I recently and finally accepted my therapist’s suggestion that I would do better in a job where I could see the results of my work.
For a classroom teacher, she explained, the outcome, dependent on humans and their learning, was never a guarantee, no matter how hard I worked. I would spend hours planning, collecting and creating worksheets, grading papers, and organizing paperwork, and it was true that there was very little to show for it.
These days, many people, at least in the government, think that the outcome of a teacher’s work is the performance of his or her students on standardized tests. This is completely unfair, since there are too many variables determining how a child will perform on a test, with the main variables starting years before that student even walks into your classroom. The lessons I gave might have worked fabulously in another class, with different demographics, in a different place. What else could explain why I had such a horrible experience in one district and a more positive one in my first district?
There are definitely several reasons why I did not thrive as a classroom teacher of children, even in that first district. It was not only that I needed more visible results of my work. I speculate that teaching children in a public school was difficult for me because of a conglomeration of personality traits: introversion, a need for control, high expectations for compliance, a less outwardly warm presence, dislike of rigid mandates from layers and layers of authority above me (despite my own need for my students to comply with my rules). I worked and worked and had no life outside of work; I was exhausted every day, except during summer vacation. There was always something else to do, and piles of papers all over the place, and I hardly ever felt successful.
Yes, the need for concrete results or a tangible product of my labor, while not the only reason, may be another factor for my unhappiness as a teacher.
I realized that the one activity I loved most about my past two years in said horrible district was gardening, which had hardly anything to do with teaching. Of course, I did bring the students out to see and work in the gardens at school, and my enthusiasm for learning about plants and gardening rubbed off on some of my students, but what I loved most was the time spent weeding, planting, and harvesting on my own, after school. Weeding was particularly satisfying — to clear an entire space of unwanted plants left me with a great sense of accomplishment. (And this is similar to a certain destructive compulsion of mine that I will have to address later, in another post.)
I started having fantasies of becoming a farmer. There is a real need for young people to get into farming, and though I am not necessarily all that young, I am at least younger than the majority of working farmers in the U.S. at the moment. And there is a real need for people to farm sustainably, an endeavor that I support wholeheartedly. As an avid knitter, I want to have angora goats or sheep. As a drinker I want to have an apple orchard and a cider press. I want to grow vegetables and take care of chickens, like my knitting and spinning friend in town, who used to be a sheep-shearer herself.
Everyone thought I was crazy to want to become a farmer. My husband kept telling me that I’ve never done it before, and it’s awfully hard work, and that I’d probably hate it after only a few days. My therapist agreed with him but suggested that I volunteer on nearby farms or gardens to get more experience. In any case, we didn’t, and still don’t, have the money to buy and start a farm, so I couldn’t very well just go off and do it.
The first day I went to help with the harvest at the local farm where my friends and I went in on a CSA share together, I mentioned my joy in gardening at school, and an apprentice there agreed, saying, “You can really see the outcome of your work.” And I was stunned that everything seemed to be coming together then; I hadn’t said anything to her about my therapist’s suggestion that I find a job where I could see the outcome of my work.
The fruits of one’s labor are certainly and literally right there before you as a farmer or gardener, and I do love that. I love it so much that I go every Friday morning to work on the farm for four or five hours, even though my first day I got scratched up by the squash plants and had an itchy rash on my arms and legs that lasted three days. (Now I wear long sleeves and long pants while I’m working there, even through the summer heat.) I pick kale, cut broccoli, collect tomatoes and tomatillos, dig out basil plants and carrots, and I get sweaty and dirty. It’s my kind of work, at least right now.