Nov 3, 2013

That time I quit my crazy teaching job...

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have seen my posts about life changes over the past few months (nope - not a baby!). I’m talking serious job changes.

Those who know me well know that I when I commit to something, I commit. I will work my hardest and give whatever I am working on my all, big time. Even if I overextend myself, I will put all of my commitments over my own needs so that I don’t let anyone else down. As an art teacher, this meant spending countless hours after school planning and prepping lessons, organizing artwork for area art shows, and making sure that every inch of blank wall or bulletin board were covered in student art work. Even while teaching and attending grad school, I did it all and I made sure I did it well.

In August, I started my new teaching job with two weeks of teacher training at an extremely urban, low-income charter school in Chicago. I am no stranger to hard work and although I was nervous about starting a new job, I was so excited and ready. Day one and two of teacher training (for all of the teachers at the school) were overwhelming, but I figured that this was normal for a new job, especially after having three years off from teaching while we lived in the Caribbean. Day three, I came home after school and broke down into a sobbing mess. And the remainder of the two weeks of training followed in the same suit - anxiety and tears, daily, after school (and unfortunately, on several occasions, also at school, in front of my new colleagues). Never in my life had I felt so much stress and anxiousness - and this was only the teacher training! 

You are probably wondering what was so bad about this school that I was crying on a daily basis. You’re also probably thinking that I sound like a giant baby - and maybe I was - but this school was unlike any school environment that I have ever seen. Basically, the way that the school was run was completely incompatible with my personality. Although I love talking to people in small groups, speaking in front of large groups makes me extremely uncomfortable. I have serious stage fright. It also takes me a while to process things. I need quiet and a little bit of time to think about things on my own before I can digest them fully. 

So, constantly being called on to model teaching techniques and scenarios in front of 30 people I don’t know and then being critiqued on them, and then being asked to do them again, again, and again until I perfected them was extremely difficult for me. Implementing strategies in front of huge groups, that I had just been introduced to two minutes before, made me sick to my stomach. Changing the way that I spoke to make sure that everything I said only used a concise and minimal amount of words - almost like speaking in commands - and doing so in a strong and authoritative voice (and without smiling!) was really tough for me. In my own classroom, I smile all the time. I am warm. This does not mean that I don’t enforce rules in my classroom - I absolutely do - but I am just not capable of using a scary voice and never smiling, like I was being asked to do. 

I was also asked to give my students packets of worksheets each week rather than doing actual art projects. Lots of fill-in-the blanks and word searches were involved, and then on the final page of the worksheet packet were small boxes that, “Now, you try!” This was were students were supposed to create their art. In packets of worksheets. 

The school was run almost like a military school. Rules were strict and were enforced school wide, which I think can be a great thing, but the degree of strictness was just something I couldn’t handle. 

Middle schoolers were walked from class to class by teachers, using the craziest, strictest line formations that I’ve ever seen. Students could only enter the classrooms facing East (or some direction - I am so nondirectional that I literally had panic attacks just trying to remember the proper classroom entry procedure!), so this involved marching students down the hallway in a certain direction, using commands like “about face!” and hand signals to have them turn around, and then have them march back towards the classroom door, in two staggered lines, with one floor tile in between each student, all standing a certain number of tiles away from the door. YOU GUYS. NO. I just couldn’t do it.

So after 9 days of training, I threw the towel in. I had to quit. (If the mere training for your job makes you sob on a daily basis - weekends included - and also gives you panic attacks - which you have never, ever had before - and makes you wonder what is wrong with you - and also makes you think that the only way you could possibly survive the school year is to take anxiety medication - then you probably need to quit!) Charlie was the greatest husband ever to comfort the mess that I was for those two weeks. He was also the best for completely supporting me when I told him that I wanted to quit. 

I woke up early on the final Friday of training, arrived at school at 6 AM when the doors opened, and turned in my keys, laptop, and letter of resignation before anyone except the higher powers had even entered the building.

Did I feel horrible for leaving the school in the lurch right before school started? Absolutely. But was that any reason to sacrifice my sanity and spend the year an emotional and crazy mess? No way.

I should also mention that as a charter school, there were no contracts. Thus, I was free to go at anytime, and the school could also fire me at any point. Last year’s new art teacher quit in November. The morale at the school was also atrocious - 75% of the teachers were brand new teachers, while the majority of the remaining 25% all seemed to HATE their jobs. Bad news. 

So, while I think the school is probably a great place for some people - maybe if you are Type A - it was absolutely NOT the place for a free spirit like myself. I was not allowed to be myself and I was not allowed to be creative. I have never, ever followed a schedule that I have made for myself - I get what I need to do done, but I do things in my own way. I have my own sort of structure and organization, which is different each day. I am not good at routines. I think that this school may be a great fit for some teachers and students - but I do not happen to be one of them.

I have never quit a job or anything like this in my entire life, but the relief that I felt the minute that I made the decision to quit let me know, absolutely, that I had made the right choice.

After going through such a crazy and emotional experience, I took a few personality tests to figure out what exactly about the school did not sit well with me - and it turns out that the school’s environment was basically the word possible match for someone with my personality type, and INFP (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving). I am in idealist, and while teaching, helping others, and creative fields were right up my alley, rigorous structure and data entry (also a huge part of the job!), constant critiques, and being forced to be extroverted were just not my thing. 

Have you ever taken a personality test? I highly recommend doing so. It was fascinating for me to learn and understand why I reacted so badly to this situation, and to see what suits me - and what does not. 

I loved reading Joy’s recent blog post about introverts and personality types - it’s right along these lines! 

Photo by Clare Wilkinson

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