(Oh God, not another one of those self-congratulatory annoying posts where someone reflects on a big life change in a heartfelt yet honest way.)
Some of you already know this, but coming up soon I’ll be done teaching. After seven years of being a classroom teacher, I’m hanging up my chalk and devoting myself full time to making art and writing. Here’s the part where I tell you about the long and winding road that brought me to this point.
Way back in the underemployed post art school days of 2006 I was making crazy bank and working at Leslie’s Ceramic Supply and by virtue of “being around the basket” ended up hired to teach ceramics in an afterschool program. Not all that surprised to find I liked teaching, I enrolled in teaching credential course at San Francisco State. As a native Spanish speaker, there was/is a demand for bilingual teachers, and I signed up, planning to continue making art over the summer and weekends. (Laugh, go ahead, laugh.) The program at SFSU ended up being quite intense: full of wrenching examinations of the history of education in the United States, the disenfranchisement of minorities, and institutionalized racism, I left several classes galvanized in the path I was choosing. Of course (and you knew this would happen) I begin teaching and find the job so all consuming, all creative pursuits fell away.
To call teaching a “job” is a misnomer. I’ve had plenty of jobs, but teaching is lifestyle, a calling. Being a teacher is ennobling, it’s crushingly disappointing, it’s exhausting, it’s heart wrenching, it’s rewarding. Early in my career, I had a student’s older brother die of leukemia and I attended the funeral. My heart sank when a student’s devoted father get deported, she would write him letters I would post to Mexico City. Once I counseled the mother of student thinking of divorcing her husband, and another who was being physically abused by her live-in boyfriend. I’ve had to call Child Protective Services exactly once. I know fire drills, earthquake drills, and shooting rampage intruder drills (The PA announcement to warn of an intruder “It’s time to be vigilant” always gives me chills.) I’ve gotten countless adorable notes attesting to my “goodness” as a teacher. I’ve been thanked with cookies, books, handmade scarves, bottles of wine, and a favorite stuffed animal toy given away by a shy five year old that means more than anything.
I’ve been mentioned in graduation speeches as “someone who influenced me.” I’ve tied more shoelaces than I can count, and buttoned more coats and put on more mittens than I can remember. I got a late night voicemail “Ms. Jonsson, are you there? Pick up, please…” by a particularly troubled soul. I painted portraits, made pizza, assembled ice cream sundaes, frosted Christmas cookies, and had wild impromptu dance parties. I was informed I did not know what it was like to really take care of children because I’ve “never given birth.” I hold the record for most staff room naps in one-year period. I once received over 700 euros in cash from a five year old, he only needed 8 for the field trip yet helped himself to mom’s cash. I coached a team of middle and high school students and won a second place trophy at national swim meet. I enjoyed the privilege of taking high school students backpacking in the same mountains that inspired Goethe to write Faust. I’ve been happy to discuss Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones at length (Student: Why do you know so much about Star Wars? Me: I find your lack of faith disturbing.) I gained thirty pounds, lost ten, developed and conquered insomnia, and have way more gray hair than when I started. I got called “mom” and “mama” a lot. I had my own mother proofread my Spanish when I taught bilingual, and have had my parents pick me up at school and take me to dinner when I was stuck working there until 7 pm (thanks Mom and Dad). I’ve cried in the office of both literacy specialists (thanks Monica, thanks Rebecca). I have put on a movie when I did not have anything planned. I went for hugs and commiseration from so many of my coworkers, forgive me if I don’t mention you all, you know who you are! (special love to Laura SD, Bonnie, Katrin H, Sven, Nancy, Andi, Patrick, Paul, Rebecca, Chris R., Bronwen, Eduardo Cuervo, Claire M, Jessie J, Keli, Monica) and volunteers (Helen Delahunty, Janna Cordeiro, Nicky Paterson, Daria Voigt-Salus, Kathryn Cantwell) and role models (the inimitable Morgan Boepple, where I did my pre-teaching hours, and Maureen Sullivan).
Here’s to the next big thing.