I've dreamed of being a writer for as long as I can remember. In high school creative writing class, I turned in a short story that my teacher basically dubbed the first chapter of a novel. (Shout out to Mr. McLean, wherever you are... I eventually turned that idea into my first novel like fifteen years later.) But somewhere along the line, I started to doubt myself. There's no way I could go into writing as a career. How the heck would I ever make it work? I needed to do something safe, practical. So I went into teaching.
I had talked on and off about possibly going to school to teach English or writing, probably because I had quite a few great teachers in the English department at my high school. After switching majors from English to Writing to Communications and then to Education, it was settled. I was enjoying my education classes, I loved what I was learning, and I liked working with kids. The dream of writing never died - I could always teach writing or work on a book in my spare time - but it definitely got put on hold for awhile.
My first teaching job was a self-contained 6th, 7th, and 8th grade class at a Florida middle school. After a year of teaching kids that were as big as (bigger than!) me, I thought maybe I wanted to work with little kids instead. Then after a year of teaching first grade, I thought maybe I wanted to work with kids a little older. I found my teaching groove in fourth grade, and taught fourth grade for eight years. I taught in a low SES school and, although I had my fair share of struggles, I really enjoyed it. It was at times disheartening to reach out and never meet a student's family, or to sometimes feel like I was the only adult in a kid's life that paid attention to them. And it was always difficult to find that balance between teaching the curriculum and using the textbooks that I was being told to teach,while wanting to do the types of activities I'd prepared and practiced with in college. And the testing... Everything revolved around test scores.
In 2012, I moved to Virginia to teach 5th grade at a middle school in a small district outside of Washington, D.C. I was shocked to learn that I would have way more freedom to teach how I wanted, as long as I was teaching the curriculum. I was amazed at the wealth of resources we had. I felt like, for the first time in ten years, I was actually getting to teach. I was praised for thinking outside the box and coming up with new activities. I could share my ideas with colleagues and not worry about whether or not the administration would be disappointed that I wasn't using a textbook program with fidelity. It was like a breath of fresh air for my teaching career!
Of course, after a few years, when things settle down, you realize that the grass isn't always greener, especially in any school system. There's still high stakes testing. There's still curriculum that needs to be taught and guidelines to adhere to. And meetings to go to and papers to grade. And as a teacher, you never feel like you have enough time to get it all done, and done well. That's probably what I found the hardest about teaching. If I'm going to do a job, I want to do it right, and I want to do it well. Sometimes I feel like teachers are so stripped of their tools and creativity that they're almost set up to fail... But that's a whole other blog post.
This whole time, I was still writing away. For years, writing became a respite during my 9-year long first marriage (which was stagnant and miserable) and divorce (which was stressful but liberating!)
Writing was a source of inspiration for my students, who thought it was cool that I wanted to write a book some day. I would turn National Novel Writing Month into an ongoing math lesson. (If I have 32,064 words to write, and two weeks to do it in, how many words do I need to write each day?) Later, students always thought it was amazing to hear that I'd actually written a book (or more than one book) even though I told them they weren’t books for kids, but maybe something their moms might like to read.
And, after giving birth to my son last year, my writing habit helped me get back on track and remember myself. I took a year off from teaching to stay at home with my son. As a new mom, I was completely and blissfully immersed in our family and our days together. I would happily lay immobilized on the couch with my son on my chest for two hours while he napped, even though nothing else got done around the house. And then I started to get the itch to write again. Once I started writing, I went crazy. I finished my book. I started blogging and freelancing. And I was so happy. (And so tired... but so happy.) My husband suggested that if I didn't want to go back to teaching, I didn't have to. I could stay home and write.
But all I’d ever done was teach. I had always had someone to tell me what I had to do, and when I needed to do it by, and basically, how to do it. If I was going to write for a living, it was all going to be up to me.
The thought terrifies me. But I’m doing it anyway.
What’s that saying? “Don’t let the fear of falling keep you from flying.”
My new journey is just beginning. Wish me luck.