My great-grandmother was a teacher. I’ve ran my fingers over her name and her sisters’ names on the raised font on the plaque outside the one-room school house at Cedar Creek State Park.
My great-Aunt Betty was a teacher, briefly, until she earned her PhD and helped the world in other ways.
My mom is a daycare owner and teacher, impacting the most vital years in a child’s life, birth to three.
My mom’s best friend, who was like a second mom to me growing up, was my fifth grade teacher. Her influence followed me to Lewis County as I did my student teaching at RLBMS, where by that point she was the principal.
I have been privileged to be surrounded by beautiful, strong women, and nearly all of them have been teachers. I don’t think that’s coincidence. Teachers are the most compassionate, giving individuals in the world. They go into a field knowing full-well that they will live darn near close to the poverty level, and they will still volunteer for hours and hours of extra-curricular activities, from preparing for parent-teacher conferences to cheering on their students at a soccer game. Teachers aren’t in the professional for money or fame; we do it because it’s inside us.
It’s who we are.
We are often generations of teachers, doing not only what we do best, but what we are most passionate about, what we feel called to do. Have a conversation with a teacher, and you know what she calls her students?
We care about more than just our kids’ academic success. We worry about their home lives, their health issues, their futures, their happiness, their hurt feelings, their next meal. We want for everyone of our kids what we want for our own children. Health and happiness.
Teaching isn’t just a career. It’s definitely more than just a job.
It’s who we are.
So what happens when the ability to teach is stolen from us? What happens when our life plan is completely derailed? What happens when we can’t be who we are anymore?
Tears poured down my cheeks last week as I wrote a letter I never imagined ever having to write. Even during a year of sickness, I never gave up, always thinking I would eventually be well enough to return to my classroom. However, when the WV Teacher Retirement Board approved by disability, I was forced to make a decision. Accept the measly $600 monthly and apply for SSDI, or continue hoping…without income.
I agonized. I cried. And I wrote my official letter of resignation.
At the age of 39, I retired from teaching.
I have no Plan B. I had fully anticipated dying in my classroom while still drilling Shakespeare into my students. I taught for fifteen years. Not long enough for the idea of retirement to begin to appeal to me. I’d rather be in a classroom discussing the latest Sue Monk Kidd novel than gardening or doing whatever it is retired people are supposed to do.
I dreamed of being a teacher before I was in kindergarten. Yep, before I was even a student myself, I knew I wanted to teach.
I remember playing “school” with my poor little sister. It must have been miserable for her. I had a schedule all planned out, lessons for each subject, and assignments for homework. Recess? Who had time for that? We couldn’t fit in science if we had recess! It is a wonder my little sister went on to college after the abuse she suffered from her first teacher.
Now I am physically and emotionally unable to work everyday, yet that God-given passion for teaching did not disappear or even wane when I wrote my resignation letter.
The idea of resigning feels like flying the white flag of surrender. It says I give up. Boy, was it difficult to come to this point. It took nearly two years to unofficially say I am resigning myself to this new life. I am accepting the realization that it is highly unlikely I will ever return to the level of functioning I had before Lyme disease stole my world.
A resignation is a submission. It says this is it. And every single day I think how did this happen?
How is this my life?
And what in the heck am I supposed to do now??
I’ve closed one heartbreaking door, and now I’m praying for God to show me the door He wants me to open this time. I pray for Him to reveal my purpose.
Because resigning feels an awful lot like quitting, and I’ve worked too hard over the last two years to give up now.
After all, generations of women are within me, pushing me to find the good.
So very, very hard, Jena. I hate that you are going through all of this. Grateful you know that God is right here in the muck with you, and so are we. xoxo
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The Lord has great plans for you. Be ready, because when you least expect it, you will be called by Him to a greater task.
And, I’m excited to hear about it!
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I wish I could send you some hugs. I am an English teacher as well, and I have also been struggling with a chronic condition while teaching for several years. I am still plugging at it but I am not sure how long it will last. After 7 years as department head I stepped down last spring, and that was a huge step and one, like you, where I felt like I was waving a white flag. Look, you are a teacher. Maybe you can’t practice right now, but with your spirit and passion another door will open soon, my friend. Do not get discouraged. Your light cannot be dimmed so easily!!!
A poem for you:
One Art by Elizabeth Bishop – http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/47536
Sis, I fully believe God is going to open a door, and it will be a big one. I am excited to see what is in store for you. Love you to pieces!
Jena, you are and always will be teaching. Right now you teach me how to be strong and keep fighting. You teach the world about Lyme and how to treat people with chronic illness. I am excited to see what your next adventure will be. I know it will be great.
You are Jena Whiston, teacher – only in a different classroom – educating your readers about Lyme disease. You are Jena Whiston – wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, mentor, you are a wearer of many hats! You definitely are not a quitter! Take care.
So heartbreaking. Having to give up one’s vocation in life because of this damn disease is just awful. It does make you feel like a quitter, and as a fellow Lyme sufferer I know exactly how that feels. My heart goes out to you; what a difficult decision. Please know that I truly value your posts – it’s good to know I am not alone in these kind of struggles. Thank you for taking the time to share. You are appreciated.