Having the Courage to Walk Away

The other day I was sitting in the staffroom at the school where I’m doing my practicum. It was lunchtime and as I ate I struck up a conversation with a substitute teacher who was working at the school for the day. During our conversation the fact that I have an engineering degree and I worked in the field for about a decade came up.

The substitute teacher was surprised that I had left my engineering career and was now a student teacher. I explained to him that engineering wasn’t a great fit for me. I don’t regret earning that degree or working in the field: I learned a lot and I worked with some truly phenomenal people. In fact, it was those phenomenal people that confirmed my decision to leave. They loved being computer programmers. They lived and breathed technology and problem-solving. I admired them, but it just wasn’t me.

The substitute teacher then asked me how it was that, if engineering wasn’t a good fit, I finished university and worked in the field so long. I replied, “I don’t quit.” And I didn’t mean it as a good thing.

walk awayOne thing that I’ve learned in the past decade of my life is that sometimes the most courageous choice is to walk away. Once you’ve started down a path it’s easy to be carried along by momentum or inertia. You start with Step 1 and move on to Step 2 and Step 3 and Step 4. And soon enough, without even noticing it, you’ve been doing something that you don’t love for six years. Or 16 years. Or even longer.

Of course, persistence is an important quality, and sometimes you have to work for what you want. Sometimes it’s only by pushing through the hard stuff that you get to the good stuff. I acknowledge all that. But other times you know, deep down in your gut, that something isn’t for you. And because you’ve spent a lot of time or money, or because you’re afraid of what people will think of you, or because you don’t know what else to do, you persist. You conform to expectations and ignore your dreams. Maybe you even forget to ask what you really want, because you stop believing you can have it.

I was very cautious about my journey towards becoming a student teacher because I know that I’m a persistent, appearance conscious, do what is expected of me sort of a person. I knew that I would worry about disappointing my family, or wasting time and money, if I didn’t end up becoming a teacher. I had to remind myself over and over again that the bigger waste would be to spend more of my life doing something I didn’t want to do. I paused a lot to ask myself if I was really where I wanted to be. And this semester at school I’ve done the same thing. I’ve paid for tuition for one semester, but if this isn’t the program for me it’s better to save myself two more semesters’ worth of tuition and a whole bunch more time.

Fortunately for me all of my experiences so far have confirmed what I already knew: I want to be a teacher. I really, really want to be a teacher. Right now I am where I want to be.

Unfortunately for one of my classmates that decision was different. Recently, one of the 32 student teachers I started with in September made the decision to leave the program. I don’t know everything that went into his decision. I don’t know what he’s thinking or feeling right now. My opinion wasn’t asked for. But all the same I can’t help but feel something, because I got to know him and like him and I will miss him. Mostly, though, I think he made the most courageous choice possible. Walking away can be very, very hard. I hope that he gives himself space to process and then finds something even better that really fits him.

Building a life is a complicated, challenging, funny sort of thing. In the end there’s only one thing that I know for sure, and it’s that the person you’re going to spend every waking moment with is yourself. So, within the limits of decency and compassion, you should live your life for yourself. Whether that means seeing something through or walking away, only you can say.

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving. Being a Canadian, I celebrated six weeks ago. All the same, today I am thankful. I am thankful for the times when I walked away, or things ended, and I found something better. It wasn’t always easy – on the contrary it was frequently gut-wrenchingly hard. But in the process, I learned more about who I am, what works for me, and what to make space for in my life. Time is short, and energy is limited. I don’t want to waste any of it on things that take me further away from where I need to be.

Okay is … Okay

Oh man, you guys, I have been busy. I knew I would be when I started school full-time in September. Of course I knew. But it’s really only in the past few weeks that things have gotten real.

I’m about three quarters of the way through a month long practicum at the moment. I’m teaching in a local grade 4/5 class and I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m also finding it challenging. This is no surprise. I am learning new things, trying new things, planning and delivering lessons, gaining new skills and sometimes falling flat on my face. And through it all I am being observed and receiving feedback.

Truly, my practicum is great. Being in a classroom, teaching students, watching teachers and hearing their comments, helps me get better. There is no other way I could learn this stuff as well. But it also means I am “on” a lot of the time, both for my students and my advisors. I am not the busiest I have ever been, or the most tired. I have kids. But it’s busy and tiring and I’m feeling it.

A few weeks ago, when my practicum had just started, I attended a workshop with my fellow student teachers and practicing teachers from my district. Or, in teacher language, preservice and inservice teachers. We were talking about how we show care in schools – for our colleagues, for our students, for our communities and so on. I got a little bit overly sentimental and talked about how much care I was feeling from my advisors and my fellow student teachers who were helping me get better. How feedback, including constructive criticism, is just a way of showing caring and isn’t this lovely and yada yada yada.

okayAfter I finished, one of the practicing teachers spoke up. I can’t quote him word-for-word, but he spoke directly to the student teachers and said that we really needed to think about self care. We would have a lot coming at us, he said, and we needed to make sure that we didn’t overdo it. That our needs were getting met. That sort of thing. And then he added, “Sometimes okay is okay.”

For whatever reason, that last phrase stuck in my head. In the past two weeks when I’ve been feeling overwhelmed I’ve repeated it to myself. Okay is okay. Okay is okay. Of course I knew that already. I knew that sometimes you have to let things go. Sometimes you need to say good enough. Sometimes you need to ignore the sink full of dirty dishes and go to bed at a reasonable hour. But you know what? I needed a reminder. I didn’t know it at the time, but those were among the most important words I’ve heard since I started back at school full-time in September.

We’re heading into the holiday season, now. Luckily, I will have a decent break over Christmas so I will be able to focus more on my family and the joy of the season and all of that good stuff. But you know what? I also know from hard-fought experience that Christmas can be one more time when you have too much on your plate, and you’re overwhelmed, and busy, and putting yourself on the back burner. So, as I finish the semester and prepare to celebrate, I will repeat my new mantra. As my kids fight on the way back from picking out a Christmas tree, I will repeat my new mantra. As we rush hither and yon, from one family dinner to another, I will repeat my mantra. Okay is okay.

Because you know what? It really is.

My Happiness List: October 2015 Edition

Sometimes, you just need to focus on the good things in life. I like to do that every so often, so I’m sharing another happiness list. I blogged my last personal happiness list back in January, so it’s clearly time for me to re-visit it. And as I wait to hear what school I’ll be placed in for my short practicum as a student teacher, I could use a little bit of positivity. The suspense is killing me!

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

happiness list

My Happy List

  1. All the cool things I’m learning as a student teacher.
  2. Mentors who inspire me.
  3. Watching my daughter in her tae kwon do class. She is seriously tough.
  4. Raisins. Not everyone is a raisin person, but I really am.
  5. Cozy blankets to curl up in on a chilly fall night.
  6. My son who has lost his two front teeth and is now sporting the most adorable gap-toothed grin.
  7. My shower. Getting clean is the best part of my day.
  8. The community that has formed with my fellow student teachers. It’s so good to spend your days with people you like and respect.
  9. Comfy boots to keep my feet warm and dry.
  10. Thanksgiving – it’s this coming weekend here in Canada!
  11. My new computer. It doesn’t crash every time I try to open more than two browser windows. So novel!
  12. My husband, who washes all my laundry and is picking up the slack now that I’m back at school.
  13. Fall leaves, that brighten up rainy days.
  14. Writing poetry.
  15. Chocolate. All the chocolate, all the time.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

Day Three

Back on Labour Day I shared some of my thoughts and concerns as I prepared to head back to school full-time. That was nine days ago. I am now mid-way through my first week as a student teacher, and I wanted to update you on how things are going so far.

The Kids

My kids had their first day of school on September 8, and I was fortunately able to be there for it. It was very short – less than 45 minutes – as they reported to their classes from last year and took attendance. That was all par for the course and went well.

The next day, one week ago, the kids had their first full day of school and their first day of daycare. My daughter Hannah was concerned. Would she know anyone? Would she have any friends? By day two of daycare she was good. My son Jacob was excited to go and settled in right off the bat. When I pick them up now they complain and ask to stay longer. I take that as a good sign, and I’m feeling really relieved. It’s so much better when you know your kids are having fun while you’re away from them.

The Interval

plate impulse purchase

Impulse purchase while waiting for my car to be serviced

Because my school didn’t start until this past Monday, September 14, I had a few days at home with not much to do while my kids were at school and settling into daycare. I vacillated between enjoying it immensely and feeling totally panicked. I didn’t know much about what would be happening when I started school myself. I had a time and place to be for orientation, but that was it. As a planner, this freaked me out. On top of that, I’m used to working from home so just sitting around twiddling my thumbs left me with an uneasy feeling that I was forgetting something.

I ended up making myself busy polishing off last-minute details. I got my car serviced. I got a haircut. I met with people. And I also enjoyed the free time a little by watching too much TV. In the end those three days of peace and quiet went by way too quickly.

Student Teacher

student teacher burnaby mountain park

View from where I was sitting yesterday

Finally, it was just before 9:00am on my first day of school. I joined the other new student teachers in the line-up outside the theatre where our orientation session was being held. A woman beside me struck up a conversation and we discovered that we were both in the same module (a module is like a class of 32 student teachers). It felt good to make a friend right away.

The orientation session lasted all morning, and it was great. I found it very helpful. Then we met the rest of our module briefly before lunch. After lunch we headed off with our modules and got to know each other a little. We’ll be meeting together throughout the semester, which lasts until December. Yesterday we went for a walk to a local park and did some reflecting and got to know each other a little more. Today we’re going to a film, culture and art festival that celebrates diversity – Project EveryBODY.

What I’ve discovered so far is that my fellow student teachers are amazing people. They are mostly (but not all) younger than me by at least a decade, but they’ve done some pretty cool things and we all share a love of working with children. Many of our hopes and fears are the same. We are going to be spending a lot of time together, and I feel privileged to be working with them. They knocked my socks off, quite honestly.

I’ve also discovered that this experience is going to be very hands-on and challenging in a totally different way than my other university experiences. It doesn’t appear that it will be very academically rigorous, in the sense that I won’t be spending a lot of time studying and writing research papers and sitting exams. Rather, it will be extremely challenging and stretching on a personal level, as I confront my biases, work hard, and transform myself into a teacher. And spend lots and lots of time with kids. I can’t wait.

For now, I know I’m right where I need to be. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.

Back to School

It has been a long time since I went to work or school full-time.

In February of 2005 I was working full-time. Then, six weeks ahead of schedule, my daughter was born. Thanks to generous Canadian maternity leave, I didn’t return to work for a full year after her birth. When I did return, I was fortunate to be able to negotiate a part-time schedule, where I went into the office three days a week and did some work from home the other two weekdays.

When my son was born in 2008 I went on another year-long maternity leave. Nine months into that I received notice that my job was being eliminated. I decided to shift gears and started working from home. I landed one small freelance job and then another. Eventually I was working 20 hours a week from my family room.

I was lucky. I was able to spend time with my children while they were small. I spent time in their classrooms, volunteered on field trips, and explored what I really wanted to do with my life. I know that not everyone has this freedom.

back to schoolNow, things are changing. Tomorrow my kids start back at school. They are now in grade five and grade two. The day after tomorrow my kids start before and after school care. And five days after that, I have my first day of school as a student teacher. I will spend the next 12 months studying full-time, doing practicum work in classrooms, and earning my teaching license. It will be the first time in more than a decade that I have done anything full-time.

This is a good time for me to do this. My children are in school all day themselves. They are well settled in their routines. I am ready for the next thing. But still, I’m nervous. It feels like a big change.

There are seasons in every life. I am entering a new season in mine. I feel just as scared as I did more than 20 years ago when I graduated from high school and first started university. The stakes feel so much higher. The demands on my life are already much greater. And I have two little people watching me. I want to set a good example. I want to build a good life for them and for me. I want to show them that you’re never too old. That learning never stops. That you can set a goal and make it happen.

I also want to do well for myself. I have always been an overachiever.

I know things will work out. If I just take things one day at a time, one task at a time, I will get through this. My kids will get through this too. I will figure out my part, and they will figure out their parts, and when all is said and done I will be a teacher. Hopefully I will find a job, eventually, and we will go on vacation at Spring Break. And I will have the privilege of working with children every day. If I keep my eyes on the prize, it all sounds good.

But still, it’s a big change. I feel it. I can’t think about it too much, but I feel it.

So, deep breath. Here I go. Wish me luck.

My Happiness List: January 2015 Edition

My last post was a little bit down, I think, so I decided that it was time to share another happiness list. I blogged my last personal happiness list almost ten months ago, so I’m clearly long overdue. Who couldn’t use a little hit of positivity once in a while? There’s all kinds of research to show that it’s very good for you. Plus, it’s just plain fun.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

massage therapy happiness list

My Happy List

  1. Rooibos chai tea. All the goodness of chai, none of the caffeine to make me jumpy.
  2. Comfortable new pants I bought on clearance.
  3. Really good chocolate. Always.
  4. Finishing my prerequisites for teaching school and earning a GPA of 4.06. Hooray!
  5. Massage therapy.
  6. My new seed order has arrived. Let the garden dreams begin!
  7. The teacher I’m volunteering with, who is a fabulous mentor.
  8. The students I’m volunteering with, who are more awesome than a hot fudge sundae.
  9. Living in Vancouver in January. As we like to say, you don’t have to shovel the rain.
  10. My son’s love for his new loft bed – which we scored for free from someone who outgrew it, so double extra bonus points.
  11. My daughter’s newfound love of fantasy novels. I really enjoy watching her sink her teeth into a book.
  12. My children’s teachers. Both my kids are really enjoying school this year.
  13. Singing in the kitchen in the morning.
  14. Podcasts. I do love podcasts.
  15. My husband’s piano is out of storage and I get to listen to him play.
  16. New books to read.
  17. Getting back to blogging again. This space floats my boat.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

A Word for 2015: Strength

For the past few years I’ve been choosing a word at New Year’s to represent what I wanted to bring into my life in the 12 months ahead. In 2011 that word was space. In 2012 I chose clarity. In 2013 I chose presence. And for 2014 my word was forgiveness. This year, possibly for the first time, settling on a word was easy. For 2015 I have chosen strength.

strength*Photo credit – Colleen McMahon on Flickr

Choosing a word is about setting an intention for the year. This year, rather than choose an aspirational intention, I’ve decided to go another way. In past years I’ve chosen a word that represented something I wanted to bring into my life, but thought I might be lacking. In 2015 I’m opting for something I think I already have, but may not always see. That is, I’m already strong. I think maybe we are all strong. For me, this is about acknowledging and owning my strength. This quote from Marianne Williamson speaks to what I’m getting at by choosing the word strength:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.

The past couple of months have been hard for me. It has been all too easy for me to fall into a place where I feel overwhelmed by all that is happening around me. Because you know what? Sometimes life is just too much. I was having a bit of a moment one day when my husband said, “You can do this.” And you know what? I thought to myself, He’s right, I totally can. This year I want to spend less time worrying about my shortcomings, and more time facing up to the challenges in front me. Curve balls will come my way no matter what. Running from them won’t change that, so I may as well step up to bat.

Here’s to claiming our strength, wherever it lies!

How about you – are you choosing a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear what it is, and how you’re setting your intentions for 2015!

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