Teaching Profession Opinion

A Teacher Married to the Classroom Gets a Divorce

By Marilyn Rhames — August 20, 2014 3 min read
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So yeah. I’ve been meaning to tell you something.

I tried to tell you many times, but my words just got drowned out by guilt. It’s like my digital tongue stretched out and snatched the words back from my digital lips and slipped them back down my digital throat every time I tried to blog about my breakup. I increased the words to 72-point font size and they still looked fuzzy.

But today is the first day of school, and ... well ... I am no longer a classroom teacher.

Girl, quit playing! I thought you said you loved to teach. So what will happen to your blog? These are some responses I feared you’d say or ask.

If telling you is hard, making the decision to call it quits after ten years was like a 40-carat diamond. I had not realized how much my teacherhood had defined me. It had become as much a part of my personal identity as being a mother and a wife. In fact, when my principal sent out an interest survey last February to see what positions teachers wanted this school year, I likened them to divorce papers.

I sat there with the papers and remembered how I had just been re-hospitalized for post-partum preeclampsia. I saw the doctors’ look of concern when my blood pressure reached stroke-level heights and when fluid kept pooling on my lungs. All I could do was pray and ask God to allow me to raise my three-week-old son and my second- and sixth-grade daughters. With only a few weeks of my maternity leave left, I had to make a decision.

I imagined myself trying to do everything I loved to do in the classroom while also being the attentive, energetic new parent I knew I needed to be. I knew I couldn’t be both full-time teacher and fully present mother with equal excellence. One, if not both, would surely suffer. So I went ahead and filed for divorce. Then I cried like the baby that I was cradling in my arms.

I’m told that teaching was once the go-to profession for working women. Were it ever true, it’s certainly not true today. The large class sizes, the long hours both in and out of school, the unpaid maternity leave, are just a few reasons why the teaching profession is at odds with fertility.

Many of my female colleagues have told me they are delaying starting a family for those very reasons. Some have limited their descendants to one or two. Others have told me that it’s teaching or children—but not both. This, a profession that is supposed to be all about nurturing the next generation of healthy children.

I offered multiple times to teach part-time at my school, but my principal just wasn’t having it. It was an all or nothing proposition. The kids suffer when teachers are not here on a full-time basis, plus part-time teaching will inevitably feel like a full time job, she advised. While it’s true that creative, flexible scheduling for teachers have not proven to work well at my school, I argued that I would be different. That’s what they all say, I suppose. After months of back and forth, I gave up my sacred desk as the 7th and 8th grade writing teacher with a broken heart. It was the hardest professional decision I ever had to make. The divorce was final.

Or so I thought.

All along, my principal was trying to court me again, to reconcile my professional differences. She offered me a newly created part-time position in alumni relations. The primary function of the position is to keep track of all the eighth grade graduates from my school to make sure they all graduate from high school.

The position also entails that I get the alumni’s high school report cards to monitor their grades and attendance; provide academic support and resources where needed; be their advocate and encourager when they or their parents have difficulty maneuvering through the maze of high school; and organize alumni events three times a year.

It’s not exactly teaching, but over time I began to warm up to the idea. How many high school dropouts would have earned their dipolmas if their beloved middle school teacher had taken them by the hand and defeated every reason they had for quitting? Besides, I loved the freedom, innovation, and flexibility the alumni position offered—and the thought of continuing a formal relationship with my former students really appealed to me.

I began flirting with the idea of being the Manager of Alumni Relations, and then the romance got more intense. Now I’m in love all over again. I realize that I never really divorced the classroom—I just redefined the marriage.

The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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