Whitman, in his poem Song of Myself, writes:
“I am large, I contain multitudes.”
and believe me, I do. We all do. My multitudes contain within them some big shifts that I can finally share.
On August 2nd, 2018, I walked into Breakwater School and kindly told my supervisors that I would not be returning to teach Preschool this coming autumn. “We thought you might tell us that, if you found a position somewhere else. We had the job posting ready to go,” said my academic director kindly. The real surprise isn’t that I’m leaving the beautiful community at Breakwater- the real surprise is that I’m leaving education (remember when I started this blog for that reason?!) and I’ll tell you why.
For 8 years I have struggled to find my place as an educator. I love working with children. I love helping them discover themselves, and nature and each other. I love educators and educational philosophy and school. I LOVE school and have always loved school. September 2018 will mark the first year of my life that I will not return to school in some capacity. Every year I have either gone back as a student or a teacher, and now? Neither will suit me anymore. I was struggling for so long because I’m not meant to do it.
I have taught in various settings with diverse populations of children and families. I have worked in schools where children have every luxury, and I have worked in schools where I’ve conducted home visits in run-down barns with no heat and children asking me if I’ve brought them any food. I’ve taught in settings where children are so precocious, I can’t believe I’m talking to a 4 year old and settings where I’ve had to restrain children with severe emotional disturbances. The middle ground was often hard to find. When I taught in private settings, I was seen as a glorified babysitter (and when I was younger I did have to babysit on the side because preschool teachers have the lowest pay of all teachers) and when I taught in public settings I was so emotionally drained and physically hurt (re: two bloody noses and countless other injuries) that I was sick, depressed and anxious more often than not.
Before you tell me that it is a great loss to education because I am leaving the profession, think about this: What good am I to children if I am unwell? What good am I to children if my whole heart isn’t in it? What good am I to my colleagues if I am consumed with doubt about my dedication to the profession? I have seen the work of teachers whose hearts are in the purest place when it comes to education, and they are remarkable. For me, I’m in a place where I can’t “do it for the children” anymore. In my experience (because I can only speak about my own, and this is not meant to generalize to all teachers) there is this underlying narrative in teaching that told me that in order to be the best teacher I could, I had to put my job before my own care.
I felt guilty about every sick day I took. I felt guilty about not answering an email from a parent within 2 hours. I felt guilty when my room didn’t have every perfect finishing touch I saw other teachers place for hours after school each day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard teachers and administrators alike say “Well, we’re not in it for the money.” And you know what? They’re not wrong. Most of us didn’t get into teaching for the money. We got into it because we had a teacher we loved and we love teaching! But I’ll tell you what- I didn’t go into it to go broke and and be stressed all the time either.
For a long time, I thought I had no other skills. I thought I could only teach and I was terrified to try anything else. I was also terrified to lose the esteem that comes with the title of being a teacher. When I told people I was broke and a teacher, they were sympathetic usually. Like- “Oh, that’s so sweet You’re a teacher! We so appreciate what you do!” And we all know that if I told them I was broke and worked at a fast food joint (no disrespect, a job is job and we need to stop judging those who do!! My job was a privilege.) I probably wouldn’t have gotten the same response. When people asked me what I did and I told them I taught preschool one of two things usually happened.
Me: “I teach Early Childhood Education.”
Standard American: “What’s that?”
Me: “Preschool- 3, 4 and 5 year olds.”
SA: “Oh, so like daycare? You just play all the time?”
Me: “Well actually, I am preparing children with compassionate social skills so that they can be kind members of society. Pre-literacy, math and science skills are taught through play, and I observe the children closely so that I know their interests, that way I can incorporate them into curriculum planning. I doubled majored in Psychology and Early Childhood Education, so I can also help parents understand developmentally appropriate practices that they can follow with their children. My masters focused on Literacy, so I am always consulting with other teachers about phonological awareness and how children are using language and communication in relation to their pre-reading skills.”
SA: “Do you have to change diapers?”
Me: :::slowly implodes:::
Now repeat this conversation ad infinitum for 8 years of my career.
Scenario B is more hopeful.
Me: “I teach Early Childhood Education.”
Woke American: “Oh cool, like little kids? I could never do that. It sounds so hard! We need more people like you!
Me: “It’s definitely challenging at times, but often really rewarding and keeps me young!
WA: “Do you have to change diapers?”
This is funny right? Did you laugh? I did! Most people have NO IDEA what teachers do on a daily basis, especially ones in my position. Teaching young children requires you to be on, solving problems all day long, with a smile on your face, ready to wipe tears, snot and other things away compassionately, and with respect for the child. It’s worthy work, but it is hard. And here I am writing about it at length, because I still need to defend this profession. I still need to tell people that it is worthy work. This is why I did it for so long.
Over the years many people have looked at me, genuinely shocked that I have a master’s degree AND that I am a preschool teacher. This should not be shocking. Teaching preschool is not babysitting and you should be educated to do it well. There is deep pedagogy that goes with the philosophies under which I taught, and it should be respected and upheld, like any other profession that requires higher schooling.
So again, my choice to leave education is actually a good one, but I’m the only who needs to believe that. Maybe it will be a wake-up call for some who thought I was just sprinkling glitter and blowing bubbles (which I was, but there was SCIENCE involved!). I have a great respect for those who continue to teach because we need their heart, their expertise and their intelligence, and I will continue to advocate for better pay, more respect, and more visibility when it comes to the incredibly complicated and heartfelt work that they do. Okay, exhale.
Recap– I’m no longer a teacher of children in a school setting, and I am proud and excited about this decision.
But Danielle! you exclaim, what will you do now?!
It’s finally happening. I’m going yoga instruction, thai yoga massage practicing and other magical offerings- full time!
But what about security and health insurance and benefits and retirement?!
Well, my darling reader, I do think about those things (hi Virgo rising and Virgo moon), and I have plans for all of that. But honestly, what is the point of all of the above if you are not well and generally unhappy doing the job that gives you said security? And please don’t misunderstand me, there is so much I love about teaching and so much of it that is so bittersweet for me to leave.
As soon as I gave my notice, I kid you not- so many offers came in requesting my teaching expertise that I almost didn’t believe it was actually happening. As if the universe was saying “Hey girl, I saw you bust ass for 8 years- here’s your payoff, Enjoy your life now please.” People crawled right out of the woodwork to ask for my specific help. I had affirmation after affirmation that I was making the right decision. Not to mention for the whole month of July I had been teaching a ton of yoga, with brilliant, kind and heart-melting feedback. My dear friend and colleague Kristin Niebuhr asked me to take a bigger role at her barre and yoga studio (The Rooted Collective). I started working behind the desk at a magical shop downtown (Arcana) where I get to talk to people about healing work (someone actually tipped me for helping them choose a stone for help with shift and transition! what?!) and I’ll be practicing Thai Yoga Massage there as well.
I’ll now have time to help facilitate more training with my mentor and colleague Jennifer Yarro of Frog Lotus Yoga and The Triple Gem School of Thai Massage (Frog Lotus Yoga). My Wild Woman Project Circles (The WILD Woman Project) are in full swing and WILD Woman Fest (WILD Woman Fest) happens in less than two weeks, where I facilitate and do event production and merchandise! I’ll have regular classes around the corner from my house at the beautiful and lovely Honor Movement and classes for children coming up in September at The Portland Yoga Project.
And if I feel like it, I’ll substitute in the schools a little, maybe some online tutoring- but you know what? This is my life now. For a long time, I didn’t think the world needed another woman to quit her job and teach yoga in the wellness realm full time, and in playing small in that way, I negated all of my inner wisdom. It has taken me many years to be able to say that I am a gifted yoga teacher, and that I am a capable and gifted Thai Massage Practitioner and that I possess a great many other gifts that I offer in different ways.
Students and clients have always told me that I am good at what I do, but I never internalized it. I was too scared to step into that knowing because what if I went for it, and I failed? What if people wrote me off because I didn’t have a respectable mainstream job? What if they were just being nice? Could I really make a living in this way? I recently had a massage client look at me honestly and say, “That was an incredible massage. Danielle, how does one become you?” I was dumbfounded. I was just there in service to the client because they have trusted me with their healing. To receive this feedback was soul-shaking to me. I just want to be of service, and in this genuine offering I am watching so much abundance roll in. It really does work this way, when you ask for nothing in return and you believe that no one owes you anything.
What I mean to express in this ridiculously long post is how grateful I am.
I am so so so grateful that I have cried every day since making this decision, thinking “how lucky I am that I get to be alive now! how lucky I am to know myself and do this work and help others and add to the beauty of this world.” This may seem like airy-fairy woo-woo shit to some people, and that’s fine. Do your thang, I support you too. But to me, the connections I’ve made and the knowledge and wisdom coming through the vessel of my body is something I can no longer ignore. I will always be a teacher at heart, but what I teach and how I teach it will be the ever long and honest and soul-fortifying journey. Know that I love you, dear reader, that I am deeply happy, and that my hand reaches out to yours in hopes of connecting and serving. Take it if you wish.