Quitter.

How (maybe not why) I quit my job as a school teacher (2008).

Pre-story.

I am 20. As a matter of fact, now that I’ve started writing this post with this three-word biographical note I see it was crucial to all that followed. Let’s see how the story unfolds with this new light of truth hanging over me.

So I’m 20, I’m in my fourth year of studies to become a teacher of English, and we’re mercilessly thrown into the chaos of comprehensive schools, in groups of 6 naive and trembling girls, to give lessons to classes we’re attached to for the whole of September. No wonder that I get the class (6th grade) with the worst reputation in that school. Plus it’s one of those rare situations when the class is not divided into smaller subgroups, as it usually is the case in Russian school system (a language teacher would normally get a group of 13 kids max). So I get to teach 19 frightening not-really-kids-anymore. I look too teenage-like to be confidently standing in front of the 19 pairs of eyes sizing me up contemptuously. I don’t know what happened and how it all turned out like it did, but I had such a great great time teaching these eyes. I honestly did. I remember though disastrous lessons that we co-taught with 2 other girls, who I thought appeared more serious and knowing than me at that time (until I saw with my own eyes that appearances made no difference). Well it really is hard to explain for me now why I felt such drive. I think it was about this challenge that I had to deal with during my very first teaching experience.

To cut it short, unlike 80% of my university mates I am suddenly very keen on the idea of actually teaching English. So keen that within a month I find myself a job. It is a small private school (around 50 kids altogether) in my neighborhood. There’s no interview as such. I’ve got good references from some *influential* parents, I’m “sweet”, young and full of energy. I’m in.

Story (started in the final paragraph of the pre-story).

For the rest of that school year (November to May) I study full time at university and teach 12 hours a week at school. By the end of the year I still love everything very much. I’m involved, interested and take weird pleasure in cutting out things and making flash cards. Kids are great, parents are sometimes a nuisance but mostly nice, and the Director of Studies is a very adequate helpful woman. In fact, if she hadn’t left that year, my life might have gone some other way.

Next year, final year of my university studies, we are all required to be teaching at schools, attending classes and writing our theses. Obviously, employment is not a problem for me and I start teaching 18 hours per week. Our school goes through some questionable merging process (for prolonging their license or something) and we end up losing half the staff, the DOS and the bigger part of pupils . New teachers are fine and friendly, new pupils from that other school are smart and energetic, new DOS is the start of the end for me.

I can see it now that we had a false start to our relationship from the very first meeting. When I was informed that from now on I was to use a certain textbook (which is written for schools specializing in English) and that decision is non-negotiable, I suddenly felt bold and experienced enough to air my protest. Indeed, it was a very outdated textbook plus the one that didn’t meet the needs of our learners and expectations of their parents (well I thought so at least). When at a big parent meeting, where all staff and all parents were present, I announced my “professional” (aged 21, mind you) view on the matter of materials, the majority of parents supported me and agreed to go for change. That meant my choice of coursebooks for each class. Sounds soooo unreal to me now. I must have said something very convincing. Anyway, my colleague and I took all pains to organize the transition, worked out the syllabi for our classes with the help of our university methodology teacher I believe (and hope). We ordered and carried books for all kids to school by ourselves. Parents seemed happy, kids loved the colourful pages in their new books. The DOS woman had no choice. It was some kind of a very small but locally significant revolution to me then. I’m now sincerely amazed at how I could pull it off. But the revolution led to the fact that my colleague (also my university groupmate) and I started getting all kinds of ill treatment from “the bosses”. I might have been too emotional in my reactions then. My colleague gave up and sheepishly quit without an official notice or a note to me in April, leaving me to be the only English teacher in that whole school. Those were fun times. Kind of.

Well in that year I had a nervous breakdown, several ambulance calls and countless tears shed as I stepped out of the school yard.
In October 2008, after working as a school teacher for 2 years, I quit.

Factual.

Reasons I could now think of, very subjective and prejudiced, possibly not well arguemented and too childish.
– emotionally fragile for the intense battle I found myself to be fighting (attitudes; humiliation of my feeble persona; being pushed about)
– couldn’t stand the hypocrisy
– outrageous, frustrating, disarmingly open dishonesty regarding certain financial issues which I couldn’t then stand up to and oppose as was too naive and soft
– living in a neguices routine (writing useless lesson plans, pretending to teach with a textbook we weren’t using)
– depressing and depressive atmosphere and air about the place
– health issues (this is funny, every time I need change but am scared of making it, my body generously provides me with a chance))
– losing hold of English

Lyrical.

There was this one absolutely lovely teacher. She was as intelligent, well-mannered, thoughtful, kind-hearted, likeable and charming as I can possibly imagine a school teacher to be. If I had been smarter and more thoughtful myself I wouldn’t have lost touch with that wonderful lady. Anyway, she would never give me any topdown, I’ve been a teacher for 20 years kind of advice (some problem with punctuating it right here, my apologies). Instead, she would carefully hint at what challenges those kids presented, how special they were, how I could try to help them learn at their own pace. I could always sit in her class and never felt any slightest pressure when she was there in the back of the class during my lesson. On the contrary, I’d feel at ease.

During one of our conversations (which I now realize were not too many and definitely not processed deeply enough by me) she said this: “If you teach in a school for three years and don’t leave, you stay for years.” I believe she did mention the word bog then. She was mostly wishing me well. She said she used to write poetry and prose. She always comforted me when parents, DOS or other teachers made me lose the very shaky emotional balance that I had back in the day. When a couple of years after quitting I had a dream about me visiting the school again, she was the only light in the nightmarish scene.

I believe I would like to see her now, to say a more articulate thank you or something.

Afterword.

This post is facts from a part of my life that certainly had an enormous influence on me and helped to make me the teacher I currently happen to be.
I hold no grudge to anybody in that story, about anything in that story. There is no reason why I should, as every turn, every reaction that followed was mine, caused by my lack of control.
I still remember almost all kids. They were fantastic. They did cause me tears and suffering at times, but also made me smile and laugh and be proud of them. I know for sure that if I now went in those classrooms, we’d have very different lessons which I’d enjoy more, in which I’d teach them better. Well, there’s the right time for everything. But I am not going to be back to school again.
It just started feeling rotten for me. I mean the system. The authority I was supposed to respect provided no opportunity for me to do so. I started feeling small in all senses.

That’s the story of me as a quitter. I don’t feel bad about it at all now. I got the experience and learnt a lot about myself.
Thank you for judging or not judging me in your comments below, if you care to leave some)) I kindly welcome you to do that, no matter what it is you want to say.

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20 thoughts on “Quitter.

  1. Rick says:

    Hi Ann!

    I guess you’ve managed to do what you could do best: you’ve managed to learn from this situation you’ve been through. What are experiences we go through but learning experiences, huh?! I honestly don’t think you were wrong to speak up for your beliefs and ask for a different course book. It doesn’t matter if you’re 81 or 21, what matters is that you had your reasons and arguments in favour of the changes, and no one was able to provide you with enough arguments against change. This is reasoning, if you ask me.

    I myself have been through some massive changes last year, and I enjoyed reading your post exactly on account of that. It’s not the experience we go through per se that matters – what matters is what you were able to learn from such experience.

    Cheers!!!

    Henrick

    • annloseva says:

      Hi Henrick,

      So nice to see you on this blog) thanks.

      I do think I had all good reasons for demanding change at that point, and in the end I still like to believe kids got benefit from it, at least in being more engaged they sure did. I only started questioning my decision while writing this post… I would do the same now, with the difference that decision-making would be better grounded.

      Thanks for your words. It was actually quite an interesting fact for me to see that describing the experience I had in writing (even though a lot of data is surely missing) has helped to have some new kind of ‘learning’ from it. Writing is very powerful on many levels.)

      Hope all is well with your change outcomes!

  2. haeundaelife says:

    Hi Ann,

    Thank you for sharing and opening up your world for us so that we all might gain added perspective. It’s a brave thing to do, be open. I commend you for it and can assure you that I, and others, have been enriched by it.

    We all struggle at times and it’s often difficult to remember that. Our world becomes so inward looking and insular if we aren’t careful, and we forget that those strange faces we see every day have their ups and downs too. Posts like this are an excellent reminder that there is always light at the end of a dark tunnel, and often times…we end up in a better place in the end 😀

    John

    • annloseva says:

      Hi John,

      Always intrigued to see what you’ve written in your comment when I see a notification in my mailbox) thanks for this one. Your assurance of my post’s impact on you and others is quite reassuring) I’m happy to have it out of my system anyway. Even if it’s only a short summary of what was happening for 2 years. There’s so much more to say I think.

      I like the word ‘insular’ you’re using here and I’m thinking of ‘no man is an island’ thing. I’m glad I’m not an island anymore)) and yes, there’s a better place in the end, for sure, especially if you believe that is what is there.

      Let’s be believers, then)

  3. mikecorea says:

    Hi Anna,

    This is a lovely post and I thank you very much for sharing it. I think you offered a lot to think about and to feel while reading this post. I think I will share this with the next person who says that blogging is dead or something like that. With voices like yours and stories like this that thought seems to be very far from the truth. Enough about blogging though, let’s talk about quitting. That word can have such negative connotations but I think it needn’t be the case. I thank you very much for opening up like this and sharing your story. I think it might be valuable to share with teachers in similar situations who might feel they have no way out. Finally, here i a podcast on the subject of quitting that I found very interesting (and personally helpful)
    http://freakonomics.com/2011/09/30/new-freakonomics-radio-podcast-the-upside-of-quitting/
    Thanks again for the powerful story.
    –Mike

    • annloseva says:

      Hi Mike,

      Thank you very much for this comment. It’s good to know the story could be potentially useful to some other teachers. It’s somehow funny and shameful though to remember now that for several years I used to ‘make hints of advice’ to some of young teachers I knew who were in a similar stressful situation in their schools. As if my story could be generalized to fit their scenarios. I don’t know. Many of them actually did quit in the end. Now I still can sometimes come across a status that clearly tells me about irritation and burn-out… For some of those young teachers though it’s become part of work routine. Seasonal. It’s another turn of the story.

      Thanks for the podcast share and always happy to see you in this emerging space)

  4. Matt Ledding says:

    You didn’t quit, you made a strategic retreat…

    You can’t push the river.

    Unfortunately, the same skills and empathy that make you a great teacher can make it difficult to get out of a bad situation where you are ” doing it for the kids. ” What I love though, if you leave it here, is that other teachers might see this post when they need to.

    • annloseva says:

      Matt, thanks a lot. I love the lines of your comment)) and I’m surely leaving it here for other teachers in need, together with the post itself.

      I’ve learnt not to see pushing rivers as anything of interest to me)

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Thanks for this Anna, it was wonderfully written. I have to agree with Mike above, ‘quitter’ is a word with negative connotations but I suspect that it in your case it was an act of genuine courage.

    Great post, thanks again!

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you, Matthew! On a look back it seems like an act of courage maybe. Back then I desperately wanted my self-esteem back)

      Thanks for kind words about my writing, too, this is important for me.)

  6. Laura Adele says:

    What an engaging and powerful story! Thanks for sharing 🙂 It enjoyed the description of the experienced teacher -hope you run into her sometime and get to reconnect.

    • annloseva says:

      Laura, you’re reading my mind. I’ll be planning a way to run into her! That might be fun (shame I don’t remember her name though!))

      Thanks for the comment!!

  7. Hana Tichá says:

    Dear Anna,

    I’m sure you did the right thing when you decided to leave. Sometimes we have to quit, even though we still feel a strong bond with the place and the people. I believe that there are no ‘bad’ decisions in effect – it’s often our fear of the unknown future or other emotions that play tricks on us. Change is painful. But when we glance back at all the choices we made, the purpose and usefulness of the decisions are suddenly crystal-clear. Sometimes it takes a couple of days, sometimes a decade to see ‘why’ it was vital to let things change. Unfortunately, there are some people who will never get it ‘why’ because there are at least two more things needed for the insight: constant reflection and open-mindedness. But there’s no need to tell you because you’ve already figured it out for yourself. So my words are just a kind of ‘Hello, Anna, I’ve been here, I love your post, take care.’ 🙂

    Hana

    • annloseva says:

      :))) Hello, Hana, thanks for this amazing support, I love your comment!

      It never really crossed my mind that I did anything wrong. I am positively sure and happy about the decision I took! It also made me feel more comfortable while making choices which could involve possible influence on other people (no dramatic influence is meant of course, no real harm either)… that is considered, but still I put my ‘better place in the end’ first. Very egotistic, I know, but for now that feels right to me.

      Take care 🙂

  8. Josette says:

    I just want to say thank you for writing this. I am just a big fan of you and stories about experiences, and so the combination of you and such a story was really a treat. Not a profound comment, but just know that I am here reading and loving every minute of it. 🙂

    • annloseva says:

      Aw Josette. Thank you for this. I now know you’re here reading and loving it (which is in itself sooo good and flattering to know!), and I also know now I’ve got a big fan of myself, the other one than just me.))
      I sure smiled as I read this!=)

  9. […] A beginning teacher (9 years ago?). I didn’t enter a teacher training university to become a teacher. I wanted to study English and I wanted to work in a profession that would mean being around people, that was my reasoning. Like most of my university mates, I started tutoring kids when in my second year of studies. That was more of a game at first, having fun making own crosswords and cutting lots of flashcards (apparently, there’s an age when it is a fun game)). Then, as part of our study course, we had to teach for a month in a comprehensive school in the 4th year of studies. That experience involved intensive teaching, planning, observing, feedback receiving and handling extra-curricular activities. Somehow it happened that I, surprisingly for myself, fell for the excitement of working with the kids. A month after this mandatory teaching practice finished, I found myself a job as a part-time English teacher at a small private school. I felt the thrill, pride and importance of being a teacher. Well, to cut a long story short, 2 years after I quit, both happily and with a heavy heart of feeling frustrated about education system in my country that I’d experienced (more about why it so happened in my blog post here). […]

  10. […] to change over for the “foreign” coursebooks for the children in that school. I’ve recently shared in my blog the full story of this brave endeavor we took on, so I’ll just say it was successful and change that happened […]

  11. […] 42. good school stories – trying to remember bright moments from my two years of working in a school in Moscow (to balance out the blue feelings brought about by this post) […]

  12. […] years ago in the blog post here I wrote about my personal experience with this notorious textbook issue in a school I taught in […]

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