I came to motherhood later in life that I had planned. My husband and I spent our 20s being destitute graduate students, and our 30s suffering from a variety of strange medical problems. (Seriously. Entire groups of years went by during which I was never on crutches for less than six months a year, and my husband was averaging three eye surgeries a year in a good year.) As it played out, I was 41 when my son was born. At that point, I was a mid-career English teacher and department chair. I had two master’s degrees, National Board Certification, my pick of the classes I wanted to teach, the respect and trust of my principal, peers, and district office staff, the love of my students and their parents, awards, a profession that was indubitably a calling and 70-80 hour work weeks. So what did I do? When my son was a year and a half old, I turned my back on my career and walked away. I was lucky enough to have a mother who did not work out of the home until I was 11 years old, and I always wanted to be that kind of mom. Modern reality is more complicated than that, though, and our lives had been built around a two income, two person family. I chose to switch to part-time, online teaching, which gave me flexibility, some income, and health insurance for my family. (Let’s be honest. I’m mostly working for the health insurance. That stuff is expensive!)
What did I lose in this deal? Strong, strong bonds with students- the kinds that result in you being invited to graduation parties, and, years later, their weddings. Colleagues to talk to in person. The fun of planning my own curriculum. The joy of being in the classroom and engaging in that high-wire act of artistry, skill, pedagogy, improv, and sheer exhilarating leaps of faith that is teaching. A 70 mile round trip commute in a place small enough that 15 miles away is still considered a pretty long trek. Really long and boring meetings. Discipline. Expulsion hearings. Classroom interruptions. Colleagues who were cranky, or angry, or incompetent. Fighting the copy machine 5 minutes before class starts or long after the school day ended. Fighting for access to the copy machine 5 minutes before class starts. 28 minute lunches which include 6 minutes of passing time that must be supervised in the hall, students who must be helped, and the day’s (probably only) bathroom break – oh, yeah, and eating.The feeling that I had a right to call myself a teacher. The job I had always, for my entire life, wanted to do. My identity.
What did I gain? Courses that have curriculum provided. A lot of routine, and a lot less creativity. Students and colleagues that I never see in person. A greater understanding of ways the “system” excludes many students, and ways that online learning opens doors that fifteen years ago did not exist. Thank you notes from students who did not think school was something that would work for them, until it did. Meetings that I could knit during, with no one any the wiser. The ability to answer email in bed in my pajamas at 5:30am and call it my work day. Walking my son to school every morning. Spending two mornings a week, every week, volunteering in his kindergarten class. Watching him and helping him as his reading and math skills take off this year in first grade. Being there for spring music concerts, the class play, the Valentine’s parties, guitar practice, funny little kid homework, silly made-up stories, bad days when his friend hurts his feelings, and the read away the day celebration for Dr. Seuss’ birthday (because who does not want to read Horton Hatches and Egg to a room full of 5 and 6 year olds who are wearing the pajamas?). A child who says “your job is to be my mommy” without irony or attempts at fomenting guilt. Weekday trips to busy attractions and play dates with other friends (and moms!) when he was little. Picking my son up from school every day myself. Fingerpainting. Art projects. Science projects. Play-dough. LEGO. Trips to the park during normal working hours. Swim lessons that end before dark and in time to have dinner at a normal hour. No hassle (except for some mom/teacher stress) when there is an inservice day, or a snow day, or I have a sick child who needs to stay home. I’m already there. Sure, some days involve tears, and some involve a need for cocktails. Some days we are late for school, like today, when I opened a door and screamed “Why have you locked yourself into the bathroom to read when you should be brushing your teeth? Where are your shoes? Didn’t you hear me say “we need to leave” 75 times?” (Answer: Of course, he heard. Why do you think he was hiding in the bathroom, reading a book?) A way to teach that does not wear me down and take years off my life. Maybe a bit of a way to do both, be a mom and be a teacher.
Is it easy? No. Is it stress-free? No. My job has evolved over the years, and I am still a high achieving perfectionist who wants to put too much time in at work. But I am here. I am not stuck in a meeting, stuck with a student, stuck in my car commuting, stuck grading three hundred essays over the weekend. Am I primarily a mom or a teacher? I am not always sure. But I know that I am the one who is here. Most days, that is enough.