Straddling the Line

"Walk the line" could work, too, but I'm no Johnny Cash.


I moved to TechSmith nearly a year ago from teaching. All I ever wanted to do since starting college was teach. I never changed my major, and I never held a job (except for summer work) prior to jumping into my own classroom in 2009. I also managed to work in public, private, and charter schools since I began teaching. I've added to my license as well as added to my interests. Last winter was the first time I seriously considered, and subsequently acted on, leaving the classroom.

When I left, I had a real identity crisis. What was my focus? How do I identify myself? To be honest, my first instinct is still to say, "Hi, I'm Brian, and I'm a teacher." That's how I feel, but it's strange to not have that be the truth anymore.

It's something I think about a lot today. Most of my friends are teachers. All of my contextual references for how to handle certain situations come from teaching. Nearly all of my favorite stories to tell about "work" come from teaching. I understand that most of my professional life was in the classroom, so the number of references are to be expected, but those memories feel more crisp...more alive.

I feel like I can't talk to some people the way I used to. I'm someone else now, on the other side of the glass, looking in. I relish stories of students doing great things, of teachers having major wins and major fails. I feel the pain in the struggle and I feel awkward when I realize I don't have to think about the politics anymore. But I also feel like a cop out when that happens, so I make sure to stay informed.

I feel the shift when I say, "I used to be in the classroom." Is it a loss of respect? Of appreciation? I'm not sure. Probably not. But it's still there.

I also get looks from the other end...looks from teachers who wish they were in my position. Longing for something...release? Relief? Just a chance to get out while they still have their sanity? Those unsettle me the most.

Switching gears is really, really hard. I don't feel like I've escaped the inescapable system. I also don't feel like I've given up on public education. In fact, I feel stronger about it now than I ever have before. But, and this might get me in trouble, being on the other side of the line, I see how much mistrust there is when it comes to education. I don't know what else to call it. I'm also guilty of the same judgements.

How many lines do we all straddle? Who's burden is it to manage the dissonance? Can (should?) we favor one side over the other?

I think I'm learning that the value in relationships come from our experiences walking our lines. Playing the teacher on one side, and the parent/professional/author/athlete/astronaut/whatever on the other three or four sides. Life isn't black and white, so how can out self-identifications be?

I know that before I left, I was a teacher. My lines have become irreversibly intertwined, but that isn't a detriment. I'm thankful for my time in the classroom. I'm thankful for my time (so far) at TechSmith. I'm looking forward to getting even more tangled up every day.

3 thoughts on “Straddling the Line

  1. Bill Ferriter says:

    Great bit, Pal…

    I definitely think there’s an expiration date for people who walk away from the classroom — both in your own ability to understand just what it means to be a real-live bona fide full time classroom teacher and in your ability to maintain credibility as a practitioner in the eyes of those of us who are still in the classroom.

    That’s unavoidable. It is what it is.

    Your challenge is reminding yourself that your work still carries value. In many ways, you get to empower teachers now in ways that you could never do before. It’s a different kind of rewarding, but it is still rewarding, none the less.

    And your challenge is remembering that teaching isn’t something that is ONLY done in school buildings between 8 and 5. I can hear the sense of loss in your voice. You miss the interactions — both with kids and with people who care about kids. Go find that again. Coach a team. Lead a youth group. Teach a Sunday School class.

    Leaving school and leaving teaching aren’t the same thing.

    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  2. […] I wrote in January about the confusion I feel with identity. It’s even bigger now, with more questions than answers. Bill Ferriter was kind enough to leave a very wise comment for me: […]

  3. […] written at length about the unique struggle teachers go through when it comes to our work. Our community is close. […]

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