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My mid-life crisis

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.”

Life is a journey. (photo copyright Anne Hellersmith)

Life is a journey. (photo copyright Anne Hellersmith)

 

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?

26 Comments

  • Abby Reddig Moser

    March 9, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    ” It is the brave thing to do.
    You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life.
    You are marching into the unknown, ”
    Birdie (You’ve Got Mail)

    I could not agree more!!! –Abby

    Reply
    • rachel75

      March 10, 2014 at 6:14 am

      People keep telling me it’s brave. I just feel like I need to do it, which to me doesn’t feel brave. Bravery is when you do something you DON’T want to do, isn’t it? Anyway, thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  • Lucy

    March 9, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    I found this to be a very interesting post. In my early days as nurse, I clearly remember having similar feelings towards older nurses. I remember thinking that they became almost mechanical with the care they were giving their patients. It was all just another day to them. I always vowed that before I reached that point, I would retire or change fields. Here I am, 25 years later and while I can’t quite afford to retire, I have shifted within my field. Kudos to you for first of all recognizing this within yourself and secondly, for being brave enough to make a change. I wish you well in your journey!

    Reply
    • rachel75

      March 10, 2014 at 6:17 am

      So, 25 years later, have you become the nursing equivalent of an old fart, or did shifting fields help you avoid it? I have shifted tasks throughout my career: different age levels, different subjects, etc. But lately it just hasn’t helped. Thanks for the good wishes! I’ll keep documenting the journey here.

      Reply
  • Wim Reimert

    March 10, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Just as happy as you are, Rachel, am I with a partner who enabled me to stop teaching and becoming a full-time visual artist. But unlike you, I didn’t feel like being an old fart at the moment I took the decision of giving up teaching. In my case it was a gradual process in wich the longing for the studio slowly but steadily overtook the longing for the study. Not for a moment since then I have regretted my decision. It’s surprising though, how many people think that you are now in a position to do this or to do that as “you’ve stopped working, haven’t you?”. Enjoy your future.

    Reply
    • rachel75

      March 10, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      Wim, you were NEVER an old fart! But I see what you mean: it’s been a gradual process for me too. It just took me a while to acknowledge how I was feeling. Unlike you, I don’t have a “calling.” I like to write, and I think I’m pretty good at it, but it’s not something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s grown gradually as well. Stay tuned for further developments!

      Reply
  • Sue

    May 4, 2015 at 5:32 am

    I applaud your decision. About 18 months ago I left my job with no plans. Now working part time at a job I love has allowed for a much happier life. How did things turn out for you?

    Reply
    • rachel75

      May 4, 2015 at 5:37 am

      Thanks for the support! I’m in the middle of my sabbatical now. Still traveling, but also beginning to sell some writing. I’ll go back to my job in the fall, but I hope to arrange it so I’ll still have time for travel and writing since it’s only a 40% job.

      Reply
  • Paula McInerney

    May 4, 2015 at 6:43 am

    Could be my own story and yes this is your mid life crisis…and was mine. I was a teacher for a long time, and i just got sick of the bureaucracy, not the kids. I also left with my husbands blessing and have never looked back.

    Reply
  • Yasha Langford

    May 4, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Wow! I started reading this and thought it was me speaking!!! I left permanent, full-time teaching in the mid-80s after 10 years – I have been back to it in different forms since that time. I worked on and off as an emergency supply teacher through the 90s and in between took time out to travel and study. When I no longer had the desire to be in a classroom, I took up tutoring in my home – that was really great – as I reinvented myself, training as an ESL teacher (I was formerly a high school maths teacher). I spent last year teaching English in Santiago de Chile, and loving it (I also turned 60!) I am and always will be a teacher, but how you practice your vocation is what counts, and keeps you from being an ‘old fart’!!! So, go for it – follow your dreams.
    PS ‘old fart’ is exactly the term I would also use.

    Reply
    • rachel75

      May 5, 2015 at 5:10 am

      Haha! I thought I was the only one to use that term! I guess I haven’t figured out yet what to reinvent myself AS.

      Reply
  • Donna Janke

    May 5, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I am not a teacher but I could relate to a lot of what you said at the beginning of the post. I didn’t like it when I became tired and jaded and seemed to becoming one of the “old farts”. When that happens, I think it is time to either move on or find a new area in your job or profession to give you renewed interest. I’m interested to read about how your decision worked out for you and what you learned.

    Reply
  • Anita @ No Particular Place To Go

    May 6, 2015 at 8:26 am

    I totally identified with your post and the experience of a mid-life crisis. As a “grumpy old fart” myself in a different profession (pharmacy) I totally re-evaluated what I wanted from life and then, with my husband’s full support, set off in a new direction. It’ll be fun to see how your journey evolves.

    Reply
  • Nancie

    May 8, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    I’ve been teaching in Korea for the past 15 years. Next Thursday I turn 60, and that was supposed to be it for teaching and Korea. Well, I just accepted a job yesterday. I’m moving to Seoul in September and I’ll be faculty at one of the top three universities in the country. Funny, it feels like the right decision. Time will tell 🙂 I do hope that your sabbatical provided you some answers and maybe a road map forward! 🙂

    Reply
  • Carole Terwilliger Meyers

    May 9, 2015 at 2:40 am

    My plan in my early days of travel writing was that I needed to make as much writing as I would have been able to make teaching (because I had a credential). I managed it for many years, but the times they are a’changin. I haven’t been able to make as much money with blogs and websites.

    Reply
    • rachel75

      May 9, 2015 at 9:19 am

      I’m really fortunate in that I don’t have to support myself entirely. I’ll go back to my 40% job in August, and my husband earns enough for us both. Working only 40% (which in teacher-speak is really more like 50-60%), I should have time to keep writing and maybe earn a bit extra with it. Are you still teaching as well as writing?

      Reply

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