"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Turbulent Air


I ripped the envelope open and scanned the letter for one particular phrase. When I found it, feelings collided with one another like two opposing weather fronts. I read through the entire letter then—slowly—and when I got to the phrase it had not changed:

Fifth Grade.

I'll be teaching fifth grade in the fall. There is nothing in that sentence that would be my choice. I don't want to return to public education. I don't want to spend the fall cooped up in a stale-aired building tied to a bell-driven schedule. I don't want to go back to fifth grade.

Of the twenty-two years I spent in the classroom before my leave two years ago, I spent all but six years teaching fifth graders in some form. When I switched to third grade for the last three years, it felt like I'd graduated somehow. Like I'd learned all I needed to with tweens and was ready for a new challenge. Third grade turned out to be a challenge for sure, but not the place for which my particular set of talents is best suited.

Last Thanksgiving when I made the decision that going back into the classroom was the most effective way to create income and still continue my writing career, middle school English seemed a good compromise choice. It would allow me to share my passion with a new age group, and to focus on one subject which would free up more energy for writing.

The letter said fifth grade. It didn't say why, or explain the thinking behind my placement. It doesn't really matter. I don't believe the district is in charge of my future, or my life in any meaningful way. Nor do I believe it's an accident that I'm returning to such familiar territory. I'm still working on what it means exactly.

Without my searching, or even paying much attention (since I'm focused on absorbing and appreciating every minute of every day of my remaining time of leave), gifts have appeared like rare bird sightings in the last couple of weeks.

A surprise encounter with a former student, now a graduating senior, who has grown into a handsome, poised and accomplished young man. The warmth of his smile and hug. Remembering how I enjoyed the tender ten year old he was.

Running into a former parent at the grocery store and hearing that her daughter still talks about her third grade year with me all the time. A long and happy visit that left me radiating validation.

In Costco, bonding over field guides with the guy standing next to me, answering his "what do you do?" question with, "I teach fifth graders." And finding I didn't mind the taste of the words in my mouth.

My counselor saying she was glad I was returning to something I knew so well because it meant I wouldn't get caught up in the adventure and novelty of something new. That meant I'd have more energy to continue answering my soul's longings.

Here's what I know to be true: I love fifth graders, and always have. There's something about their being on the cusp of so much, and the resulting vulnerability, that brings the very best of me to the surface. At odd moments now I find myself remembering the fun, magical and transformative moments of previous years. I'm looking forward to creating more of those.

Here's what else I know to be true: I am a writer. Wings unfurled and strengthened in the last few years will not suddenly fall from my shoulders. The dreams I left the classroom to pursue, while still not accomplished, are no less compelling, and more sharply defined.

Although I wouldn't have chosen to either return to the classroom, or return to fifth grade, I am choosing to trust in gifts yet to be revealed in the wide blue sky of my life. I'm choosing to allow bubbles of excitement to the surface as I begin to let go of my picture of how this was going to go. There is loss here. But not of my dreams. Only the route to them. I choose to keep flying.

Picture from Google Images

21 comments:

Desiree said...

I know what you're feeling in a way and I suspect those feelings are all perfectly normal. Being a fairly new follower, I was unaware you were on a two year leave of absence and will now be returning to teach. What I do know is how much those young minds will benefit from having you as their teacher! You have such deep insights into life and you are so incredibly gifted with your ability to express those feelings...so many children grow up in such barren environments...the opportunity to be enriched by someone as warm, loving and wonderful as you will be to their advantage and your reward will be bumping into them years down the line and being told what a hugely positive influence you were in their development.

Enjoy your last few days/weeks of freedom...and I wish you all the best when you resume your position amongst those 5th Graders!

With loving hugs,
Des xoxo

Amber said...

What I believe, is that God has plans for some kid-- just the right kid, who needs just the right moment, with just the right teacher-- and although it may be small, perhaps not even noticed... the world will change for that kid, because they had that moment with you.

I wish you were going to be Wyatt's 5th grade teacher next year.

:) oxox

#1Nana said...

Things do happen for a reason. As Oprah says, "This I know for sure." I also know that it will be difficult. Teaching is a tough job that doesn't get the respect it deserves. But, if my brief exposure to the classroom through substituting is any indication, you'll get plenty of material to write about! I look forward to reading about the journey and where the current path leads.

yaya said...

You have a profession that allows you have an income and pursue dreams...sounds like heaven to me. But, as with all paths, the road will probably be a bit bumpy and pot holes are to be expected. You may be saying "how did I get here again?" and at the same time be grateful for the little minds depending on you for their education. I know you will do great and I know God has some plans for you to complete. So good luck and I'll be looking forward to the fun and interesting posts that will accompany you on this journey.

Linda Hoye said...

My very best wishes go out to you Deb. My DIL is a teacher and I understand some of the challenges. I also tutor a sweet little girl once a week in reading. I believe that you will be a gift to those fifth graders just as my DIL is. Teachers change lives; I applaud you!

Lilith said...

I hope it goes well. I love my own kids but I cannot imagine teaching 30 kids all day for a year, every year. You're an amazing woman.

Stacy Crawford said...

5th grade, good for you! I'm finishing my stint with 5th grade now, and will be straight 6th grade again next year. With the same 5th graders I had last year. That will be a first for me having the same kids two years in a row. That will make for an interesting 1st day of school.

The best part of this age group is they are old enough to know how life works, but young enough to be moldable. (somedays) But that is what makes the job worth it, the challenge of getting into their world and making a difference. I LOVE it!

Good luck Deb. I'll be rooting for you. I'd be glad to share 5th social studies lesson plans with you, if our standards match up! Let me know.

Stacy

Barb said...

Though I have good memories of teaching, I don't think I'd have the energy now to go back. But, 5th is an age group you have lots of experience teaching, Deb. I have a feeling both you and the kids will be lucky to have each other.

DJan said...

Well written, Deb, and I envy those kids their Fifth Grade! I am also glad to hear that your feelings are morphing into excitement... I look forward to your school year, since I'm sure I'll get to hear about it right here! :-)

Wanda said...

I was thinking what your counselor said. Knowing you, you'll find the gifts of this...no matter what they are.

JenniferL said...

I'd kill to go back to 5th grade and get you as a teacher! I'm impressed by your ability to stay positive and I think your counselor made an excellent point - no surprises, just something familiar so your energy will stay on track.

Let's get brunch soon :-)

deborahjbarker said...

Those fifth graders will be lucky indeed. Perhaps you needed these last two years to really know you are a writer, to feel comfortable in those shoes. You are right,teaching wont diminish your worth as a writer and I love your final line, "I choose to keep flying," both optimistic and full of confidence. Your choice, your life.

Sandi said...

Well, Deb, I'm with Pat. I think that if you're going back to the classroom, 5th is the best place to be. It's familiar territory, and I have it on good personal authority (two daughters who were in your class) that you are darn good at it! So, while I know there was disappointment, I can only believe that you are in the right place, and it will be the right time . . . for some lovely miracles to occur. Revel in the summer. I'm filing a box or two for you . . . always happy to share, just as you shared with me, not so many years ago! Love you so much!

Retired English Teacher said...

I hear you. I get it. I understand. The phrase from your letter is one that I could have written myself about teaching English at the high school level about six years ago.

Teaching takes so much energy. Physically, it can be tiring, but mentally it is exhausting at times. I realize that I can focus on other things better now that I'm not teaching because I'm not mentally planning lesson plans and activities in my down time.

I also know the pull of teaching on the heart strings. There is also great joy and fulfillment.

I also hope the next year brings you great fruit in your writing. You are gifted. Hang on to those dreams. I think you will find a way to earn that living and keep the practice of writing very much alive.

Katie Gates said...

Wonderful post. I'll look forward to witnessing how those fifth graders inspire you, the writer.

Anonymous said...

"Although I wouldn't have chosen to either return to the classroom, or return to fifth grade, I am choosing to trust in gifts yet to be revealed in the wide blue sky of my life. I'm choosing to allow bubbles of excitement to the surface as I begin to let go of my picture of how this was going to go. There is loss here. But not of my dreams. Only the route to them. I choose to keep flying."

And I'm sure you've heard the line, "How do you make God laugh? Tell Her your plans!"

I have every Faith that you will find your answers and SO much more. Not because you'll be teaching the 5th grade again, but because you are open to receiving the gift.

Love what your counselor said!

I look forward to what the writer writes about in the teachings of and FROM of the children.

Love you.
M in Vancouver

Linda Myers said...

I am 62 years old and I still remember the year I was 10. Fifth grade. Mrs. Chadwick. My very finest teacher.

I hope this next year is a gift for you.

Cheryl said...

Not only is your writing beautiful, your attitude to life is also something we could all aspire to. So many blogs I visit moan and groan about life and how unfair it is and what has gone wrong and so it's pure pleasure to find someone who understands that it's not what happens to you but how you react to it that determines the enjoyment of life. I'm sure there is something there for you in 5th grade - perhaps many stories to be found and many lives to inspire. This passion we have to write is amazing. We know it's impractical in many ways, but we cannot be stopped. Enjoy it all if you can. Love and hugs.

Jessica Nelson said...

Oh Deb...fifth grade is such a strange time. It really is the cusp of childhood, imo. I hope you enjoy it. I hope your the kind of teacher a student remembers loving. I loved my fifth grade teacher. She was firm, but loving. She read out loud to us and told us stories about her Greek heritage.
Blessings to you, and I can't wait to hear about the people you'll meet and the adventures you find! (I don't quite agree with your counselor, *grin*)

Lorna said...

Well all I can say is, those lucky fifth graders....well, that and I know how you feel about the unsuspecting surprises that come along and take our time. Still, I love that you get to keep on writing, and passing your wisdom on to young minds, and absorbing some of their fresh spirit as well. Enjoy the freedom, every moment, every breath, every bird, every touch. Hugs

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

I MUST have my Granddaughter who is going to teach fifth grade, this post to read. She has chosen this grade to teach..and I wondered why. This would be her her first time. She is young and just starting out as a teacher..so she will "get caught up in the adventure" and it will be fun hearing her stories.
I think we all remember our fifth grade teachers. I do.
I loved this post.
Thank you so much for your comment on my latest post.
I have shied away from writing as I once ran into a difficult time with another blogger...but I would love to try it again and do from time to time..but always worry. Always.
Love and hugs to you for the contribution you make to our children!
Mona