A friend of mine broke her foot several weeks ago and, after an operation, was ordered to stay off her feet entirely for ten weeks. While I certainly don’t envy her the pain and medical procedures she’s had to go through, I found myself envying her the time she’s had just to read and think.
When I started teaching many years ago, in the 1980’s, first in Malawi, then in New York, then in California, every teaching staff I was a part of had its share of what I called “old farts.”
Old farts are teachers who have lost the joy in teaching. They’re grumpy. They’re often older teachers, with many years of experience behind them, but not always: old farts can be middle-aged or even young. It’s more a state of mind than an age.
These were the teachers who would sit in the staff room during breaks and complain: about the school’s administration, about the students, about pretty much everything. Back in the 80’s, they were often men, and they would lace their complaints with sexist comments about female students and hateful comments about colleagues. I hate to think what some of them must have said about me when I wasn’t there: young, eager and enthusiastic as I was.
All teachers complain sometimes – they have some very realistic things to complain about. Old farts, though, simply don’t like to teach and don’t like students. Maybe they did once, but they don’t anymore. I could be wrong, of course. Perhaps it was all for show and in their lessons they were warm and wonderful. I doubt it.
In those days I would listen politely to the complaining; I would nod and smile, not arguing with them, avoiding conflict. Inside, to myself, I said “I will never become like them. If I don’t like teaching anymore, I’ll stop.”
So here I am: an old fart. I just am not feeling the joy I used to feel every time I walked into a classroom. Even when the weather was terrible or I hadn’t had enough sleep and left for school with an exhausted feeling of reluctance that was close to dread, the start of that first lesson would wake me up and cheer me up. I’d go smiling through the rest of the day because teaching energized me.
Now I find myself complaining in the staff room. Although I still like and care about my individual students, I don’t get that shot of energy I used to get from walking into the classroom. I’m tired. I find myself hoping the headmaster will call a snow day.
At the same time, I’m starting to daydream about retirement (at 51 years old!). I think of my parents, who probably daydreamed about retirement too. They even saved up quite a lot of money with the idea of traveling when they no longer had to work, yet neither of them lived that long. I don’t want to be like my parents.
So, true to what I promised myself all that time ago, I am going to stop teaching. I will not continue just because it’s what I’ve always done. At first it’ll be just a sabbatical, and I’ll see if I miss teaching. Somehow, I doubt it.
This “sabbatical” involves quitting one of my two jobs, which will be a wrench. Not because I’ll miss the teaching; I’ll miss my colleagues and many of the students.
As for the other job, I’m going to increase my course load in the first quarter of the year, but then stop for the rest of the school year. That’s the job I’ll go back to after the sabbatical, if I go back at all.
The fact that this is possible at all is down to my amazing husband who, when I told him how unhappy I was, rather matter-of-factly said that I should do what makes me happy. End of story. Choosing him was without a doubt the best decision I have ever made. I am very aware, too, of how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to make this choice at all: to have a partner who earns enough to support me. I am certainly not taking it for granted.
So what will I do with nine (or more) free months? That remains to be seen.
- Writing will certainly be part of it. First of all, I’ll finish off my master’s thesis. Perhaps I could post more often on this blog. Perhaps I could write another book.
- Or maybe I could see if I could make some money through freelance writing or being an “educational consultant” leading workshops for teachers.
- I’d love to do some longer-term, outside-of-school-vacations travel. If I do, it’ll have to be on the cheap, because I won’t have an income. And perhaps that travel could become my next book.
- I could read through my ever-growing “to be read” pile.
Is this my mid-life crisis? Perhaps. That’s okay; I’m looking forward to wherever this takes me!
Have you ever done something like this: just stopped working without a plan? What did you end up doing? Do you have any advice for me?