Sunday, May 29, 2011
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:
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