Wrong Turn?

It’s been a little over a year since I walked away from my teaching career and started freelancing full time. I decided it’s high time to reflect on my so-called wrong turn. Fair warning: it’s a bit long.

It’s a hell of a thing to wake up when you are 34 years old and still wonder what you want to be when https://www.flickr.com/photos/memoryfreak/6511834823/in/photolist-aVqRCc-5MnsCd-aUDBTz-5AN6w4-aW1nnr-5AMnn4-5c62Qb-aH9b9M-5wqPta-7EFnR6-quvGkm-nnGct2-7fNUg1-gHYFC3-dmyfCP-akHicV-5PHjgc-aSiMac-9TGd3J-akKZfS-dTAKAs-9wkRVT-qeRLQt-qeNnXN-akH9hK-akHjQR-akKXtC-akH9XT-bV6Vif-dTAKQL-5PHfun-9PSLHY-52bYaY-5PHfur-5PHfuR-7fP58U-b3Hzjc-apemzB-bqCkMm-3cjrwC-hsbFtQ-dTAKJ9-akHket-akHhmx-akL6hb-akHbtR-akHceM-akHcux-akL1id-akL9ryyou grow up. It’s an even scarier thing when you’re saddled with a gigantic mortgage, a self-employed husband, and two kids who are just now starting school with hefty tuition bills and to play organized (read: who the hell knew it would be this expensive when they’re 3 and 6?) sports. But, that’s exactly where I am. And, I’m the one who put myself – and my family – here.

I had done everything right. I worked hard, got good grades, became salutatorian, got into a great liberal arts college, got on staff at the college newspaper as a freshman, and quickly became assistant features editor. Then all hell broke loose when I decided to transfer to another great liberal arts college to continue with my English Literature degree but get my teaching certification on top of it. I blame the adorable, energetic, eager to learn inner-city kids I tutored when I tagged along to a church to profile the Black Student Union for the college newspaper. They made me fall in love with the idea of teaching, even though I had come from a family full of educators and did not in any way, shape, or form want to become one myself.

So, I continued to do everything right after transferring. I commuted to save money, I increased my credit load in order to graduate on time, I became certified as a writing tutor, I did community service, I got a fantastic cooperating teacher and placement, and I graduated near the very top of my class again. I was hired as a middle school language arts teacher before I graduated, and I was writing curriculum before I knew it. I lived at home to save more money, got engaged, bought a fixer-upper, got married, got a dog, and had a great life.

Until I realized I wasn’t so much in love with teaching as I was with the idea of teaching. The bureaucracy and politics were one thing, the outrageous behaviors of some of the students were another thing, and I was loving my job a whole lot less than I thought I should have been. The bright spots were the kids who loved to read, who wanted to learn from their quirky teacher, and who appreciated my structured and fast-paced classes. I had never failed at anything that I had worked so hard to achieve, and I was struggling with accepting the fact that even though I was excelling at teaching I didn’t love it. I had all of the mugs and shirts about changing lives and not knowing where my influence ended, but I just wasn’t feeling it like I thought I should have been.

So, I decided to try again. I was hired by another school district and felt a new energy in a new building (even though I missed my original colleagues dearly and still do to this day). I had a much better first year. I had kids whom I loved and who loved me, and it was a good feeling to be teaching sixteen year olds to appreciate Shakespeare and Poe. So, I thought maybe it was the switch to high school from middle school that I needed. And then the years went by and the faces changed and I kept looking at myself in the mirror, thinking that I could not do this for another 30 years.

I wasn’t miserable. I loved my new colleagues. I loved my new school. I just didn’t love teaching. And, once again, I felt like a failure. My students were doing well and we had a great rapport and I was looked upon as a teacher leader, and yet, something didn’t feel quite right. Teaching is the hardest job in the world for so many reasons, and when you’re not sure it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life, you can’t do it justice.

I changed roles in my school district, becoming a coach to fellow teachers, and loved it. I didn’t realize how much teaching had strapped me down. You live by the bell, you pee when you can, and you don’t speak to someone your own age for hours at a time. In my new role, I was treated more as a professional, I was asked questions about my teaching philosophy and instructional delivery, and I put my brand new Master’s degree to good use. I attended conferences and mingled and learned and grew professionally more than I ever had in seven years of teaching. But, I was seeing a stronger emphasis on testing and creating a set of skills students should learn rather than a robust curriculum that allowed them to explore and read and discuss freely. I was uncomfortable with pushing teachers to standardize so much. At the end of the year, the funding dried up, and I was back in the classroom. That was when I knew the end was near.

I was giving higher-stakes tests to kids with each passing year. I was sitting in IEP meetings looking at sobbing fifteen-year-old students who weren’t going to be able to take a welding class if they didn’t pass the standardized state test. I was listening to administrators talk about data and results instead of kids and their needs. And, I was being told that we needed to be positive and not put out anything negative to the community while cheering on those blasted tests and their results. The tests were one thing; putting on a happy face and shoving them at kids who needed something else was quite another.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maduixaaaa/2567638237/in/photolist-4UTPoM-8pdi7D-4YEiod-AGAuv-qw3yq-5KDKgX-6VGpG7-8LWNy-es6do-4BHuFz-cXnQnS-NGu9r-HFzM8-6Qsm5S-aQUzkH-5uYFsX-qFSrEb-8HaxTp-9qZzSr-y5QQo-eEEUtL-5FDb6x-m69ai-r4AkuU-4fjrQ3-6nh2Nf-cAUanG-qhxiz-qF8GP-9TbbpY-4kELbG-9dx56x-6ayisx-8N1kAe-ahHEgA-7vMPcL-rZ2oCr-4AQq9Z-SVozu-7NwdQ-6BWLsL-iSWAj-iS5Ef-yxXYH-6kySLQ-aSFFYK-fn5Sv7-7bsCdk-qERwNJ-6NRXzsI knew I had to get out. I knew I could not continue to teach to a test not only in which I did not believe but which harms students. I had sleepless nights, panic attacks, and endless lists of pros and cons. How could I leave a salaried union job, a tiny yearly raise, benefits, and health insurance? How could I start a job that doesn’t guarantee work, which in turn doesn’t guarantee pay? How could I ask my husband to pay for our new health insurance plan? How could I throw away a Master of Education plus 60 additional credits? How could I walk away from 12 years of teaching?

The girl who never veered from the straight and narrow, the college kid who tutored in the writing center while carrying an overloaded course schedule, the student teacher who taught on her own for weeks while her cooperating teacher was out with pneumonia, the teacher who always did as she was told and whose students excelled, was going to do the unthinkable. I walked away. I took a leave of absence, started blogging and working as a freelance writer, and within two months had written a viral blog post in response to Campbell Brown’s attacks on public school teachers and unions. I was loving my new job, my new creative outlet, and the fact that I would not have to go back to school in August.

There truly was no looking back when my newfound courage led me to write very openly and candidly about some local education issues. I was very honest and had some strong opinions. Teachers were supporting me. Parents were supporting me. My district did not. And, being censored by my district was the last straw. I always taught my students to speak the truth respectfully and to support their opinions with truth, facts, and solid evidence. I would have been a hypocrite if I didn’t do that myself. I resigned.

Now, I am a freelance writer who barely has time to blog. I mostly write web content for various companies, but if you Google my name, you’ll only find my three blogs. I don’t have a by-line for my day job, but it pays the bills and I get to be home with our boys while I work. The problem is, my current position isn’t quite feeding my soul enough yet, either. I’m not naïve. I know most people don’t spring out of bed, bound out the door, and sing happily on their way to work, but writing about electrical engineering and Big Data isn’t quite what I was looking for, either.

So, why reflect on my sordid tale of being a lost 34 year old? (If you’re still reading, you’re a saint.) I know I’m not alone. Just in my small circle of friends, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count everyone who wishes they had chosen a different professional life. So many of my college friends are not working in a field even remotely related to their degree. Tons of them aren’t working the jobs any of us had imagined: one is a veterinarian tech, one helps at a homeless shelter, one gives music lessons to teenagers, one works as a librarian in a small public library, and the list goes on and on.

These are the brave ones who left their well paying professional jobs that match their degrees to do something else. They took a leap of faith before I did and served as my inspiration, but they’re almost all struggling to make ends meet because they chose to do the work that makes them happy rather than the work that makes them money. A noble cause, for sure, but we’ve still got undergraduate school loans and graduate school loans and rent and mortgages and life weighing us down.

Most of us are between the ages of 30 and 50. Most of us don’t regret any choices we’ve made because they’ve led us to where we are now. I am a much better mother and writer because I was a teacher. I am a much better friend because of my teacher friends. But, when I scan LinkedIn profiles to do my day job, I’m shocked to see that people in this age group have had what seems to be an average of at least eight different jobs. Where I come from, you go to college, get hired in your field, and hold that job until you retire. My parents still freak out about the choice I made more than a year ago. Where I come from, you just don’t do what I did.

Maybe this is what we need to be talking about more often. Maybe we need to figure out a way to help people struggling to make the decision to leave a profession or stick with it so they don’t put themselves through the wringer like I did. Maybe we need to help high school and college students with internships and job shadowing and work experiences before pushing them to make life decisions at the tender age of 18 (instead of shoving standardized tests at them that don’t mean a damn thing). Maybe we just need to share our stories so that other people who feel stuck in their profession don’t think they are just miserable people and that there is something wrong with them for not loving their jobs.

I’m still working it out, but maybe my wrong turn wasn’t such a wrong turn after all.

Images via Flickr by familytreasures and … marta … maduixaaaa

I’m Contributing to a Book – What the Hell?

So, this isn’t exactly an official blog post, but I finally can share the news: I’ve been asked to contribute to a book project.  While in its very early stages, the book is “Becoming Mother: Narratives of How One Becomes Two,” by Sharon Tjaden-Glass. You can view the project on the blog: www.becomingmotherblog.wordpress.com and see my contribution: http://becomingmotherblog.wordpress.com/other-true-stories/bailey-how-could-i-be-a-mom/. I’ll be featured in the “Other True Stories” section.

This may just be that first small step into a writing career. What the Hell?

I Don’t Know Enough About Me – What the Hell?

I was asked to update my About page by a few readers because they don’t see how my teaching degrees are relevant enough to the content of my posts.  That’s fair enough for now, especially because there is so much more to that story that I’m not yet at liberty to tell.

In the meantime, I figured that I could update my About in the two minutes I had until the washer’s spin cycle ended and the OnDemand feature the little guy was watching rolled the credits, and I sat down to update my About.  It was harder than I thought.  I gave up after those two precious minutes.  And I kept thinking about it while I put in the next load of laundry and switched to the next OnDemand feature (No! PAW Patrol no.  I watch Turtles now!) and wrote the grocery list and realized the bananas are still sitting on the counter because the banana hanger was ruined by the fruit fly trap.  Long story.

I had Siri take a few notes on ideas while I put away laundry and folded pool towels (we are officially calling them pool towels from now on because I don’t think we will EVER make it to the beach) and chased the little guy away from the toilet paper for the fourth time.  I forced myself to stop thinking about it while playing trains and watching Turtles and actually enjoyed the break from thinking about it while out running errands and having lunch.

Now, the kiddo is asleep and the husband is working out in the yard and I’m bound and determined to do it.  I read a few helpful hints online, got fed up by how easy they made it sound, and sat down to write the About.  I let it flow without judgment and without editing and hit “Update.”  And, I think I hate my About.

How can I know so little about my About?  I’m enjoying writing this blog so much, and I’m happy with my number of views and followers because I honestly thought I’d have six – my parents (2), my husband (1), my really good friends who are online and read voraciously (3) – and I get supportive emails and Facebook messages and comments all of the time (still not sure why people are so hesitant to comment on the actual blog itself, but I’ll take what I can get), and I’ve been getting just enough criticism to know that I’m at least hitting readers who don’t love me enough to tell me they love everything that I write.  I have great reasons for blogging and thought I had a good handle on the kind of writer that I am, so why is this About so damn hard?

I think it’s because I just write to write because I love it so much (and if you read my post about why I blog, that’s great because I don’t want to rehash all of it here).  I don’t have a niche because I never intended to have one.  I just live my life under this ponytail and have fun with my family and work as hard as I can at everything that I do (even that laundry pile) because that’s what I was raised to do.  I just happen to have a lot to say about the life I’ve chosen to lead in this low-maintenance kind of way, and most of it makes me say, “What the Hell?”  I think that’s because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and a control freak and I expect things to go the way that I expect them to, and when they don’t, my mind automatically reacts with a “What the Hell?”

I don’t know how to say that in an About.  So, I’m leaving it the way that it is, for now.  And I’ll deal with it when it doesn’t make me say, “What the Hell?”  I just don’t know when that will be.

Broken Promises – What the Hell?

I broke a promise to myself yesterday. I swore on my old Girl Scout honor that I would write and publish a blog post every day since I started more than a month ago. There were days that I barely hit “Publish” by midnight, and some days that I had to accept hitting that button a few minutes after midnight, but I always made it. Until yesterday.

I was crazy busy with a project for the job that pays the bills, and because the little guy didn’t sleep for two minutes after I got home from my satellite work location (that’s my cool new term for my parents’ den), I couldn’t write when I got home. Then, there were all of the Mom Duties: changing diapers, playing the Wii, playing with trains, pouring milk into sippy cups, filling the Ninja Turtle cup with water when he realized he wanted it instead of the milk, getting the iPad to do whatever it was he wanted it to do, cleaning up, ordering pizza, paying bills… well, I think that just about paints the picture. Once everybody was finally in jammies and in bed, I cleaned up some more and sat down to continue that crazy-busy project. Until 4:15AM.

I’ll admit that I looked at the clock around midnight and felt like crying. Maybe it was the combination of the frustration I was having with the internet and the long list of things I still had to do before going to bed, and maybe it was the realization that I can’t remember the last time my husband and I hit the sheets at the same time, but the tears were ready to fall. I didn’t give in to those salty pests and continued to plug away at my list. I’d like to be able to say that I didn’t turn on the waterworks because I realized that crying over a missed blog post would have been silly and juvenile, but I think what stopped me was knowing that my keyboard would get wet. Anyway, the fact that I broke a promise to myself still bothers me this morning.

As a kid, I made promises all of the time. And, I kept them. If my mom wanted me to do something, she would ask me to promise; it worked better than a guilt trip because even at a young age, I knew that a person’s word was supposed to mean something. I can remember looking at my dad as he was rushing out the door after work, on his way to a meeting, and asking him to promise he’d be home before I fell asleep. He wouldn’t promise if he knew he wouldn’t make it. I remember being very young and asking my mom to promise she wouldn’t make me eat steak one more time because I hated it. She promised, and I still don’t eat steak.

I didn’t intentionally teach our big kid to say “promise” when it came to matters of the utmost importance, but that’s another thing he’s picked up from his mama. It hit me last night – well, this morning – while I was finally trying to fall asleep, that he uses promises the same way I do. If he really wants something, or if something really matters to him, he makes a promise with me. He doesn’t use promises for silly situations: I’ve never heard him say, “Promise me I can eat ketchup tonight.” And, I’ve never heard him say, “Promise we’ll never go to the dentist again!” because he knows that I won’t make promises that I won’t keep. But, he will ask me to promise that I won’t check my phone when he wants to show me his new tumbling moves. And, he asks me to promise that I’ll make his favorite Yummy Chicken soon. The funny thing is, when he wants his brother to do something, he doesn’t ask him to promise; he knows that little guy isn’t capable of sticking to his word.

I believe in teaching by example, and I got all warm and fuzzy thinking about how I’ve already instilled the value of a person’s word in my son. Don’t get me wrong: he still fibs and tells lies every now and again, but he’s at least on the right track with following through on a promise. He doesn’t know that Mommy has a blog, so I won’t tell him about my little slip. But, I promised him that I’d play with him when I got home today, and I will. That next blog post will just have to wait. I may break a promise to myself, but I’ll never break a promise to my children.

I’ll probably be up until the wee hours of the morning again, though, despite the fact that I promised myself I’d be in bed by 11 tonight. What the Hell?

My Very First Blog Post… From 1999 – What the Hell?

The following is an email I sent to my mom September 9, 1999: my first week of classes at Franklin & Marshall College.  I have been searching for this piece of writing for 15 years, and my mom just nonchalantly handed me the worn, yellowed, folded, written-on paper today.  I could have cried.   I guess I was trying to blog before blogging even became a thing.  What the Hell?

Mom,

I want you to read this, print it out, and then read it to Dad, my brother, Nana, and Pap.  I think you ought to know where your $33,000 is really going.

After one week of college classes, I find that I am already wondering why I am here.  I have no idea how any of these things I am doing are going to help me get a job.  I know I could write for a magazine starting today, but I wouldn’t have that precious “BA” behind my name to prove it.

The very first thing I learned is that college is not about the classes.  I just saw a sign that reads: “Don’t let classes interfere with your education.”  This is so true.  College teaches you how to deal with the most undesirable circumstances.

You don’t come here for the food.  You don’t come here for the living facilities.  You certainly don’t come here to take baths.  You learn how to wear the same pair of jeans for four days and the same t-shirt for three days, just so you save yourself from having to do laundry.  You learn how to sleep in the noisiest of places, how to get a shower at just the right time so there isn’t anyone around flushing toilets or using the showers upstairs to put your precious hot water in jeopardy, and how to read four novels in three days.  You also learn how to run a movie and CD rental store.  You learn how to eat snack food in moderation, so you don’t gain the Freshman 15 five times.

College is a learning experience, not an institution of learning.  You find a way to deal with people you would never approach if you didn’t absolutely have to.  You learn how to cram an entire house into a space 14’ x 16’.  You learn that professors do not teach; they make you question everything you thought you have known to be true since you were five years old.  You do not ask questions unless you are prepared to defend not only yourself but also the previous four student speakers.  You learn to read and analyze and take more notes than you will ever need in your life, so that when the professor asks you to write a paper on what you just “learned,” you have some sort of material to make that paper magically materialize.

And, you ask yourself, is this really worth being in debt for the next 30 years of my life?  And, you answer yes.  Because learning how to eat pizza that is fresh, cold, not-so-cold, not-so-warm, reheated, preheated, soggy, and hard is definitely worth something.  But, the best advice you gain from a college student is this: if it moves, don’t eat it.  It’ s probably your roommate.

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Why Do I Blog? – What the Hell?

Somebody asked me the other day why I’m blogging.  It’s not making any money, is it?  Nope.  Not a penny.  This isn’t about money.  It’s certainly not about wasting time doing something that isn’t lucrative.  It’s like asking an artist why he paints or a singer why she sings.  Words are my passion.  I love saying them, hearing them, spelling them, and stringing them together in a dozen different ways until it sounds just right.  Wordsmithing is my thing.  I’m not perfect at it; I’ve never taken a creative writing course (I was too busy earning that teaching degree I’m not currently using).  I just write.  Because I love it.  And because…

It helps me sleep at night
My brain never stops.  I’m always thinking and planning and wishing and hoping.  And worrying and stressing.  Writing somehow gets most of that out, or exhausts my mental capacity just long enough to help me get those 4-5 hours of coveted sleep.  You read that right. 4-5 hours.  I’ll sleep when I’m old.

It quiets my negative thoughts… most of the time.
Unless I’m writing about something that severely ticks me off or some radical injustice, I’m usually able to get it all out on paper and then be done with it.  It’s that cathartic experience that everyone needs once in awhile.  I haven’t ruined my keyboard yet with tears, either, thank goodness.

It gets my blood pumping.
I think about what I want to say and how I want to say it and why I want to say it, and pretty soon I’ve written pages without really thinking about it at all.  It’s exciting and thrilling for me to get all the words and thoughts out and to spend so much time doing something that I love without feeling guilty about it.  If exercise worked through fingers typing on a keyboard, I’d be a size 2.  That would be grand!

It’s something that I’ve always been told I’m good at, and I like knowing that I’m good at something that I love doing.
I’m good at cleaning, too, but I don’t love doing that.  So, I write.  For the most part, I’m good at lots of things, but not one brings me more joy than writing.  If you’re wondering how being a mom fits into this since I should love being a mom, I absolutely do.  But, you must’ve missed my previous post, “Am I Doing Anything Right? – What the Hell?”  Read it, and you’ll understand.

It helps me think.
I type faster than I write, and I type almost as fast as I can think.  That’s a good thing, because the more I type, the more I realize I have a lot more on my mind.  Writing helps me get it all organized and analyzed and OUT.  “Out” is a big word when it comes to my writing.

It’s a creative outlet.
I’m not artistic, I’m not the best singer, and my piano is at my parents’ house.  Writing is something I can do anywhere, anytime.  I’m getting damn good at telling Siri what I want to write about in the car, too.  I wish there were a keyboard on my steering wheel, but I don’t think that would pass those highway safety tests or please those kind officers who have moved in right down the street from us.

It helps me to get in touch with me.
I get in touch with my feelings and my thoughts and my fears and my dreams through my writing.  There are times when I seriously don’t know what I want or how I’m going to get it until I write about it.  I wrote pages about our dream home before we even sat down with the contractors.  I needed to see it, so I wrote about it first.  When we were choosing baby names, I wrote them all down, too, about a million times.  I needed to see how they looked.

It helps me connect with people.
There is nothing worse than feeling isolated.  Writing is a way to get those thoughts and feelings out there and find other people who are in your boat.  (Now, I get those people on my blog.)  We really aren’t so different after all.  Except those people reading the NRA blogs.  They can stay there.

I get excited when I see how many people have viewed my posts.
It’s not about the numbers for me when it comes to motivation or inspiration; I’d write if I only had one reader, my husband.  But, it’s nice to know that people are reading my thoughts.  It’s even nicer when they send an email, follow me on Twitter, or Like or Comment on the blog itself.  The best part is when they Follow the blog.  Then, I know that I’m not as weird as I think I am, because other people are reading and agreeing or reading and disagreeing, but at least we’re all reading what I’ve written.

I survived teen angst and high school through writing; why not survive motherhood and a pause in my career through writing, too.
I had a journal on my old, old Dell desktop that went on for hundreds of pages.  I categorized by month, my weekly crush, my monthly conflict with my mom… well, you get the point.  I can’t really remember a time that I didn’t turn to writing.  Now, I get through the terrible twos and self-doubt and gripes about society and anything else my mind throws at me.  Same process, same cathartic experience, just at a different point in life.

So, yes, my name is Bailey and I’m addicted to blogging.  And I don’t see that changing any time soon.  So, when you ask me, “Why do you blog?” my answer is going to be, “Didn’t you read the blog?  What the Hell?”

*I hope you paid attention to that one about connecting with people.  There are lots of ways to connect with me.  Click either of the Follow buttons at the bottom of this post (one is for fellow bloggers and one is for people who want to receive email notification of my new posts), Comment on any of my posts, email me at baileyshawley@gmail.com, follow me @baileyshawley, or send me a message on Facebook.  Better yet, help me connect with even more people by sharing my blog on your Facebook timeline or retweeting my posts.