This is a pretty hard topic for me to write about as I see it as a constant source of anxiety and regret. In sixth year I had a meeting with a career advisor and from that point on teaching was all I wanted to do with my life. I loved working with children, I had (and still do) an enormous respect for the profession, I had a basic understanding of child development and my experiences at primary school were largely positive. I narrowly missed out on the grades to go to uni so I went to college to do an access into teaching course where I studied the work of Piaget, Vygotski and Bruner – I quickly discovered that theory and practice are two completely different things! Placements were tough but, at the risk of sounding like Miss Universe, I found working with children incredibly rewarding.
College was over and I applied for university. It was expected of me and I wanted to go. My friends were already enjoying student life and I wanted to start a new chapter in my life. It was almost like a new start, nobody there knew how socially awkward I was, they had no clue about my issues with panic attacks, anxiety or crippling shyness. At uni I could be whoever I wanted to be! Unfortunately, anxiety doesn’t really work like that.
The day I graduated my whole family sat by the stage cheering. We all came together for the first time in years to celebrate my great achievement. My dad couldn’t have been happier; all his money hadn’t gone to waste. I began my probation year confidently. The staff were friendly, I grew to love the children, although they were a challenging bunch, I grew to understand and care a great deal for them. I still wonder how they’re all doing. Gradually however, the workload, responsibilities and pressure began to take a physical effect on me. I was drained, and this wasn’t something a good nights sleep would solve. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t stay awake and I couldn’t move without an agonising crushing feeling in my stomach. Everyday the tension and sickness increased just that little bit more. In the morning, during breaks and at the end of the day I was left sobbing in a cubical, physically retching over a toilet. I was overwhelmed and starting to lose confidence in myself fast.
Unbelievably, I finished my probation year. I had made no real friends as I used breaks to try and pull myself together rather than chat to my co-workers, and I had no intention of continuing my teaching profession. It’s important to realise that teaching isn’t just a career choice, it’s a lifestyle choice. It encompasses your whole life and that was something I couldn’t handle. I had lost faith in myself as a teacher and as a person. I was not in a good place and quite frankly, I didn’t believe I was a positive role model to teach children.
I left teaching behind and while some of you may think of me as a quitter, I honestly believe it’s the best choice I’ve ever made. Life is too short to be unhappy. I had a break and started the long journey to building my confidence back and returning to the positive, smiling, optimistic woman I used to be. I guess some people are programmed to deal with stress a lot better than others. Can I just emphasis that teaching isn’t all doom and gloom; I still have lots of happy memories about that year. They all revolve around the children. The funny things they did, the laughs we had together, the questions they asked, their achievements, the moment they opened up and began to trust me, and the moments I saw a child finally grasp an idea, a concept or skill.
While my respect for the profession has only ever increased, I know in my heart that the classroom is just not where I belong. I know many people see this as a failure, or as a pointless education, “money down the drain” and “wasted potential”. I see it as a turning point in my life. It’s when I decided (against the wishes of a lot of disgruntled family members and friends) to do what was right for me and to do what needed to be done in order to live a happier life.