I never looked at teaching as just a job, career, or paycheck. I knew before entering the profession, that I would not make a great living financially, that I would be underpaid, that I would be spending some of my personal money for classroom materials (didn't realize how much) - but the paycheck was never my motivating factor. TEACHING was. I chose a career in teaching because I truly enjoyed it. Teaching was my dream, passion, mission, and purpose. I was able to completely give my all, because I loved teaching. As much as I hate being in front of others, talking in front of or even to adults, being put on the spot, I was always in my comfort zone when teaching my students.
The bonds, relationships, lessons learned and taught, laughs, discussions, improvements, student potential, and possible differences made while teaching were more than worth the amount of “work” I put in during the day and brought home at night and on weekends. The testing, I do not miss at all, the paperwork was awful (and argumentatively pointless) at times. The money provided to schools, classrooms, and teachers was a joke, but the actual teaching and student growth witnessed was captivating and extremely worthwhile to me. Were there challenges? Absolutely. Days I wanted to repeat, retry, or skip altogether? Yes. Changes that would have made the educational system better? Sure! Students that I possibly didn't reach as much as I hoped? Yes. I'm far from perfect. But, never would I have ever imagined that my teaching career would all crumble before me and end before I was ready to stop teaching. All because I became unexpectedly and chronically sick!!
I can admit that the last 3 years I was actually in the classroom were very difficult due to my health, numerous doctor visits, and constantly feeling ill. I was trying to just get by to make it home and quite literally collapse in pain and fatigue. At the same time, I was lacking the nutrition and energy my body required to actually teach. I was spending too much time creating and writing substitute plans, which unfortunately meant more review or “book/worksheet” based rather than my own preference of lesson plans that I would have taught. My students were missing out on the hands-on activities, projects, and learning experiences as well as not being challenged or going as in-depth that we would have if I was able to be there. I spent many a days too nauseated to make it through a lesson or too lightheaded to move around the room. Days were spent with tears flooding in my eyes as I tried to catch a breath or moment of rest as they rushed through their lunch, while also attempting to prevent my students, colleagues, administration, and parents from seeing the pain or sickness that I was dealing with on a daily basis. Days were spent struggling to maintain my composure until a substitute could be found and able to come in and relieve/replace me for the day. Plans were adapted and changed at the last minute, for students and me, as unexpected sick calls mounted in the mornings due to extreme symptoms or impromptu feeding tube problems requiring medical attention.
I put so much effort, love, time, and heart into truly getting to know each of my students, discovering ways to connect and teach them to my best ability, while also trying my best to be an inspirational teacher. I felt a sense of pride and fulfillment until this damn illness took over my body and required too much of my energy and time. I was not mentally ready to give up on or pause my dream of teaching. I was not mentally ready to say goodbye or leave it all behind. My world was shattered. My dreams were shattered. My identity and purpose were shattered. And to be honest, in many ways they are still shattered years later.
Physically, however, I know that I had no choice. I was too sick to be reliable, dependable, or physically stable in the classroom. I tried to be patient with my body. I tried teaching with the pain, nausea, fatigue, and sickness. I attempted tube feeding while teaching. But it just wasn’t enough to succeed or meet my basic expectations for me as a teacher. My students were not getting the education that they deserved, when my schedule and health were so unpredictable and negatively impacted.
I was limited in ways I didn’t realize was possible. I lost the energy to search and discover meaningful ways to make the lessons intriguing, enlightening, exciting, challenging, and memorable for my students. I began having difficulty meeting my expectations and goals for the class, which was unfair to my students. My health required too much of my attention, medical leave and sick days were exhausted, and I was forced physically by my health and literally by my county to resign and go on long-term disability until my health stabilized or improved to a level where I could once again function to meet and exceed the needs of my students. My teaching was no longer significant enough to overcome the obstacles created by my health needs. I was no longer enough to make a lasting difference in my classroom. Instead of motivating and influencing my students, I unintentionally was holding them back from reaching their utmost potential during the school year. I was no longer able to meet their individual or classroom needs to the best of my ability. The daily transitions and routines became a struggle, full of uncertainty, and choppy for me and most likely the students as well. My body was failing me and as a result, my career and passion were being stolen right out from under me.
Now, I feel lost and empty. There’s a void that I don’t know how to refill. I fought hard to meet expectations during my childhood and educational years as I prepared myself to set out and conquer my goal of teaching. I followed the plan I set, I stayed focused, and I was on the path to achieving my dream of becoming the teacher that I had envisioned for so many years. I was on a successful and meaningful road, making my family and self proud. Living with a career that I strongly believe God had intended for me to live. Helping students see and believe in their individual and unique potentials, regardless of backgrounds or lives outside of the classroom. Incorporating compassion, trust, and a shared respect and love of learning. I had an opportunity to truly make a lasting difference by encouraging my students to visualize how education, dedication, and personal strengths could help pave a future full of possibilities and opportunities to achieve their own goals and dreams. I attempted to help them discover their identity not only as students, but also as leaders and collaborators, in and out of the classroom. I tried to help them see their value as citizens, to inspire them to communicate and work together with anyone and everyone, and guide them to respect and help others, regardless of their circumstances. Teaching was simply ME. It was MY LIFE outside of PARENTING. My DREAM. My PASSION.
Now all of that has disappeared! At one time, I was hopeful that it would return, but as time passes the reality of my shattered dreams become clearer and seemingly more unreasonable. I miss teaching so much. It’s honestly heartbreaking to think about. I had all of it in my grasp until I became ill. Now there’s no meaning or purpose outside of parenting. At times, I can accept that since I love my kids and treasure the time I have with them more than anything. MY KIDS ARE MY LIFE! THEY are what is most important to and cherished by me. It’s just that it feels as if a part of me, a part of my purpose in life, my identity has been taken and is now missing.
I’ve tried to discover a new purpose to strive for alongside my love and need for parenting. I’ve tried participating in online support groups, helping others live and cope with their chronic illnesses. I try advocating via social media about functional GI disorders such as, but not limited to, gastroparesis and colonic inertia. I’ve tried educating and advocating online about life with chronic illness, feeding tubes, ileostomies, etc. I have tried writing and blogging about my health experiences and allow them to be shared publicly on the internet and in my friend's book. Sometimes, these attempts help me feel useful, but often I am missing the feelings of fulfillment and the intrinsic gratification. They often become repetitive and lack in the joy or feeling of personal achievement that I’m searching for. There is no doubt that I will continue to utilize social media to help others. It's just I'm trying to discover something more satisfying and meaningful to do as well. (Though, I'm not sure I will be successful in doing so.)
Recently, I submitted the required information and evidence of professional development needed from the past 5 years in hopes of having my current teacher license renewed. I have no intention of returning to the classroom at this moment in time, as I’m keenly aware that my body is not ready. Honestly, I’m unsure if I will ever be able to return to the classroom full time, though I still strive to hold out hope. However, in the meantime, I couldn’t face losing my teaching license as it would mentally and emotionally hurt me too much. It would be a sign of giving up to me, and would mean that I was a failure in regards to my lifelong dream of being a teacher. Therefore, I’m fighting to at least keep a small part of my identity alive within myself, while hopefully protecting me from too much disappointment.
Even though some of my dreams have been shattered, I still have so much to be thankful for. My life is not over, therefore, I must find a way to accept my life even with the shattered pieces. Similar to dot art, up close each dot is just that a dot, just like each act in our life is simply an act. Often when looking at all the dots up close they may represent a mess of random dots with no resemblance of anything. However, when you take a step back, all the dots come together to create a beautiful work of art, sometimes even a masterpiece. Currently, all I see is a collection of random dots with no definitive image. One day, I hope to see them all come together to create something meaningful.