Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Or Run?

Kenny Rogers was certainly on to something when he penned the lyrics to his hit song, “The Gambler”. After serving as a classroom teacher for over twelve years, I have found myself between a proverbial rock and a hard place. In the words of the late and great B.B. King, “The thrill is gone,” and it has been for some time now. In the past twelve years I have spent more time griping and complaining than praising and celebrating. And for these and other reasons, I believe that it’s time for me to walk away. Better yet, I might need to run Forrest!

 

My contemplative state is in no way new or fresh. I considered leaving the profession after my first year (as do many novice teachers), but I mustered the strength and gumption to try a second year (at anything other than a charter school—too much to add for now). In year two I transitioned into a small “suburban” school district in central Ohio, which was certainly much kinder to me than the first year, but it definitely wasn’t easy.

By my fifth year (still in central Ohio) I was again ready to walk away, but chose instead to try a different environment: Florida. In 2008 I packed up my belongings and headed to the “Sunshine State” after procuring a job in Hillsborough County (the “8th largest school district in the country”—the district’s constant claim to fame). Once here in Florida the spark was reignited for a time. By my eighth year as an “educator” (where I had once enjoyed teaching at a Performing and Visual Arts Magnet School) I had once again found myself feeling complacent and jaded. And again, my immediate response was what I have coined the “Goldie Locks Effect”—trying out a different bed, or in my case, a different school (district, state, etc.).

However, unlike years before, the spark wasn’t reignited after I reached school number four (another magnet school—this one IB: International Baccalaureate). I thought that perhaps this school and its students might more closely align with my philosophical beliefs about education: it’s the most important thing to get. I was sorely disappointed and dissatisfied. If anything, my level of discontentment and resentment for what I had chosen as a “profession” had actually intensified to the nth degree. While at this school relations with students and parents (essential stakeholders in education) were in a constant tug-of-war. It was in this environment that I started to seriously question whether I was cut out for teaching. I constantly second-guessed myself, and my efforts, nearly every day. However, I pushed through four years at this school before I had the overwhelming itch to run far-far away (despite its over-glamourized allure in Shrek 2).

This time moving to another state wasn’t going to cut it. I had made up my mind that the landscape of education had changed, and perhaps I was no longer able to adapt to the surroundings. So that’s when I got very serious about teaching abroad. So serious did I become that I managed to get a job offer at a private International IB school in Dubai, UAE. I was on cloud nine. What? How could the teacher who was constantly contemplating walking away somehow be on cloud nine? Great question.

I was determined that teaching in a different country where education wasn’t an afterthought but a highly prized attainment, and educators were esteemed and not emasculated, might somehow bring me the satisfaction that I had lost somewhere along the way. But alas, my emotions superseded my judgment when I backed out of the opportunity. Shortly after I had accepted the offer, I chased after the possibility of “love” instead of the assurance of a new start in a totally different landscape. Turning down the opportunity overseas has undoubtedly been the hardest life-lesson that I failed. And at the end of the day I blame no one but myself. At any rate, choosing not to go a month and a half after being excited about the prospect and the new journey ended up being awkward at my current school. I had to ask myself, could I be happy and/or satisfied staying at the same school? The answer was a resounding: No! So that’s when an opportunity “knocked” in the form of an email from a former principal I had worked with. She had an opening at her school, an opening that came with a leadership position: Subject Area Leader (SAL). I jumped at the chance and was subsequently offered the position. My spirits raised because again, maybe this next school would prove to be “just right” and I could be like Goldie Locks and take a well-deserved nap.

But that wasn’t what occurred. Within weeks (less than four to be exact) I was (am) ready to pack up my belongings—actually, keep them for all I care—and walk away from teaching forever, forever-ever? FOREVER-EVER! And that brings us to my current situation: Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Run?

Earlier today while reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, I came across the following words that greatly impacted my level of consciousness:

Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now.

These words have been the best piece of advice that I could ask for. And since reading those words I have been contemplating what to do with my life. Do I remove myself form the situation (teaching)? By and large, this option seems like the most practical and viable. After finding so little satisfaction in a “profession” that drains me of my vitality and zeal, leaving public education sounds like the most logical response. Besides, I don’t see how I could change it—the student’s attitudes and postures towards learning as well as the education system. In the past five years I have watched the vast majority of the students who walk the halls of our school do so with an attitude of unconcern and reproach. It is as if they see little, if any, value in obtaining a public education. Aside from their attitudes, the system that educates them is severely flawed from the top down. Yes, the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was a step in the right direction, but there is still much more work to be done to make the public education system in this country equitable. Lastly, when I consider the idea to accept it fully, chills run through my body. These aren’t the chills of a mind-blowing, deeply conscious awakening, but chills of horror. It would literally be the death of my soul to accept that the vast majority of public school students don’t give a crap about obtaining an education from a system that is highly dysfunctional. To accept it fully means that I have truly become nothing more than a baby-sitter for middle school students. And on that note I’m with Fred Sanford, “You hear that Elizabeth? I’m coming to join you honey!”

Here are the cold, hard facts:

  1. The 2014 graduation rate in Hillsborough County: 73.5%.
  2. The state of Florida’s graduation rate: 76.1%.
  3. The nation’s graduation rate: 80%.
  4. In 2014, only 60% of Hillsborough County’s African-American students graduated, while 68.1% of their Hispanic students graduated.
  5. Most students drop out in their 9th grade year in Hillsborough County.

With these numbers I have to ask myself: Is the deck stacked against me? Am I fighting a losing battle? Is it time to raise the white flag?

Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Run?

Advertisements

And The Truth Has Set Me Free

It takes maturity to, “…know when to hold ‘em/Know when to fold ‘em/Know when to walk away/Know when to run….”. Kenny Rogers made that very clear in his song, “The Gambler”. For the past two and a half weeks I have allowed my past to keep me emotionally bound. Today I received enlightenment and got back my power. Before today there was a glimmer of hope regarding the possibility of reconciliation with the man who had recently captivated my heart. Today, I see our truth with a clarity that I did not have the day before.

Last night, while speaking with a dear friend, she intoned that we (women) have a tendency of thinking we are the best person for the men whose lives we enter. Her words, powerful and true, pierced my heart because I had fallen prey to such patterns of thought time and time again—including this present moment. Despite the continuous arguing this man and I had done in the “last days”, I still felt like he should return to me because he will never find a woman to love him as deeply as me. While there may be truth to the depths of my love, that doesn’t mean that I am the best woman for this man (and vice versa). In reality, the past few weeks have been a mixture of feelings. One minute I wanted the man I loved to come to his senses and call me back to his heart. The next minute I wanted to forget his name and his remembrance in my own heart. Now however, I don’t feel one way or the other. Now, I have come to the realization that the man that I had “fallen” in love with was incapable of loving me to the degree (on the same frequency) on which I was currently living.

Unable to get him “out of my system,” I brought him up in today’s therapy session. I shared with Sarah that he had sent me an arbitrary email two days ago. I went on to point out that the sight of his name in my inbox sent waves through my spirit because it felt good to be thought about. But what I had failed to think about in those fleeting moments was that his reaching out to me in the past three weeks had been inconsistent and unemotional. There were random emails here and there, all with seemingly no depth. Before I could continue to relay my confusion with E, Sarah interjected.

“What was your relationship with your father like? I know it seems out of context, but I think it will bring you some insight.”

It took me a moment to gather my thoughts before I relayed my memories. “I followed my father around like a lost puppy. If he was out tinkering with something in the garage—his motorcycle or the lawnmower, I found a reason to be out there because I wanted to be in his presence. But he was never really around. I mean, he would come home from work and we’d all eat dinner at the table together, but after that he’d be in the family room watching television—usually Westerns—I hated Westerns, but I suffered through them because I wanted to be around him. Basically though, he was always gone—bowling, hunting, fishing, out with his motorcycle group. He wasn’t really around physically; he most certainly wasn’t around emotionally. We aren’t close. In all actuality there was a time when I called him out of a sense of responsibility. Over the years however, our relationship has developed and I call because I want to know how he’s doing.”

“It sounds like you didn’t get the attention you needed from him.”

“No,” I said in a somber tone.

Sarah responded with, “You see attention [from men] as a reward.”

Eureka. There it was–the source of my dis-ease, my dysfunctional way of relating to men had been borne from the lack of an emotional investment/connection from my father. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not pointing a finger of guilt at my father. I am merely acknowledging that the dysfunctional pattern of relating is tethered to a basic need that was never fulfilled in my childhood. No one is at fault. There is no blame to place. There is only forward progression into a future where healthy relationships and ways of relating exist.

That being said, the conversation went back to E. I went on to share with Sarah how I had expressed my dissatisfaction in our relationship in an email in mid-May. I noted how I didn’t feel that he included me in his plans. I also pointed out how visits from his female friends made me feel uncomfortable and devalued. Most noteworthy was the following paragraph where I shared how I wanted to be treated.

I deserve a man who is going to consider my feelings when he makes decisions.  I deserve a man who includes me in his life, not just when it’s convenient for him, but on a regular basis—either because he chooses to, or because he makes the sacrifice to do so.  I deserve to be treated with respect, to be honored and appreciated.  I am not asking for the world, but for the “simple things”.  I deserve to be with a man who isn’t trying to maintain the life of a single man while enjoying the privileges of a committed man.  Yes, each person in a relationship should have outside interests, but you can’t be committed to someone only when it’s convenient, or when it fits into your schedule.

It was at this point that Sarah drew a diagram of how she envisioned E’s idea of a “relationship” versus what I desired in a “partnership”.

Screenshot 2015-06-18 20.38.20

E’s way of relating involved a “me” and “you” mentality. My vision of relating served as a “partnership” where WE were on equal ground. It was becoming more and more clear that E was incapable of relating to me in the manner that I desired. He was incapable of including me in his decision-making. He didn’t see me as his equal. In a partnership two people are in tandem. In a partnership there is a sense of equality. In a partnership WE supersedes “you” and “me”.

It was making perfect sense that I had been making snarky remarks in the “last days” when I asked E (the Thursday before our relationship ended), “What are your plans for the weekend?” And his reply was, “I’m going to Orlando to see a friend.” Individuals in a partnership include one another in their plans. They consider their mates in decision-making. E’s inability to ask me to join him in Orlando was a clear indication that WE weren’t operating at the same relational frequency.

I sat there with a most pensive look on my face when Sarah very casually asked me, “Why do you love him?” I thought, what do you mean? Is this some kind of trick question? She continued, “Is it that you can say ‘I love the way you make me feel or I love the way I feel when I’m around you?’”

“Hold on I said. I need to write that down.” She repeated the phrase and I allowed it to penetrate my thoughts. “Any time a man showed some interest in me I would lose all sense of control.”

“It’s because you see their attention as a reward.”

The pattern was more and more clear. The dysfunction could no longer be masked. In that very moment I knew in my heart, in my spirit actually, that E was not the man for me, and I was not the woman for him. There was no longer a need to wonder about the possibility of reconciliation. He, in his pre-formed ways of relating to women, was incapable of loving me as I desired and deserved to be loved. So long as E had a “you” and “me” perspective for a “relationship”, he and I would continue to bicker and argue over the same things. I have finally accepted him as he is. E is not a bad person. He is simply a man whose way of relating does not match mine.

I leave you with scripture that has comforted me, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8: 32). The truth is truly freeing.