Monday, April 19, 2010

Decisions decisions

I recently finished a three-month teaching assignment.

It had been over nine years since I last taught 7th grade science, and I wasn't sure if I still had the skills. The fact that it was my old teaching assignment, in my old classroom and office, led me to predict that it would feel pretty weird being back after all this time. After all, I'm so different now! I left when my first baby was born (literally- I worked the very day I ended up going into labor; she was born at 4 am the day of graduation). So, I was once the young, childless teacher often mistaken for one of the students, devoting every minute of every day to my teaching. Now I'm a mom of three who has spent quite a bit of time working with really young children and thinking about parenting. Aside from my short stint as an aquarium educator, I hadn't done much science in the intervening years. And let's face facts, I would not be able to devote even a fraction of the time I used to give to my teaching, with all of my kids' activities and mommy-time. I wondered if I'd be any good at it anymore!

When my old school called, in need of a long-term sub for the current 7th-grade science teacher who was going on maternity leave, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to find out. It was only for three months, and the teacher would leave me the plans (more on that later). I was familiar with the type of students at the school, and the teachers who knew me were very excited to hear I would be back. Those things really helped. On the other hand, some procedures and many technologies were different, and the daily schedule was COMPLETELY different, so it would be a curious mix of familiar and new.

No small issue was preparing my family for this big change. Three months feels long at the start. The girls were both in school from 8-3, so it didn't impact them much. They needed to be ready earlier in the morning and we had to develop a back-up plan in case I didn't make it by the end of pick-up time. Of course, they needed to help out more around the house. But my boy had the most to deal with. He had to go from being at preschool MWF 9-11:30 to being there MTWThF 9-3:30 or 7:45-11:45 (alternating days). My school was on a rotating schedule, so it was not the same every week, which was confusing for both my boy and the preschool.

It turned out that this was the hardest aspect of the whole experience. My precious boy did NOT like being dropped off in a different room, with different teachers, and he did NOT like being at school on Tuesday and Thursday without his friends, and he did NOT like having to stay four hours later than his old pick-up time. There were many tears shed, and his teachers told me he wasn't playing, but standing off to the side missing his mommy. I always put on a brave face for him, trying to exude a feeling of confidence that it would be a good day at school. But as soon as I was back in the car, driving to work, I often burst into tears myself.

But how was it once I was at work?

In short, it was good. It didn't take me long to find out that I "still got it." The students were funny and smart (by and large), and we connected quickly. It was great getting to know my new colleagues, and I found that not only did I remember the subject matter, it was a good excuse to learn more about the topics.

Earning a paycheck felt pretty darn good, too!

But teaching is VERY hard work, VERY time consuming. Doing this job and also taking care of a family is EXTREMELY difficult. I found that I simply could not work on planning and grading until the children were in bed, which is also when I would sit down and realize just how exhausted I was feeling. It felt like I would never catch a minute to breathe. I hadn't expected to need to do so much planning, but the teacher left me with very little. I designed a lot of work sheets, lab instructions, and assessments. I had 56 middle school students from whom I was collecting homework and class work. I was underwater, struggling to surface.

I am good at this job. I have a talent for breaking down concepts and tasks into smaller, more understandable chunks, then guiding the students in putting them together to understand the bigger ideas. I am good at, and enjoy, making handouts that explain, reinforce, and practice the material. But I am NOT good at setting boundaries for myself. I am NOT good at protecting myself from burnout. I could always see the light at the end of the tunnel, because this long-term sub assignment was for only three months. Now that it's over, I am positively reveling in being back to my normal schedule. Aaaaaaaahhh. My boy is much happier having days off from preschool and a shorter school day. We have been gallivanting off to fun adventures and let me tell you, THIS FEELS RIGHT.

It was good, but I'm glad it's over. Yes.

Now, the school wants me to come be the 7th grade science teacher for the next school year. My boy will be in Kindergarten, so he'll be at school every day anyway, but only for half the day. The school wants to work my schedule so I only have to be there for half the day, trying to align it with my son's schedule. Quite a decision... On the one hand, it's nice to have a life where colleagues value your contributions and you are getting paid for your work. On the other, it would be a whole year of working myself too hard and not having any time for myself and HUGE HASSLES when one of the kids gets sick and can't go to school (THE HUGENESS OF THIS ISSUE CANNOT BE OVERSTATED).

Oh yeah, and there's this little aspect: financially, our family has gotten to the point where we need me to bring in an income. When you look at it in this light, this job seems like the right situation; my top priorities for a job are having summers off and not working past 3:00 pm.

I've got some thinking to do, although it does seem like a very good arrangement for me. The feeling in the pit of my stomach is sadness that I wouldn't have as much freedom to help out at the kids' school as I have been wanting. With the girls, I had younger children to take care of, making it hard to be at the school. I always thought, "when The Boy is in school, then I won't have anything keeping me from being there!" Letting go of that makes me grieve a little, to be honest.

Overthink things? Why yes, I resemble that remark!


Jason, as himself said...

Well, I know a lot of people that would LOVE to have a teaching job right now, and there are no teaching jobs out there, so you should snatch it up!

See you tonight.

smalltownmom said...

This is a tough decision -- good luck with it!

See you tonight!!

Jen on the Edge said...

Wow, that is a hard decision. It's great that the school is so willing to work around the schedule you and your boy need.

JCK said...

It is a tough decision, but kids are so amazingly resilient. And your little guy will be fine.

It is truly amazing that the school wants to work with your schedule. It's what many would call a dream situation. But, you have to decide what is right for your family. Always...

Good luck!

So great to spend time with you on Bossy's grand tour through our area.

Cafe Pasadena said...

The old more time or more money?, catch-22...

I guess there is a need for science teachers.

Btw, there will bee a local blogger get together on May 8th