Sunday, April 29, 2012

my unwanted acquaintance, part 5

The principal gaped at me. There was about three seconds of shocked silence.

"What?" he asked, as if he somehow misheard me.

"I am resigning as of this morning. I have already begun to pack my personal belongings from my classroom." I said.

My dad shifted in his seat, never taking his eyes off the principal.

"Sarah, what do you mean you're resigning?? It's only the third day of school!" the principal sputtered.

"I'm very sorry, Mr. Dawson..." And before I could continue, I burst into tears. I had tried to hold it together as long as possible. But the floodgates opened.

"I'm so sorry, but I have so much anxiety about this job. I have not eaten or slept in days. I'm afraid if I don't quit, I am going to have a mental breakdown."

Mr. Dawson quickly replied, "Then take the day off, Sarah. Go home and sleep. Take a few days off. We'll get a substitute. Collect yourself and then we'll see you next week."

That made me cry worse. The thought of continuing to live with this horrible anxiety scared me to death. I wiped some tears away and took a deep breath.

"Again, I am so sorry, but the only way I will truly be able to rest and get if you let me go. I will not be coming back."

He. Was. Furious.

The shock had now turned to complete and total anger. His eyes were fiery darts. His mouth kept moving as if he had so much to say to me but couldn't decide where to start. I remember thinking how GLAD I was that my father was there with me. There is no way I could have done that alone. I was so weak physically, emotionally, and mentally. I needed support, even if it was just his presence.

Before the principal could finally find the words to say, my dad spoke up in his firm, business-like voice.

"We would like it to go on Sarah's record that she is leaving for personal medical reasons."

The principal switched his eyes from me to my dad. My dad can be intimidating so I could tell the principal didn't quite know how to respond to this.

"What do you mean?" Mr. Dawson asked.

"Well, when you tell the other staff and when you close her teaching file, the 'reason' we'd like you to share with people is that she left for 'personal medical reasons'. No other questions need to be asked."

Mr. Dawson looked back and forth between the two of us. Then he looked down at his desk and spoke quietly. "As you know, I am new to this position. So I have never dealt with something like this before. But since you have made your mind up, I have no choice in the matter. Continue to pack your things and I will find a substitute until we can hire some full-time to take your place. I think it would be best for you to be gone by the time the children arrive."

When he looked up at me, I again saw the anger, threatening to boil over. The bitterness, the resentment, the position I had just left him in.

I quickly stood up and said goodbye. Get me out of there. My dad took me out to his car where I collapsed in the passenger seat.

Did that just happen?

Did I finally get my own classroom? Something I had worked for and waited for my whole life? And did I just throw it away in 3 days?

The tears could not come fast enough. The anxiety of the situation was paralyzing me. I could barely move or speak. I was filled with fear. What's going to become of me? I can't believe this is happening. No one is ever going to want to hire me as a teacher now. I am finished. I never want to step foot in a classroom again. Oh my God, if I'm not a teacher, WHO AM I? That's all I've ever known. It's what I went to school for. It's what thousands of dollars went into. My life was wrapped up in THIS. And I just quit.

The embarrassment. My poor first graders were going to come to school and their teacher is gone. I can never show my face there again.

The shame. I have let everyone down. The principal, the teachers, the kids, the parents.

The regret.  Why did I say I would teach first grade?!?!

The humiliation. I've been working toward this my whole life. All my family and friends know I finally got this job. And now I have to go back and tell them I quit on the third day of school.

My identity. I am no one. I am nothing. My dream is gone.

Tears, tears, tears.

I am 27 years old.

And it is finished.

End of Part 5.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

my unwanted acquaintance, part 4

As soon as she said "first grade", my heart sank a little.

Um, I don't LIKE first grade. They don't know how to do anything. They can't sit still. They don't know how to read. They barely remember to raise their hands. It's not their fault. They're just 6. They deserve a teacher who is good with that age group and has a ton of patience.

Buuuut, I was desperate for a job. And I didn't think I'd find one anywhere else. And I wanted my own classroom more than anything.

So I accepted.

I spent the WHOLE summer getting my classroom ready. Everyday I drove the 50 minutes to school, put on some music, and spent the day making it mine. I remember laughing as I put up the alphabet, colors, and shapes on my walls (that horrible interview!) And then I'd drive the 50 minutes home. As September got closer, I began to get more and more excited.

This is really happening.

I have my own classroom.

I am a full-fledged bona fide teacher!

A couple days before school started, the kids and their parents came to school to meet the teacher, find their desk, etc. I was nervous but also stoked. One step closer to my dream coming true. But something was striking me as strange as the day went on. I had an...interesting class. One kid got held back and was doing first grade over again. He was a foot taller than every other kid and didn't look or talk to me, almost defiantly. I could tell he'd be a hand-full. A parent came up and told me I'd have a girl in my class whose mom had DIED the week before. "So just be prepared for that," she said. Um, how do you prepare for that? I felt so bad for that little girl and I hadn't even met her yet! Two different parents pulled me aside and told me their children had learning disabilities. I noticed a few other kids acting like they had ADHD. Good lord, this is my class. What am I doing!? I wish I had fourth graders...

As soon as the kids and their parents left, feelings of anxiety started coming over me. Now everyone has normal bouts of anxiety. Going up the ramp of a rollercoaster. When you're about to take a test. Getting on a stage and speaking in front of a crowd. But this was a different type of anxiety. It was overwhelming. My heart was beating so fast, it was like I could feel it through my chest. I had a hard time breathing. My arms started feeling all tingly. Waves of panic started rising.

Breathe, Sarah, breathe. You can do this. This is what you went to school for.

But the anxiety wouldn't go away. I went home that night and couldn't eat dinner. And then I didn't sleep that night. Not. One. Wink. This happened for the next 3 days. I couldn't eat or sleep. The anxiety was constant and like a huge knot in my stomach. I was freaking out. This had never happened to me before.

I dreaded the first day of school. I had expected normal first day jitters. But this was way beyond that. I was a wreck. How was I going to get through the day? How could I teach the whole year feeling like this? I don't even know what I'm doing! How do you teach kids to READ!?!?

The first day was a blur. I remember introducing myself. I remember showing them around the classroom. I remember seeing them squirm in their "big kid" seats. I remember feeling out of control. I remember shaking and having a hard time talking. I remember kids with behavior issues acting up and many moments of chaos. I remember not smiling. I remember the constant anxiety that was threatening to overtake me.

I cried the whole way home. This was horrible. My whole LIFE had been working toward this moment. And I hated it. I was a horrible teacher. Yes, this was my sleep deprivation and empty stomach talking in my head, but I felt it nonetheless. I couldn't imagine going through a whole year feeling like this. I was beyond scared.

Another sleepless night.

The second day was even more of a blur.

I felt so alone. The 2 other first grade teachers never reached out to me. They were busy with their own classes. The principal who hired me had gotten fired and the new principal was (I think) a teacher the year before, so he had no idea what he was doing. I was alone. With a really hard class. Of 6 year olds. I did not know what I was doing.

After the second day of school I went to my parents' house. I hoped that by being in a familiar place it would comfort me and I'd finally get a good night's sleep. I cried the whole way to their house. What was wrong with me?! I tried to eat that night and could swallow a few bites. I could see my parents were worried about me. I looked awful.

Another night of no sleep.

At 4:30 in the morning, I walked into my parents' room, crying like a 3 year old who had a nightmare. My dad woke up and we spoke briefly. He and I got dressed and he drove me to the school. At 7:30, I walked into the principal's office with puffy eyes and my father by my side. The principal looked surprised to see us, but motioned for us to sit. We sat. I took a deep breath. And then I looked the principal right in the eyes.

"Mr. Dawson, I wanted to let you know that I am resigning, effective immediately."

End of Part 4.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

my unwanted acquaintance, part 3

I promise, you will soon find out who the "unwanted acquaintance" is (from the title of this blog). It just takes awhile to set it all up.

Okay, to catch you up: I graduated from college with a degree in elementary education. I did my student teaching and was a substitute teacher for 6 months. I moved up to Northern California to work at an outdoor science school for 3 years. And after looking for any and all teaching jobs (at public and private schools), I could not find one.

I had a friend who taught 4th grade at a nearby private Christian school. She told me they were looking to hire "aides" for their classrooms. It was only part-time but, hey, it was a job and it was experience in a school. And THEN she said she was planning on leaving her job at the end of that year. Hmmmm. In my mind I thought, "What if I was her aide this year? I could get to know all the students, staff, and parents at the school. And then when she left....I could apply for her position with a foot already in the door!"

So that's what I did. There were two fourth grade classrooms and I switched back and forth every day. I did a lot of the administrative tasks for my friend and the other 4th grade teacher. Made copies, graded, organized field trips, put up bulletin boards, assisted in class assignments, etc. And when the teachers were sick, I would sub which was great because I already knew the kids.

4th grade Native American Day

Since the job was part-time, I was also able to go back to school. When you get a teaching credential, it's only a preliminary one. You have take 30 units of post grad within 5 years to renew your credential. So I would work at the school Monday through Friday and then be in my graduate classes all day Saturday from 8-5. I did my homework and wrote my papers in the afternoons when I got home from my job. I was making enough money to just barely cover my rent and bills but I kept telling myself it was only for a year. Hopefully the following year I would be a full fledged teacher! Woot.

But it was not meant to be.

I won't go into it much, but they ended up giving the 4th grade position to the daughter of someone who already worked at the school. Even though she had just finished college and didn't have as much experience as I had. It was a blow. Not that I felt that I had deserved the position, but it was a bit humbling being just a part-time aide when I had my teaching credential and could be teaching a class myself. But I did it because I had hoped there were be a teaching position at the end of it. I didn't even know they had already sort of promised the new teaching position to this other girl. Weird.


Back to square one.

Again, no one was hiring for the fall. I had to start widening my circle of job hunting. Before, I was looking at schools within a half hour of where I lived. Now I had to look at schools within an hour of my home.

And then comes my friend, Emily.

If you guys have never checked out her blog, it's on the right side of my page. I met Emily years ago when her husband and I would do dramas at our old church. I immediately liked her, her hubby, and their adorable daughter. Both Emily and her husband worked at a private Christian school about 50 minutes away from where I lived. She thought her school had a couple teaching positions open and got me an interview with the principal. Yeah!!

It was a very strange interview. The principal seemed very nice but not really what I pictured a principal to be like. She was kind, but seemed a little flighty. The interview didn't seem very professional. More like an informal gab session where she told me about the school and asked me a couple questions. It was kind of unorganized. She said it looked like there was a third grade position open in the fall and they'd keep me in mind. I left the interview like she didn't really know me and I hadn't represented myself very well.

But then I got a phone call a week or so later.

"Hello?" -me

"Hello Sarah, it's ---[principal's name]---. How are you?"

"I'm doing well. How are you?"

"Great, great. I wanted to call and let you know that we've looked over your application and references and we'd like to offer you a teaching job."

*shocked silence*

"Oh my goodness! Wow, I am honored. Thank you so much!"

"You're very welcome. We're looking forward to having you on staff. There's just one little change."

"Oh? What is it?"

"It's not for third grade. It's for first grade."

End of Part 3.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

my unwanted acquaintance, part 2

I decided to apply for a job in northern Cal.

There is a camp I went to growing up. Every summer my family and I went for Family Camp. And in 4th through 8th grade, I went to a week of their summer camp just for that age group. That place has always been special to me. Kind of like a second home. I also feel so close to God when I'm there. A ton of my spiritual growth occurred under those redwood trees.

When I was in college, I spent three amazing summers as a counselor at the same camp I had gone to as a camper. Full circle. Love it.

In the back of my mind, I always wondered if I could live there after college. And then I heard about an opportunity: Outdoor Science School. This camp had one. I applied to be a teacher/naturalist. And I got the job. Oh my ga, I'm going to live year-round at this amazing place.

I moved up to Northern Cal and got settled in a house with my fellow female teachers. The guy teachers were down the street in their own house. Basically it was the best job ever. We got a group of fifth graders every week and got paid to take them hiking and teach them about nature, science, and the beautiful outdoors. The only bad part was the hours. 7:30 a.m. till 9:30 p.m. with a two hour break in the afternoon. But when you're young, sleep is overrated, right?

I will always look back on those years at Outdoor Science School with fondness and joy. It truly was the perfect job after college. Living and working in Christian community (To this day, I am still extremely close to everyone I worked with those three years). Teaching fifth graders. Hiking every single day. I was in the best shape of my life. I even hiked to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite at the end of my second year because I knew I'd probably never be able to do it after that. I made so many memories and have so many funny stories from those years.

You might be, Sarah, weren't you dying to get into the classroom? Yes, I was. BUT I also knew this was the only time in life I could do a job like this. I couldn't teach in the classroom for a few years and then take a few years off to work at this outdoor school. I knew if I was going to do it, it had to be when I was younger. And I knew I had at least 30 years in the classroom to look forward to - 3 years of doing this amazingly fun job wouldn't be much in the grand scheme of things.

So I did it. And I'm so glad I did. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

licking a banana slug

In the spring of my third year, I started applying for teaching jobs in the area. I had fallen in love with the area and wanted to stay if I could. The problem was no one was hiring. This area is expensive to live so many families were moving away. Which meant "declining enrollment" at all the public schools. Soooo, no teaching positions open.

I remember my first disastrous interview. I had a friend who taught sixth grade at a public school about 20 minutes away. He said he'd get me an interview with his principal. He said they had a fifth grade opening in the fall. So that's what I prepared my interview questions for. I put on my most professional teacher outfit and drove to the school for my interview.

I met with the principal and three other people. I was nervous (my first real teacher interview!) but tried to seem calm and collected.

After some small talk, we got to business.

The principal: "So Sarah, tell me what your first grade classroom would look like?"


Um, what? I thought this was for fifth grade. Nope, they were interviewing me for a first grade position. And my friend never told me.

But instead of stopping and saying something like, "There seems to be a misunderstanding. I thought this was an interview for fifth grade. So sorry, let me collect my thoughts..." I decided to forge ahead and see if I could still rock this interview. The only problem was....I had next to no experience with first graders. 4th to 6th were my focus. So I wracked my brain but I couldn't think of what to say.

"Uhhhhhh, let's see. My classroom. There would be shapes. And colors. And letters."

I wish I could say I am exaggerating, you guys. I am not. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what to say so I just said whatever was coming to my mind. I seriously was like Tarzan, spitting out sentence fragments. Me teach. Me teach kids. Me have numbers and letters in class. *grunt*

I remember looking at the principal and other interviewers. Their expressions were stuck in frozen smiles but I could tell I was bombing. They would steal glances at each other as I continued.

"Uhhhh, there'd also be music. I like music. We could sing every day. I'd have a calendar corner where we could go over the days of the week and the weather. Oh and there would be desks."

It could not have gone worse. I was looking around the room I was in, frantically thinking of whatever else I could add to my embarrassing classroom description.

"Oh yes, books. Lots of books. Reading is...good."

I was acting like a drunk person.

A drunk person actually might have made more sense.

I truly don't remember one other question they asked me after that one. The rest of the interview, I was thinking, "I'm not getting the job. I'm not getting the job. There is no way in HELL I am getting this job."

They thanked me and I left. I remember getting in my car, driving onto the freeway, and calling my mom.

"MOM! I FAIL!!! I JUST HAD THE WORST INTERVIEW EVER!!!" I screamed through my tears.

"Sarah, calm down. I'm sure it wasn't that bad," she said soothingly.


I could barely keep my car on the road. It was horrible. I came home and bawled my eyes out. Worst first interview ever.

Needless to say, I did not get the job.

After that, I tried getting interviews at any other schools, but I could not. No one was hiring. It was crazy. I even started looking into private schools. Nothing. My job at the Outdoor Science School was ending soon. What was I going to do in the fall?

End of Part 2.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

my unwanted acquaintance, part 1

Warning: this blog is going to be very long. Because of that, I have decided to break it up into parts. This is Part 1. I'll try and post every few days till the whole story is done.

Basically the time has come for me to write out, in journal fashion, something that I have been struggling with for the past seven and a half years. I've never brought it up before because I enjoy using my blog as a light-hearted place. I like to write about my job or how cute my nephews are or what's happening in pop culture. I don't usually write about the hard stuff.

But the older I get, the more I am realizing life is not that way. Life is good AND hard. My blog should reflect my life - the good and the bad. The ups and the downs. The joys and the struggles. I am glad there are people out there who might like to read what I post, but these posts will truthfully be more for me. To process. To think. To reflect. To put into words what I am feeling.

So let me start off by saying that this past week I was supposed to be in Arizona with Intern Scott and 16 of my college students for a mission trip. We were going to assist a missionary who lives in the Navajo nation with some work projects on peoples' homes. We have been planning this trip for four months. So many hours of planning, preparing, fundraising, paperwork, emailing, communicating, organizing...all for these 8 days of service. For many of our students, this was their first time on a mission trip. (For some, it was even their first time out of California.)

I didn't go. The night before we were supposed to leave, I pulled Intern Scott aside and asked him desperately if he could lead the trip. He said yes. So he led. And I stayed home this week.


In order to tell the full story, we must rewind. Travel back with me to my childhood. 9 year old Sarah with a bowl haircut (thanks Mom), bad 80's clothes, and braces.

I loved school. I loved my teachers. Especially my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Charles. I remember thinking, "I want to be a teacher when I grow up!" Sometimes when I was at a friend's house, they would say, "Wanna play Barbies??" and I'd say, "No. Let's play 'School'!" I'm sure my friends were less than thrilled with me. They had just spent all week in school. They didn't want to PLAY school at home. Nevertheless, I would play the teacher and they would play my pupils. I'd like to think I was a kind but stern teacher back then.

When I entered junior high and then high school, I started getting involved with the children's programs at my church. I volunteered in Sunday School classes and in the summers, I worked at our church's Day Camp. I LOVED it. I loved kids. They were the coolest. So I realized in high school I wanted to be an elementary school teacher.

I was going to have an amazing classroom. I was going to touch young lives. And I was going to be a "light" in the public school system. Not only for my students but for my fellow teachers as well.

So I looked into colleges with good Education programs. I settled at a wonderful Christian university in southern California. Their Elementary Ed major was top notch. It felt SO good to enter college knowing exactly what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I had friends were who "Undeclared" or who kept changing majors throughout school. But not me. Oh no, not me. I KNEW what I was going to be. I was going to be a teacher, dammit. (pardon the cuss word - it's for dramatic effect)

I didn't really care for my general ed classes (who does?) but once I got into my teaching classes sophomore year, I was in heaven. I got straight A's because I was so invested. I made friends with all my fellow elementary ed majors. We all had the same classes together so we studied and stressed and bonded together.

It pretty much became my identity. It was what I was known for. I was Sarah the Teacher. Or I should say Sarah the Elementary Education major, soon to be Teacher.

The four semesters before graduation, I got to be in four classrooms to observe and assist the teacher. Four different grades at 4 different schools. I was in a second, fourth, first, and fifth grade classroom. Here are some pictures from those:

Finally, it was time to graduate! At graduation, all my Elem Ed. peeps and I glued pinwheels (to symbolize our love of children) to our grad caps. I used glitter puffy paint to put a quote on mine as well:

Graduation was awesome. I wasn't done with school, though. I was going to be back that fall to do my student teaching. 9 weeks in a second grade classroom, then 9 weeks in a fourth grade classroom. Those were my two favorite grades so this experience was going to help me choose which I wanted to teach.

Student teaching was SO hard. I felt like I worked just as hard as the teachers, but they were getting paid and I had to pay to do all that work. But I knew it would help me in the long run so no complaining. I had to lesson plan everything. I had to put together a thick portfolio. I had to be observed and graded by my graduate advisors multiple times during the semester. It was stressful. Meanwhile I was sharing a one bedroom apartment with two other girls and none of us had any money. We had a bunkbed and a tiny twin bed shoved into this small closet of a room and all we could afford to eat was rice and ramen noodles. Gross.

Here are some pixs of student teaching:

After student teaching, I stayed down in Southern Cal for another six months to be a substitute teacher and make some money back. I subbed any grade from kindergarten to high school. Elementary aged kids were still my fav, though.

And then I had some decisions to make. I got 2 job offers at schools in So. Cal. One was to teach second grade at a Christian private school. The other was to teach third grade at a public elementary school. But as much fun as it was to live in southern California for 5 years (Disneyland!!), I knew I didn't want to live there permanently. I wanted to move back up to Northern California where it was green and beautiful, there was no smog, and I could be closer to my fam.

But if I moved to northern California, would I be able to find a teaching job? All of my teaching contacts were down in So. Cal. Hmmmm....what to do.

End of Part 1.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


Tonight we took the college students out for a fun night. We went to this awesome sushi place that has a back room specifically for karaoke. There is a STAGE you get to go up on and sing your heart out. I thought I'd share a fun video from the evening. To get everyone in the singing mood, Intern Scott played "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey and we had a group sing-along.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Artist

I finally saw the movie "The Artist" tonight. It won the Oscar for best picture of the year and its main man, Jean Dujardin, won for best actor.

Out of all the Best Picture nominees from 2011, I have only seen four: The Artist, Moneyball, Hugo, and The Help. I want to see the others (War Horse, Midnight in Paris, The Descendants, and The Tree of Life) before I say which is my fav.

But I can say I liked The Artist. I didn't love it, but it was good and I'd recommend as a rental. I don't think it's one you need pay $10.50 for and see it on the big screen.

To be honest, I kept having flashbacks to "Singing In The Rain". It takes place in the same era - the late 1920's when movies went from silent to "talkies". Actors are trying to transition from hamming it up on the screen to speaking the dialogue. Add to this there was some dancing at the end, and I kept expecting Gene Kelly to come (computer generated-ly) skipping out from behind a curtain and join the main actor and actress in a rousing edition of "Good Morning".

P.S. If you've seen the movie, can we agree the dog stole the show?

Monday, April 02, 2012

Arizona mission trip - 5 days away

Question on application: "Why do you want to go on this mission trip to Arizona?"

College student's answer: "I am burned out on living my own life of excess without helping those who have next to nothing. I want to work for the Kingdom of God, the greatest thing ever to exist."

This blessed me today.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (from Zechariah 9:9)

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”