I used to be a school teacher. I loved teaching, and I still miss those shining silver moments when something amazing happened in the classroom. I have a thousand stories…like when one of my sixth graders impressed me with the quality of his handshake. “Nice,” I said. “Who taught you how to shake like that?” He looked at me funny and finally said, “You did. Two years ago.”
How to shake hands, how to make eye contact, the courage to try and fail, the self confidence to laugh at themselves, the importance of giving and getting respect. Independence. Honesty. Accepting the consequences of their actions. These were all things I taught my students. I taught them that they were so much more than a standardized test score. I taught them about integrity and kindness. And sure, I taught them how to read, divide fractions and write complete sentences, too.
Eventually, though, the world of education drained my life force to the point where those shining silver moments were no longer enough to keep me afloat. That year I cried on the way to school. I cried on the shoulders of fellow teachers. I cried as I sat with my principal for my evaluation. I went through that school year, mental health in tatters, believing that I was a good teacher and that being a good teacher was good enough.
The sign that it wasn’t enough eventually came, and thankfully it was in the form of a dream instead of a full-blown mental breakdown.
I dreamt I was in a grocery store. There was a community bulletin board near the checkout—you know the kind—advertising everything from bake sales to Little League. The fliers all had that fringe of phone numbers on the bottom edge. Standing there with my buggy, I scanned ones for guitar lessons and free puppies, and eventually stopped on a plain white page. It read: “Wanted, Executioner.” The entire row of tabs at the bottom was still in tact, but without hesitation, I tore off one of the phone numbers. In the dream, I would rather take the life of another human being than go back into the classroom the next day.
Wow. Even for someone like me, who can be obtuse about dreams and poetry, even I got that message.
That’s when I started to seriously entertain the idea of taking a sabbatical. I’d been kicking it around for a couple of years, but this was the first time I looked up the procedure on the county’s website. I was in the fortunate position that my husband could support the household without my teacher’s salary, and he encouraged me to do it, knowing I wanted to write a book.
Unbeknownst to us when I filed the paperwork, the year of the sabbatical coincided with the year of his cancer diagnosis and treatment. That was a miracle in itself, because I’m not sure I could have managed his care the same way if I was still working a regular school day. During that fearful journey, writing the book became a good distraction, and by the time he was on his way to becoming cancer free, I had finished my book.
At that point, I reinvented myself as an author, permanently resigned from teaching, and started the second book in the series. Granted, Lily Barlow, The Mystery of Jane Dough doesn’t come out until December 4th, as of today, I’m technically not earning a living writing books. I don’t think my husband feels like the sabbatical was a mistake, but he is fond of asking, “Have you sold a book yet?”
No. No, I have not. And while it hasn’t helped pay the mortgage, I have enjoyed traveling the Road to Reinvention.