I used to have a yoga teacher who instructed us, at the beginning of every class, to “set an intention for today’s practice.” Sitting on a borrowed mat on the grimy floor of the unused basketball court at the Irving Park YMCA, I closed my eyes and tried to figure out what she meant. An intention. Don’t judge the instructor for her slouching shoulders? Don’t scoff at the moms in matching athletic gear who chatter during their downward dogs? I leaned back and tried to shut out the noise of the ceiling fans, the glare of the gray sky against the snowy street slanting in from the bare windows. Something told me that’s not what she meant by “intention.” But, what was mine?
I attended that yoga class regularly from mid-2007 until the end of the summer in 2009. Two years in which my main intention was to avoid loneliness during the seemingly endless afternoons of “split shifts” teaching ESL classes in the morning and at night, sharing my off-time with Ellen DeGeneres and the droning voice of the often angry host of Talk of the Nation.
In 2009, I got laid-off. Re-hired. Took a full-time job teaching at a smaller program. Didn’t like it. I realized that though I adored my work, it didn’t fit my lifestyle. I joked that I’d spent four mostly single, completely childless, post-college years working the perfect Mom Job. Flexible schedule, childcare on premises. Class after class full of doting mamas and grammas from Mexico, Ecuador, Korea, Yemen, Sudan. I needed a change; it was time to work my ass off.
I got accepted to grad school, moved back to Atlanta, and started jumping through the hoops that would qualify me to leave Adult Education for a job teaching immigrant and refugee high schoolers in the public school system.
The summer I moved back to Atlanta, I traded in parents for their children, and with that, Paulo Freire for Common Core, and communicative language instruction for Standardized Testing with Accommodations. While I used to have students who lovingly referred to me as their “American daughter,” I now have students who call me, half-jokingly, their “American mother.”
Before leaving Chicago, anticipating that I might not be as happy in the famously stressful public school environment, I thanked my former co-workers in Adult Education for teaching me how to stand in front of a classroom, how to communicate with and effectively teach English Language Learners, and for solidly grounding me in a commitment to community-based education. I was ready, I told them, thanks to this solid foundation, to spend a few back-breaking years fighting the beast of the public educational system.
Back-breaking turned out to be less of a metaphor than I expected.
During the first few weeks at my new job, every introduction came with unsolicited advice and, more often than not, a horror story. The teacher who suffers from hearing loss because she got an ear infection during her first year and never went to a doctor. The teacher who was hospitalized for a severe – and preventable – kidney infection, also during her first year. I was familiar with this kind of sacrifice, because I had suffered from severe heartburn and digestive system discomfort throughout grad school and student teaching, but never sought professional attention – there was just always so much else to do.
Among teachers, especially teachers in under-performing, under-funded, over-scrutinized schools, there is a tendency to wear our problems like badges, every illness testament in our bodies to how hard we work. Don’t end up like me, we say knowingly, to the wide-eyed new recruits, resigning ourselves to martyrdom, rather than seeking happiness.
This morning, I attended my first yoga class in almost a year. Thanks to my full-time job, not only can I afford a ten dollar class at an actual yoga studio (with curtains on the windows and a clean floor), I also have the summer off and, with it, the time to re-connect to my friends, my home, and myself. To think about how I will proceed.
This summer, I am finally setting that intention.
I do not want my badge. I want out of the toxic teacher-culture.
I am not a “career educator.” I figure I’ll be in this rigmarole maybe ten more years. I want to have kids, and to be around while they’re kids. I will return to community-based education, to teaching survival skills, Citizenship, reading, with adults who never believed they’d have the opportunity to learn. I’ll help foster the ever-tenuous relationship between the community organizations and the public schools. I’ll return to poverty wages, lack of health insurance, because through building relationships with communities of new Americans, I find joy comes easy.
But the time for that is not now. I know that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, and I pray that when the time for change is right, I will know, and will embrace that change the same way I’ve dove full-speed into public high school.
My intention is to live more fully during the school year, to care for myself every day, instead of catching up during breaks.
My intention is to bring joy back into aspects of daily life, where for the last three years I have found stress. I will again enjoy cooking, taking proper care of my houseplants and my ridiculous cat, and I will fill my house with music.
My intention is to continue working on The Artist’s Way, and to continue opening myself up to spirituality and a spiritual community that I have been running from.
My intention is to reconnect to writing, and to find a voice that is somewhere between the poet of my high school years and the academic I’ve grown comfortable hiding behind. I hope to use this space to make sense of – and give voice to – some of the things I’m learning as a hippie hipster queer almost 30 year old public school teacher, as a feminist anti-Zionist Jew in an interfaith relationship, as a wannabe academic, sometimes artist, foodie on a budget.
Everything is, and will be, a work in progress. I’m eager for your comments and even more interested in your critiques.
an orchard and a dome