The Worst Choice May Be Not Choosing At All

When you’re running headlong in lead boots across a minefield in pitch black darkness towards a wall called 40– that is the certainty, or lack thereof, I feel in my life right now.

As I alluded to in my last post, I made not one, but two life-altering decisions this year. In June I packed up all I could into a Hyundai hatchback and took off for Texas, never looking back. In the rear-view mirror were ten years in Colorado, divorce, estranged stepchildren, and the first seven years of a career in the classroom.

I was determined to re-invent my life. I planned to change career paths as part of that re-invention. Inevitably, I gave in to being lazy and complacent, and took a teaching job.

That was a mistake. There are few moments in my life I genuinely wish I could have back; this was one. Here I was, already burned out on teaching, even though a part of me will always feel it’s my calling. I’ve never been good at managing a classroom. I have been good at teaching, but that is only one element of the job. I was lucky to land in schools where you could spend most of your time teaching and not on behavior and discipline. Even there, the kids were starting to exasperate me. Middle school; need I say more?

My luck ran out. I walked into teaching 6th grade language arts at a Title I (which, essentially, means the majority of the students are living in poverty) school. New grade level, new school, new district, new state, and an entirely new socio-economic-cultural dynamic than I was accustomed to. I realize (sadly) that schools like this are more the norm than the sort I came from. I realize there are excellent teachers who have spent their entire careers in schools like this.

I’m not one of them.

Over the summer, I had run out of my anti-depressants, and I didn’t refill them because I decided I was “OK.” That, of course, was idiocy. Now I was here, feeling like a first-year teacher again, at a school working under assorted federal grants, trying to become approved as an IB middle years school. One of those grants involved incentives paid to teachers of up to $10,000 per year; the only catch being, you had to still be there the following November to collect.

I can handle this, right? A colleague who regularly stays until 9 or 10 p.m., whom I have to rely on for nearly everything as I don’t know the first thing about curriculum, or standards, or grading philosophy, etc. here. We took sub days to plan together and still never got ahead. She’s got a reputation for being infuriating to work with; the principal has a reputation for driving off teachers; the school has, well, not a desirable reputation even among those who work for the district. I’ve lost any real chance for control in my classroom by Labor Day. By early October I miss almost a week when I get sick, but to confess, I stretched out that week to avoid going back.

I want to get away, more than I’ve ever wanted to get away from any workplace in my life. I tell myself, you can’t, you can’t. But I’m crying. Crying in the morning when I pull myself out of bed. Crying when I was supposed to be eating lunch. The dread that came over me made me feel like I was going to vomit every time I brushed my teeth in the morning.

Weakness. It’s weakness and you’re a man and you can’t be weak. It’s not allowed. Suck it up. Late October I finally see the doctor and get back on antidepressants. I’m trying, but it’s too little, too late. Halloween, two boys in my first period class spring out of their seats and start throwing fists. I rush between them. I’ve never, ever done this before. Not outside, not in a hallway, much less in the middle of class. The boys get two days of after-school detention. No suspension at all. Fights happen all the time here. The very fact that statement can be made so dismissively disgusts me. Maybe I’m just not a realist. I have no desire to be in this case.

The next day, I’m meeting with the assistant principal. Due to my ineffective classroom management and “lack of engagement” in my teaching (the principal literally told me, after observing a lesson, that “if I were a student, I’d be stabbing my eyes with my pencil”), I’d been put on an assistance plan. I was a TINA– Teacher In Need of Assistance. That was certainly a first. I told her that I have to be honest. I’m thinking about quitting. Since it was a Friday, I’d think about it over the weekend.

I did. Monday, November 4th, I submitted my resignation form. Apparently Texas is pretty liberal about such matters; even though you’re technically under contract for the school year, if the principal approves your resignation, that’s all you need do. I agreed to work out the week (from what I was told, there were some in the history of that school who marched in on a Friday afternoon and said they wouldn’t be back Monday). Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and finally Friday, I was talking to myself in the mirror. One more day, one more day.

It struck me as funny that no one was mad at me (at least no one expressed it to me). Several people told me they understood. Everyone wished me well. Even the principal and AP assured me they’d give me a positive reference. A few were rightfully concerned that I didn’t have another job to go to. But I felt I was at my breaking point. I say that without any exaggeration. My emotions, my mind, neither were going to hold intact much longer, and of course that manifested itself in my physical health as well. I was headed either for a nervous breakdown or slamming a kid into a wall when I finally snapped, either of which would have taken the choice out of my hands.

I’m sad it came to that. I do feel weak. I do feel like I failed. I do feel scared of the future, of what the hell do I do now. At the same time, I have felt so utterly relieved these past four weeks. Somehow, I’m going to make this work.

There’s a lot I can’t control. One thing I can is my writing. I guess it hasn’t been much to speak of for a long time. I won’t let it go though. This post was entirely self-indulgent. I’ve been needing the catharsis of putting it out there. If you want to judge me, go right ahead. I thank you for taking the time; even if you feel inclined to call me an idiot, it still means you read.

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D is for…

Jason & RustyD is for Dogs. I have long been an affirmed dog person. I like cats (spelled “anktd” in Beccanese) well enough, but they could never fill the same role to me. As a child I had a black-grey poodle mix named Pepsi (interesting, since I ended up eventually working for Coca-Cola). We had to give him to my grandmother before I got to high school, and from that point on I didn’t have another dog at home until moving here to Colorado. When I got here, the first living creature to meet me at the door was Rusty, an auburn-maned golden retriever who had been passed to my (now ex-, then soon-to-be-) wife when her father died. He was sweet, if not the smartest; however, he wasn’t so good at retrieving anything.

ginger 1After getting married, my wife’s ex adopted a shelter dog, but soon found he couldn’t take adequate care of her. So she came to us, and we renamed her Ginger, though she didn’t have a speck of red in her hair. She was a spaniel mix, and old; we didn’t realize nearly how old until we took her to the vet. She was at least 10, and would live on another seven years, despite living with epilepsy and a tumor on her side that continued to grow bigger, harder, and heavier. The vet said that her epilepsy made it far too risky to put her under to operate, so as long as it didn’t appear to be hurting her, we could let her be, because she was obviously a happy dog. She wasn’t frisky by any means, but she had a resilience and air about her that I couldn’t help but be enamored by; she was a lady. She simply did not suffer fools, and could give you the dirtiest looks I’ve ever seen from a dog; yet she was incredibly patient when you were bathing, shaving, or grooming her. She happily took her phenobarbital pill in a chunk of hot dog every morning. I loved that dog like I don’t think I ever quite could another. Though she was already aged before ever meeting us, she bonded firmly with our family and especially me. We lived in fear that a seizure was going to kill her; one day she had one that triggered a stroke, and with the knowledge it was likely to happen again 2011 006soon,  we brought her in to be put down. I held her there, talking to her, feeling her last breath drawn and final heartbeat. It was my first moment like that in my life and I would be fine if it were my last, but I would never change my mind about being there.

In 2004, with both dogs with us, we got a new bichon frise puppy; in honor of the texture of her curly white hair, she was named Cotton. In her young days, she was prone to the hyper episodes known as the “bichon blitz.” She was not nearly so patient with grooming, and simply would not permit the traditional “poofy” bichon haircut. In the wake of marital separation, with Ginger gone, she seemed to attach more to me, and I took her with me when we went our separate ways; but as described in my “A is for…” post, I had to give up custody of her at the end of the year. I haven’t been able to bear going to see her at my former mother-in-law’s house since, though I’m glad to be told how happy she is.

In two months I will live with two more dogs, not my own, but I think I will get along well enough with them…

C is for…

C is for Colorado, my home from July 21, 2002 until sometime in the first week of June, ultimately just short of 11 years. At the time I was looking for a new life. I fell in love and moved here, having never even visited before. Shortly over a year later I was married, and remained so for the next 8½ years. Now I feel there’s not much life for me here, and I sojourn on to make a new one in a new place.

I never even thought of living here before that, but I’d now say it’s one of the best places for an impulsive relocation. We are the healthiest (least-obese) state in the union and the “purple mountain majesty” truly is stunning. The dry air means summers, even when hot, are not so uncomfortable. Winters are long, but they’re what draw people here; though I still have never gone skiing/snowboarding. 

I never experienced a sinus infection until being exposed to that dry air. Also, as pretty as snow is to look at, it sucks when you still have to drive in it. Mountains and forests show nature’s beauty at its finest, but there are precious few substantial bodies of water. Denver is a beautiful city without a doubt, and as I wrote yesterday, I fell in love with its baseball team. Natives will tell you they can’t understand why anyone would ever want to live anywhere else. But it has never quite felt like home, and now it doesn’t seem to feel like fighting to keep me here. 

Here’s to you, Colorado (I snapped this myself, from the top of Mesa Verde):

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And here’s to you, Denver & Coors Field: 

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