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So What Do You Do Now?

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

I've been getting this question more and more since returning to an in-person social life. Nine months have passed since I resigned from teaching in November of 2020. I'm protective of the people and events of the past year that led up to and followed my resignation. There have been many times when I've sat down to explain everything, then deleted it, because I knew I wasn't done processing. While I'm open to one-on-one conversations with friends and family, I've decided not to return to those moments and put them out there for others to consume without engaging. I don't feel a need to defend or prove myself to anyone. I don't need or want sympathy, because I chose this course. And while I've learned plenty of valuable lessons, I don't have a single regret.

For those who know me, and especially those who know me as a teacher, you know that leaving JICHS devastated me. In the several weeks between my letter of resignation and final day of school, I felt like I experienced several break-ups every day, and hundreds of others without closure. I am so grateful to everyone, especially my students, who understood. I still tear up every time I see pictures of my students, but I know that some of those tears are also shed for an identity that I maintained for so long, for the person who felt so responsible for others' pain and sadness and hardship. In a way, I feel like what I truly resigned from was that identity. Even when I've missed my students, I’ve known that resigning was the right decision, and the knowing that guided me through that period of my life was a simple mantra that I remind myself each day: You can choose.

You can choose to stay in a situation where you’re unhappy and try to work it out.

You can choose to adjust your expectations if it doesn’t work out, and hopefully find happiness that way.

You can choose to remove yourself from the situation with integrity...or spite.

I am proud that I tried so sincerely hard to work it out. I sought input and collaborated with colleagues. We proposed solutions to the problems that we saw and anticipated. Things didn’t work out the way I had hoped, but I’ve found meaning in the way they did.

I am proud that I stopped committing tiny self-betrayals of one “adjusted expectation” after another. Holding my tongue. Taking one for the team. Adjusting expectations can have positive results, but not to the point where you feel unrecognizable to yourself. I am grateful to the pandemic for showing me when enough was enough, and that having self-respect is infinitely more important than being liked by everyone.

I am proud that I let go gracefully, crying and laughing and making unforgettable memories with my students and colleagues. I am proud that I stayed hella classy, and that I moved boldly into an uncertain future.

I am now doing what I have always loved doing, what I have always lost myself in, but never allowed myself to pursue as a career. I’m a writer! And an editor. And a consultant. And a project manager. And a graphic designer. A bunch of other stuff, honestly. I've written for teachers, schools, school districts, and education-focused websites; summer camps and nonprofit organizations; as well as life coaches, therapists, attorneys, and entrepreneurs. I pride myself on my ability to adapt my style and tone to the diverse needs of my clients. When working with clients, I particularly enjoy collaborating on projects that center on education, empowerment, and community-building. Now that I'm on my feet, I'm excited to be pursuing more of my own projects.

So that's what I do now. I work for myself. I make my own schedule. I set my own rates. I choose my own clients whose mission and interests align with mine.

I water the plants in my garden each day, I pay more attention to nature, and I take long walks to the park with my beloved Bodie, where I am not rushing to get to the next item on my to-do list.

I eat three healthy, homemade meals a day and I exercise in the mornings, because I now have the energy to get up and do that. Some days, I do not work at all.

I am relishing in the awe of my creativity as I continue to trust more in the possibility that I can be happy, successful, and free...not to do whatever the fuck I want, but to be a more impactful agent of change than I was in an institution that runs on the collective self-depletion of its workforce.

A year and a half ago, I was a people-pleasing, boundary-less martyr -- the diesel fuel of public education -- and while I have tenderness and love for that hard-working, empathetic, enthusiastic, selfless woman that changed hundreds of children's lives for the better, I don’t need to continue being her because I am good at it.

And neither do American teachers. I have a teacher’s heart and I am a product of public schools. My staunch advocacy requires the most critical love. Our students are not braver, wiser, more compassionate people for watching teachers give the best parts of themselves, only to be rewarded with disrespect and vitriol, undermining of their authority, additional responsibilities extraneous to teaching, and lately, state-sponsored exposure to a deadly, preventable virus. They are damn sure not more incentivized to become teachers themselves. One thing I’ve learned through teaching Gen Z is that if they don’t see the value in something, they’re not going to invest in it. They see infinitely more appealing choices, and they don't seem beholden to the idea that they have to stick with one career, or dedicate their lives to an unfulfilling hustle.

When we accept the unacceptable, we teach people that they can treat us however they want.

Teachers. If we do not think we contribute, in some way, to the problems of American public education through our fear or refusal to collectively set boundaries, say no, question authority, and assert our wealth of wisdom and experience, then we cannot be part of the solution. The solution will continue to be delivered top-down and from third party organizations that are too removed from the world of teaching to truly understand how schools and learning should function.

Many of my closest friends returned to school this week, where unfilled faculty and staff positions increase the workload for others, administrators are struggling to enforce a requirement that isn't enforceable, and a convoluted interpretation of "choice" prioritizes individual "liberty" over public health. A theater of the absurd that doesn't even touch on the long-standing systemic racism embedded so firmly in the practices and policies of American public education.

There are a lot of things I could wish my teacher friends this school year. Safety from COVID. Well-ventilated classrooms. Reliable internet. Minimal reply-all email chains and corny YouTube videos that fail to inspire. The administrative epiphany that allowing staff to wear jeans to work isn't an appropriate substitute for respect and inclusion in decision-making... But considering the dystopian tone of this school year, I wish you the simple strength to choose what you accept. In the face of all I've listed and all you seem up against, to choose your battles and your fuel. It's often hard to do the work that follows a significant choice, but making the actual choice is simple when you are firm in your knowledge of what you can and cannot accept, what does or does not serve you, and what you will or will not model to students and colleagues. And what made it possible for me? Moving forward in solidarity with other teachers who share that inner knowing and that vision for how K-12 public schools could work for all who work for and attend them.

My choices are not for everyone. I chose to speak out because I recognized the position of privilege I was in as a childless charter school employee and current Teacher of the Year who could afford health insurance if I wasn't teaching. I chose to heal because my body was shutting down, my outlook was turning cynical, and I was making my partner the target of my frustrations and insecurities. I chose to follow a dream that I knew might result in a pay cut, at least initially, but would haunt me forever if I continued to defer it. And because I believe so firmly in my own agency, I know that if the time ever comes, I can choose to go back to teaching.

For now, I’m enjoying this chapter and looking forward to sharing more of my writing with my community. I suppose this is the introduction to my website/blog, where I want to spend less time writing about my personal experiences and more time writing about local history and current events, state mottos, mall Santa recruitment practices, and where all the campaign signs go once they're taken down after an election. Fiction, nonfiction, prose, poetry, humor, satire, exposé...I'm not sure what the common thread will be. I've been overwhelmed with support from my coach, family, colleagues, students, cheetah sisters (love you ladies), and husband. I'm thankful for them and for the time I've had to grieve, process, heal, and make clear choices. And whomever I evolve into, wherever I choose to be, I got there in large part because of the brilliant, dedicated, and courageous coaches and teachers who invested in me.

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Rachel Kenna
Rachel Kenna
Aug 21, 2021

This could only be written by a GD cheetah.


I’m so happy you have found what makes you happy and fulfilled. I found myself in so much of what you wrote. I left teaching this year as well. I’m still figuring out my next move but I know this was definitely the right move for me and the family.

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