand up and take notice.

I am the teacher now who flies
under the radar. I am the one
who takes 3 hours to make a
lesson that should only take 1.
I am the teacher who finds chatting
with others at the staff holiday
party a real challenge. Stay present.
Nod. Smile. Ask questions. Nod
again. Sip your soda water. Don't
you dare cry. There's nothing 
remotely even grief-related 
happening now. Do. not. cry.
I am the girl who cries in the office.
I am the girl who cries in the car.
I'm afraid I have a reputation as
the crying girl. The grieving one.

I used to be the coworker people loved
being around. I used to make others laugh.
I used to walk with purpose and almost
in kind of a hurry. There was so much
to be done, always, and I loved doing it.

This new teacher makes mistakes.
Mis-reads emails and sends something
in too late. Or too early. Or not at all.
This new teacher confuses the old
schedule for the new one and misses
a language clinic. Just- doesn't show up.
This new teacher patted herself on the
back that morning for looking at the
schedule and realizing she didn't have
to be there. Except that she did.

Who is this person?

This new teacher recognizes
that old feeling of teaching passion
and shares a link with 80-odd members
of her staff. A lesson idea for a particular
class. This new teacher is reminded
that only 5 of those 80 teachers actually
teach the particular class. (subtext: what
are you doing sending that email to the
entire staff when only 5 people may
even be remotely interested in it?)

I used to share all types of ideas
and links. Good ones. Ones that
generated conversations and led
to creative practices in the classroom.
This new teacher can't even send an
email to the right people.

I recently sent an email to my director,
a kind man who has no trouble telling
it like it is- a quality needed for being
responsible for 80 staff members.

"Hi, Patrick-" I wrote, "just wanted
to let you know I've been in communication
with Patrick about the new course."
(subtext: I'm on top of things. Except
I wrote "Patrick" twice. The second guy's
name is "Paul.") "Do you mean Paul?" wrote
Patrick. (subtext: Do you even know the
names of the people you work with?")

I used to be somebody who clearly
knew the difference between Patrick
and Paul, and had nearly impeccable
rereading/correcting skills before hitting
"send" on emails. "Yes. I meant Paul."

I fear I'm giving the impression that
I'm someone who can't follow emails.
Someone who misses important things.
Someone who certainly isn't seen as
a star teacher. I'm afraid I'm not only
giving that impression, but that it's true.

And maybe it is.

There's something that seems
clear to me, and that is that as much
as I am a teacher through and through,
I am not the same person I was before
Gareth died. I never will be.

And that opens up some questions.
If I can't slip back into that role,
if I was passionately led to teach
for 14 years, then is it possible
that I'm being passionately led
away from teaching? Is this a cosmic
shake-up? Am I getting another calling,
and if so, will I hear it when it rings?

I know what I was.
And I know what I am not now.
And a bit of that is heartbreaking.

But I also know what I am and
what I have come to know about
myself as a result of seeing how
I navigate through such a great loss.

I am a connector.
I am a writer.
I am a gifted communicator.
I am not afraid to be right up close-
nose-to-nose with grief, death,
people in trauma, and those who
are suffering. I am not afraid.

I am drawn to populations
that others often find baffling-
teenagers, homeless, mentally ill,
elderly. I am drawn to those for
whom the veils are thin. I am
drawn to those who have a toe
dipped in another existence:
teen to adult, dying to dead,
losing to lost. I am drawn to these
people. I always have been.

I am comfortable speaking
in front of a crowd. I am shameless
in the good way. I am not against
using my own pain to help others
laugh and sometimes to help others
name their own discomfort. I am
good at putting it all out there.
I am good at saying what others
are sometimes afraid to say.

I am adventurous. I like to be out
of my comfort zone.

I am compassionate. I can listen
and even better than that, I can hear.
I can hear what people are saying,
and I care a great deal about them.

I may not have the same type
of energy left to teach like I
once did. That's a possibility.
And in the meantime, my best
efforts are good enough. I won't
win any teacher awards, but
I also won't be getting fired.
Students are learning and they
are happy. They don't know they're
getting shortchanged. Only I know
that. And I can't seem to do a damn
thing about it at the moment.

I will go back in a few weeks.
I will give it everything I possibly
have. And I will listen. I will listen
for what I think may be ringing in
the not so distant future: my next calling.


  1. I can feel who you are now
    and she is finding her people
    reading the numinous waves of light
    that enter easier eyes washed with tears
    She is still here even when she is right over there
    or somewhere else again
    following maybe the sound of laughing
    reaching right past where
    people are alone in blinded bubbles
    to shine the light that shows
    the iridescent surface is just
    this hilarious microcosm of everything
    or maybe it is a bird
    but anyway obviously we are not alone
    because we are laughing

    1. I love every bit of this- including, but not limited to the fact that I learned a new word. Numinous. Beautiful. And hilarious microcosm of everything. Yes. this, indeed. We are not alone. We are laughing. I adore you.

  2. Bridget, I am moved by what you say. I can relate. I would like to message you, offline, or talk via Skype. My thoughts are spinning.