When I began teaching middle school immediately upon moving to Memphis--and contemplated quitting on a daily basis--a wise friend told me, "you are not your job," reminding me not to let my personal self-worth be based on this work. A job is a job is a job. Not my life.
I've been calling upon this wisdom quite often lately. For the past year (since leaving the aforementioned middle school), I have been working as an adjunct instructor at a community college, adjunct being a fancy word for part-time. I have appreciated the break from full-time secondary teaching, as I was nearing the dreaded burnt-out phase, and I'm thankful for the time and opportunity to do volunteer work. However, I can't seem to shake the feeling that I am an unproductive member of my family and society in general.
This feeling became more accute this summer. The class I was scheduled to teach was cancelled, due to low numbers. I was devastated, surprisingly so. I was upset about my lack of funds, but more so, I was upset about my lack of purpose.
Why is it, upon meeting someone new, that the first question after exchanging names is inevitably, "What do you do"? I have come to dread this question. I always answer "teacher," but I usually feel like I'm not being completely forthcoming and often explain my current situation in more detail than necessary.
This question is often just a formality, a pleasantry we're accustomed to, like discussing the weather. Normally, I enjoy talking about my work, feeling proud of what I do. But these days, as an un-/under-employed educator, I feel like a slacker.
I thrive on being busy, so I've found plenty to do this summer (in fact, writing this post has been on my to-do list for weeks), but I think I still would have gotten just as much done if I were teaching a class. It's frustrating...particularly because I'm aware of the irony that if I were teaching full-time right now, I would be pining away for such a lack of responsibility.
But therein lies part of the problem. While I struggle daily to recognize it, I have plenty of responsibilites and lots of irons in the proverbial fire. Even so, I need to heed my wise friend's advice and realize that I am more than a (lack of a) paycheck. I am not my job. Like Popeye says, "I yam who I yam."
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