I was just a teenager when I started keeping a handwritten book of quotations. I decorated it, added to it constantly, and revisited it when I could. In fact, I usually carried it around with me in my oversized purse, just in case I happened to overhear a random pearl of wisdom. Even all these years later, if you give me a topic or a situation, chances are that I can come up with a fitting expression or saying for it. Some of them I have even added to a special section of this blog, or have liberally sprinkled them here and there throughout my posts over the years.
There is one saying in particular that has stood out to me for quite some time: “Everything will be okay in the end; and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” This quote has been accredited to more than one source (among them, Paulo Coehlo and John Lennon), and while its origin is dubious, its personal significance is not.
On a day like today, when I have time to sit, drink some coffee alone in the wee hours of the morning as the sun begins to appear, and reflect, it is very clear to me: I have pretty much everything I have ever hoped for in my life. I mean, I really do. Married to a husband who is, in a word, awesome, and a beautiful son who really is as sweet as sugar, are truly my greatest accomplishments. Though I still find myself in the neverending fight for mental health and peace, for the first time in a long time, I am in a good place.
But it is not to say that these achievements and other proud moments came without moments of doubt, desperation, and darkness.
I witness each morning that the old adage is true in every sense: The darkest hour is just before dawn. Don’t I know it.
At this point almost exactly ten years ago, I felt that I had truly hit rock bottom. The future seemed to be uncertain at best, grim at worst. I was twenty-four years old, and I really did feel as though my life was over. In every sense (personally, mentally, spiritually, psychologically, and professionally), I felt like there was no point in anything.
Only a few months prior, I had finally graduated from college with a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages (that, and U$70,000+ of debt, but that wasn’t the point!). The prize that I had sought was won, I had reached the Holy Grail, I had crossed the finish line! I was so proud of myself. The world was my oyster. Woo-hoooooo!
Fast forward a few short months…
Turns out, despite earning all those respectable grades in my classroom management and principles of linguistics courses, my fancy-pants university hadn’t fully prepared me for the highly bureaucratic, sometimes heartbreaking, and immensely frustrating endeavour that is teaching in U.S. schools (shocker).
Upon accepting my first real job out of college, I was thoroughly unprepared for the gossip, backstabbing, politics, and sabotaging that being a part of a public school entails (and no, I am not referring to my middle school students).
Moreover, No Child Left Behind, no funding for classroom basics, and nowhere to turn for help or guidance when things got bad left me in an ineffably adverse position of fighting a losing battle. I attempted seeking advice and a clue from the person who was assigned to be my teaching mentor, only to find the door (literally) closed in my face. I looked for help elsewhere, but the ununited teacher’s “union” was no better.
Going to work each day had become something positively dreaded for me. It took a toll on both my mental and physical health. I was crying and vomiting from nerves on a daily basis, and was nearing the end of my rope.
“You are going to quit before Christmas,” a colleague had commented to me, unsolicited and out of the blue, more than once. From the tone of her voice, I was never quite certain if this was a prophecy or a command. However, it seems curious to me how it was so much easier for this woman to contribute to the downfall and demise of someone so new to the field of education. I mean, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of what teachers are supposed to do for their students and for each other? To help, teach, and guide those who need it? Isn’t THIS one of the reasons why it is continually getting harder and harder to attract and to keep new teachers?
One day, a female custodian pulled me aside. “I have a personal question to ask you,” she told me.
“Are you pregnant?”
“What?! No!” I responded, feeling shocked and self-conscious. As though the junior high rumor mill wasn’t already vicious enough. “Why would you think that?”
“Because every day when I clean out your classroom, I find vomit in the garbage can.”
To make a painfully long story short, within just a few months of what I had thought was supposed to be the happiest period of my life thus far, I crashed, burned, and ultimately left my first post-university teaching position with my tail between my legs. The witch’s prophecy had indeed come true. When I finally attempted to get back on the teaching horse, I found myself literally blacklisted by my former principal. Finding a new teaching job in the entire state was no longer a possibility.
Of course, as I struggled in despair to find any kind of employment, that pie-in-the-sky quotation about things working out was the farthest thing from my mind.
It was a period of intense shame and uncertainty. At twenty-four, I already felt like a useless drifter, as though all those years of working for my teaching degrees were for naught. The need for repaying my student loans didn’t help the matter.
Sadly, I doubt that my situation is unheard of for many young professionals in the field of education. I also doubt that the majority of them have the option of seeking greener pastures elsewhere like I did. Witnessing the divisive, utter chaos (there is no other word for it, really) that is going on in the United States right now from abroad is simply sad. The high-running emotions from the March for Our Lives demonstrations hits home from thousands of miles away, as I, too, had previously interned in a school that was directly affected by gun violence. Seeing how teachers are regarded is equally sobering.
Knowing firsthand how much adversity the average teacher deals with in the USA on a daily basis leaves me (the person who declared herself a “middle schooler forever”) incredulous that anyone in their right mind would want to go into (and stay in) the American school systems in this day and age. And that is just wrong on all kinds of levels. It just shouldn’t be this way for any teacher.
Of course I have my moments when I want to leave Buenos Aires for any number of reasons, but more often than not, I feel that I jumped like a rat from a sinking ship, just in the nick of time. Maybe everything did, indeed happen for a reason.
I don’t want to spend my morning mulling over and harping on painful memories. It’s futile. The possibility of ever returning to live and work in the United States continues to fade away further over time. And while that reality makes me feel somber, I also feel gratitude for the life and career that I have put together here in Argentina, a country that gave me opportunity, a family, and most of all, realization that, in some cases, “the darkest hour is just before dawn.”
I would know.
Anyways, enough clichés for now. I’m off to start my day.
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