It’s been just over three years since I left the classroom and here are a few things I’ve encountered that I wasn't expecting.
Grief ~ Grief and relief are normal and can exist at the same time. So many tears. So much anger and resentment. I was furious with the system that drove me out and away from the students, families, and coworkers I loved so much - the admin and policies that made me choose between my community and my family. I missed my classroom, my students, co-workers, my career that I'd invested so much of myself into only to have it proven to me how little my bosses cared about me, my family, and my contribution to the school. I was heart-broken but also relieved that I never had to go back there again.
So much relief and room to breathe. My dread was lifted. I enjoyed the more manageable pace of life and took all the time I needed to recover. Almost instantly I noticed that I had more energy and patience, and within weeks my family noticed that I seemed much lighter and relaxed than they’d seen me in years. We enjoyed the last days of summer at the pool instead of setting up my classroom. Then I got to take my kids to the bus stop and participate in all the First Day of School festivities for the first time ever. I still love that every year. Our whole family dynamic shifted and continues to shift in really positive ways.
However, the time freedom and decreased external structure that once caused relief and deep relaxation also started to cause isolation and depression. t was a very strange and somewhat disorienting mix of emotions. With the lack of externally imposed structure, I needed a new way of approaching my day-to-day life. It felt like my identity was eroding. It took me almost a year to find myself and my footing again.
Discovery ~ Discovering myself. I’m not the same person that went into the classroom in 2011. She was just married, didn’t have children yet, and was in her early 30’s. The hobbies and leisure activities I enjoyed back then don’t hold much interest to me anymore. The me who left the classroom in 2020 had 2 young daughters (6 & 8 yrs old), lost her mother, survived postpartum depression, and spent most of her weekends at sports and dance. I felt old and tired from living in survival mode for so long. I didn’t even know who I wanted to be anymore outside of all the responsibilities piled up around me. I hadn’t had time to think about it.
And so, when I had some downtime, I started exploring my inner and outer worlds. I started reading and listening to podcasts. I finished my masters degree and accidentally started a teaching business. I started volunteering with the PTO and in my daughters’ classrooms. I’m still discovering myself, but for the first time in a long time, I’m happy, proud of myself, and excited about the future. The best part is that my daughters and spouse are proud of me too.
Unlearning ~ The most recent part of my recovery has been unlearning the unhealthy coping strategies I developed during my years in the classroom. Without even noticing it, I recreated the unhealthy work/life balance I left. I love the work I do now, but I didn’t know how to turn it off. I found myself driven by both passion and fear. I worked myself right back into survival mode and burned myself out. I became irritable and impatient. I started abandoning my self-care routines in favor of one more client, one more lesson, one more post, one more training, one more thing.
And so I circled back to my grief and discovery but with more understanding and compassion than before. I took time to recover and recenter. I re-discovered myself, my joy, and my why. I’m learning what I need to unlearn in order to create the life I want for myself, the life I want to enjoy with my spouse and our family, and the life I want to role-model for our children.
Best wishes always, Rachel
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