Monday was a first for me. It was the first time in the last 15 years that on the Monday of the first week of November, I was not preparing for practice at 3:00. It was the first time in my professional teaching career that I got to leave before 4:00 on the first day of basketball season. And you know what, I still don’t really know how I feel about it.
I had some weird fluctuations in my emotions on Monday. For much of the day, I didn’t even realize that it was the first day of Winter sports, treating it like just any old Monday during a school year. Then came newspaper class, when I had to remind my Sports Editor that the season was officially starting and we needed to start working on our media guide. It suddenly hit me; that feeling that you get when you think you’ve forgotten to do something or plan something, but then you realize you actually had nothing to plan. It is a weird feeling of happiness and sadness all rolled into one. I have to admit, I may have walked by the gym and peered through a small window at what was going on at tryouts. I don’t know what I wanted to see, or expected to see, but I know that I was happy enough to keep walking straight to my car and pick up my son from school.
A couple of weeks ago we had a professional development day, and the session I chose to attend was catered towards teaching gifted children. I was in a gifted program growing up, and I know how much those teachers influenced me early on in my education, so I wanted to see what I could learn to help kids who had similar needs. I teach four Pre-AP English classes, so I knew it would be relevant to my classes, but I really just wanted to get more insight into teaching those kids. It led me to something that happens a lot in my professional life. I left the session thinking that I was ready to change subject areas and teach gifted education; like, tomorrow.
I seem to make this type of declaration often. At random times I have “decided” what the next step in my professional career would be; for a while I was going to become a counselor, I’ve had people telling me to look into becoming an administrator, and after this event, maybe I really do want to go teach Gifted Ed at a middle school somewhere. I even make declarations to my students about teaching other subjects when they complain a class may not be offered in the next school year for any reason. We’ve had classes come and go because the teachers who created them left and it took some time to find a new teacher for that subject, and I always jokingly (half-jokingly, maybe seriously, but acting like I’m joking) say I’ll teach a class like Psychology, or AP World History, or maybe even tell a student that I can tutor them in math.
I really do mean it, I would love to pick those things up and really feel like I would do well, but somehow I’ve ended up in the same place for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and the idea of change actually terrifies me. When I think about the practicality of an entire year’s worth of new lesson planning, assignments to create and grade, and generally being less than stellar with whatever I’m doing for a few years until I get the hang of it, it makes me genuinely happy to know that I have had a consistent schedule these last few years. However, there is always that lingering “what if.” What if this could be a class I could restructure and make even better. What if there is a class I could build from scratch that could serve more students? What if I’m better suited at teaching history or math than I am at English and I’ve been missing out on that opportunity for all these years?
I want to do it all, but I also like to feel comfortable. I gave up basketball this year because of this prevailing feeling that I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough for the team because I always had other things going on; yearbook, newspaper, family life. All those things kept drawing me away from spending more time to make basketball perfect, and that wasn’t fair to anyone. I also had to be enough at home, and to be enough at home meant being home earlier and having some semblance of energy to help. I was always tired, spending most of my time away from basketball plotting the next practice plan, or game plan, or motivational activity, or ranting about the things that weren’t going right with the team. I miss basketball already, but I also don’t really miss it at all. I both love and regret my decision, and I’m really working hard to accept the fact that I can feel both of those extremes and still feel good about the decision I made.
It is difficult to work in a profession where you feel like you are both more than enough and never enough at the same time. For every kid whose life you make a positive impact upon, you might feel like you missed out on an opportunity to help someone else. For every class you teach, you are giving up another one. For every club you sponsor, or team you coach, you are giving up your time and energy that could be used somewhere else, so you just have to learn to accept the fact that whatever you are doing is enough, even if you feel like there is always more you can give. Sometimes I feel like I equate consistency with being stuck, and even though I know incredible things are happening with my students on a daily basis, there is always a hint of “what if” when I think about all the other things I believe I can offer.
I’ve already scrambled to overcome my basketball void. I’ve added another club that I am helping with, I’ve spoken to one of my students about maybe sponsoring a club that lost its sponsor last year, and my department chair floated the idea of potentially creating a new class for the upcoming school year. I know that everything I already do would be more than enough if I don’t consider taking on all these new challenges, but there is just something about the teacher life that makes you jump and say, “yes, I can help.”
Maybe I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up and that is why all of these other options sound great, or maybe I’m just a sucker who can’t say no. All I know is that I always want to leave my job feeling like I did enough, and I believe something that all teachers need to learn is to leave every day knowing that if you tried to do everything you could for your students, you have definitely done enough. Even if it never feels like it.