Two years ago to the day, I quit my job as a teacher. I was so unhappy and so miserable that I couldn’t even wait until the end of the school year. It wasn’t because of the children in my class; they were a daily delight. I didn’t leave because of the people with whom I worked—they remain good friends of mine. Money? No, it wasn’t the money. It takes years to get to a place in teaching where the money one earns is finally substantial enough to almost make it worthwhile, and I was already there.
I quit because I could no longer perform my job knowing that no matter what I did and no matter how hard I worked, I would never rise to meet the combined expectations of a district administration and a misguided state department of education. I quit because I couldn’t swallow enough Kool-Aid necessary to change what I knew to be best for kids in order to satisfy the new vision of some grant coordinator in the central office who had gone to a workshop in San Diego the previous summer and discovered that the problem with teachers was their “white privilege”. I quit because I certainly could not depend upon the collective standardized test results of 27 ten year olds to determine whether I could earn a raise or keep my job. And I quit because I constantly felt as if I was being punished for doing something bad.
Did I have a back up plan? No. I knew I had skills, but those skills were limited to the education milieu. I soon discovered that headhunters and recruiters saw teaching just as most of the uninitiated do: Sure, she can put up a mean bulletin board, and I’ll bet she’s great at reading a story, but can she do anything else? Imagine my shock when I interviewed for a sales position with a web-based education company and was told that I did not have enough experience to market their product—a product that I had been using with my students for six months. I was equally flummoxed when I tried to enter the higher education arena but was met with crickets. Apparently there are enough university professors in central Indiana’s schools of education—too bad most of them have little actual classroom experience. I began to believe that whatever skills I had were not marketable.
Serendipity saved me when I reconnected with a high school friend who asked me to work for his software company. Agreeing, though not really knowing how my skillset would jive with a software outfit, I interviewed with management (over the phone) and replied ‘yes’ to her questions about my technological prowess, reckoning that I had enough time and Googling skills to figure out what the hell she was talking about. My friend had earlier assured me that there would be no math on this test, but my first assignment was to test algorithms. So I Googled ‘algorithms’ and discovered to my horror that it was something that had to do with math. I felt like opening a vein. The actual task was not nearly as difficult as I had imagined, and though it took me like eleven hours to complete what should have taken me two, I finally did git-r-done.
My point is this: I am 50 years old, and I never believed that I could learn anything new that would be of any benefit to me. Moreover, I had no desire to learn anything new—after all, I had been in school for just about 45 of those 50 years. For crying out loud, didn’t I already know everything?
I am responsible for knowing how to run manufacturing software and explain it in a users’ manual format, so consequently I learn something new every day. Sometimes the process is frustrating, sometimes it’s maddening, and sometimes I feel like I am the most dim-witted, obtuse knuckle dragger out of a boat-load of geniuses and that my importance to the company ranks only higher than that of the lady who comes in to water the plants. It’s bad enough that I’m considered elderly among all of these recent college graduates, but to feel like a dullard among kids who are young enough to be my former students is a rather humbling experience. But I’ve learned from that, too. I learned that when you ask a twenty-something kid to help with a complicated problem you had better bring cupcakes the next time you see him. I also learned that these same twenty-somethings are a little wary of me, especially when they discover that I’ve been a teacher. I’ve learned to admit when I don’t know something—which happens just about every day—but not to dwell on my shortcomings. And I’ve learned that I can acquire new skills, and that makes me very happy. It also makes me feel as if this old dog can learn other new tricks. Unless they involve math.