Funny. I am having a tough time at work and decided it is time to start blogging again. I went onto Literary Pixie, and alas – the last time I wrote was 6 days and 1 year again. It was me venting about a terrible day of teaching. And then I stopped writing for a whole year. I did start my Substack account and started writing from that, but it was never really about teaching.
Teaching last year so was challenging. I was in survival mode. I could not process what was going on. I needed distraction. It was around this time that I started to feel truly miserable as a teacher, and so I moved to Hollywood. I moved to Treehouse. Treehouse was the perfect distraction. There were so many things going on, so many people, and so little time to really think about teaching that I just didn’t process what was going on.
After surviving my first year as a teacher, I had eight weeks off. Instead of stopping to process what I had just experienced, reflecting, attending professional developments, and planning for next year, I left. escaped. I slept in 18 different beds and traveled to over 10 different cities, and saw loads of friends all over the place. I distracted myself again and just relaxed. I sat in parks. I had slow dinners. I took naps. But, I didn’t really process anything.
It was what I needed. But then, I made a crazy decision while visiting my friend in Syracuse- I decided I needed to go all in. We were sitting on her porch drinking our morning coffee. The birds were making a gorgeous mess as we ate our yogurt bowls and sipped. We got into all sorts of conversations on that porch, some even life changing.
I started to talk about my feelings about Los Angeles, about my role as a teacher, about having to work all the time and it still not feeling enough, about how isolated I feel and invisible, like my contribution does not matter and no one cares except my students who are even more isolated and invisible than me. I kept comparing my life to when I worked in publishing in London, or was studying in St Andrews.
My dear friend said to me the truth, “Sammy, you sound miserable. You may think you are helping those students, but if you are miserable doing it, you are helping no one. You don’t have to do this. It is not your responsibility. You don’t have to be anywhere. You don’t have to do anything.”
It was painful to have the truth reflected back at me and to see how miserable I was. There was a reason I didn’t stay in LA this summer. Some people may have thought I was being just crazy, spontaneous, exciting Sammy. But I was not, I was taking a long break and distance from a situation that was causing me a lot of negative emotions and pain.
I promised my friend, “You are right. Something calls me to stay though, and I don’t know what. But you are right, if I am miserable, I must change. I will go all in for the next six months. If by 29th birthday, I am still miserable, I will make some big changes.”
I set my life up to go “all in”! On my first day back, I moved out of Treehouse to Woodland Hills ten minutes from my school so that there would be very few distractions. I moved in with friends who have similar visions, goals, and lifestyles. They also believe in caring for your neighborhood and empowering the people around you. They make me feel hopeful that the changes that I think need to take place are possible and there are people with similar ideas who want to work together.
On my 7th day, I moved into my new apartment.
On my 8th day, I started working again. A bunch of spoon-fed PDs where I still didn’t get to say what I needed and get feedback, support, or collaboration on curriculum creation.
The first day of school came, and then the first day of my Masters. I thought since I had taken six weeks off this summer that I could work late hours and early mornings to make everything fit. I would start at 6:30am and work until 10pm at night. I would work on Sundays and on holidays. I would not take breaks, and I would still not get everything done.
On Saturdays, I would not work but all would come out was toxicity. Without distraction – a movie or some kind of forced interaction where I could not talk about what was inside of me, all that would come out was negativity and desperation.
We had a three day weekend coming up, and I told myself that is the weekend I would relax.
On Friday of that weekend, I came home after English teacher drinks and cried. This was not the life I wanted. Work, work, and more work. I felt so overwhelmed and upset. I hated how there was never enough time to finish everything, how I didn’t feel supported by my department or admin and was just being shoved more work and responsibilities and PDs to do. They just kept assessing my work instead of managing me. And all my time was going into this!
It was like pouring all your energy into a bucking with a hole at the bottom. No one cared or rewarded me for going over and above. And the people in my personal life were just sad and frustrated that I was not happy or in a good place and could not enjoy the simplest conversation of how you doing, venting and sharing problems. In these basic human interactions, I would feel like I wasn’t being heard or supported, even though I knew we were taking turns. I felt like I was being used for emotional labor that I could not give back, and that I needed desperately, but felt guilty to ask for and felt ashamed to reveal just how stressed I felt.
Thankfully, I have friends who tell me the truth.
It was Saturday, and I could barely enjoy the waves of the ocean with a glass of red wine in one hand and my boyfriend’s in another. All I could think of was the story of how I got here, of why I became a teacher, and of what was going on in my work life that was making me feel so stressed.
The next day after organizing three different social plans with three different friend groups because it was my one extra day off since I had Monday off, my old roommate said, “Sammy, you are miserable.”
While driving back from one of my social plans, I called my sister, and my sister said, “Sammy you are miserable.”
How much feedback from the universe can one ignore?! I was miserable. My friend from this summer’s voice rang out in my head.
Once I accepted that, and cried a bit about it, and then cried a bit more – I pulled out my holistic reflection for October and started to ask questions. Every month I reflect and set intentions for the next month. I think of it as a reset and take a nice, cleansing bath. It is inspired by the Mikveh tradition in the Jewish Kabbalah religion, with a Sammy twist.
In my head, I hear what I told my friend, “I am going all in.” In my head, I hear my other friend’s question, “It’s not can you love LA, but can LA love you?”.
Then, it was time to sleep and go to school. I had spent the whole day crying and not doing any work for tomorrow, not even meal-prepping and making my jars, but there was nothing I could do. I felt raw and exhausted, but I went to work anyway. I was speaking at a CSUCI Alumni event about teaching that night.
In my head, I was dreading going back to school. Like being forced to relive your trauma over and over again. First I had a negative high school experience that I didn’t really want to relieve, and now I was having to go back to a place that I felt invisible, powerless, and unsupported.
I didn’t have food for breakfast or lunch so I stopped at Ralphs before. They didn’t have anything vegan and pre-made so I just got a Italian sub, and tried not to think about how salami is a carcinogen.
I saw my co-teachers and felt better. My first period students arrived and I felt better. We did a community circle and checked in. Then they started to write a poem inspired by “How to be a person” by Shane Koyczan. I felt that magical profoundness as the poem played, as they left for period 2.
Period 3 and 4 were coming. They were the ones I was dreading. It is my ELD 1 and 2 class, a double block with 24 students all from different countries. There are 8 languages in the class. I love the students, but it is an impossible situation. Right now we are just working on how to enter a classroom respectfully, how to listen to instructions, and how to behave during independent work time (no screaming, no shouting, “puta” or “pendejo” at each other, not being on your phone). I am having to be someone I have never been before, and honestly don’t like very much. Someone who calls out students for being rude, for breaking classroom rules, for making them feel the negative emotion they are causing in me and other students. I am having to mete out justice. It is hard, it hurts, and it has been like that for over a month. 10 hours of being on the front line of that every day, yet I can barely speak about it.
I am part of a team and yet it doesn’t feel that way. I am being traumatized everyday and I am too exhausted to take care of myself after school. The admin tell me it is my classroom management skills. I agree and want to learn, but they provide no scaffolding, just observing my problems and telling me what I should be doing. I know what I should be doing, I need help doing it.
That day, yesterday, it was too much. The students took four times of two minutes to settle into class. I asked them to use library voices when reading, and they did not. I told them we wouldn’t watch a tv show in English then because that was a reward. I found some hiding their phones even though they were supposed to be on the wall. Students were telling me to move other students around that they were talking, students were telling me they wanted to switch out of my class, students were telling me that the students were disrespecting me and I shouldn’t let them speak to me like that.
I held them in for six minutes at the end of class. I explained in English even though most of them wouldn’t understand, but they could feel the emotion. Then, some students were talking over me while I was telling them how upset I was, and that I wasn’t asking much. I couldn’t’ do it. My voice broke.
I stepped outside and tried not to cry. Then I just let it out.
“When you are being held for six minutes of your lunch and your teacher is upset and telling you about why, you should not be talking over them. I will not be here tomorrow, I feel sick.”
Then, I opened the door and let them go. I stared above their heads as they left, closed the door, and cried.
I called my mom. I could not do it. I let out every negative thought in my head, all of my fears and anxieties, especially the ones about not wanting to teach any more. How painful it is for me with no support, and for what!!! So many people have it easier and they get paid more and are more respected and valued than me outside of school. What’s the point? I am traumatizing myself and these students for who!? And for only $50,000 a year to have this toxicity going into all aspects of my life.
The bell rang. My thirty minute lunch was over. (Yes, 30 fucking minutes!!!)
The students for my fifth and sixth period arrived. My co-teacher comforted me and the students worked diligently and calmly. Then PD happened. No time to debrief or talk about the day, instead a training for the IAB exam and more mandatory PDs.
Then, the day was over. I went to attendance and told them I needed a sub for medical reasons tomorrow. I would not be going back tomorrow. I needed space. I needed to think and process and heal.
I spoke at the CSUCI Alumni event and told them teaching was hard. I spoke to my admin who told me that teaching was a grin and bear it, and that there was not much she could do, that she could me plan, and that my ELD class wasn’t any harder than teaching a gen ed class (which is not true and really invalidating).
Then, I was finally done. I decided to go for a walk. I needed out of my room.
I walked to the Village and bought an orange chakra candle for power, control, and freedom to be yourself. I saged my bedroom and cleared out the negative energy. I would no longer work in my bedroom. My bedroom was a sacred place for relaxing and restoration.
Then, I did my bedroom ritual and went to sleep. I dreamt of work.
This morning, I did not work in my room. This morning I remembered to go all in. This morning, I decided to accept that this is my life and to communicate about it.
Teacher Sammy is very different than PR and Marketing, Artsy, Creative, Free Spirited, Writer, Poet Sammy. I have to learn to love her. I have to learn to let her speak. This is the life I have chosen. This is the role I feel called to be right now. I have to learn to be both.
Thanks for reading my diary and validating the challenges I am having.
I hope to do the same for you!