Life After Teaching, Part One: Four Reasons Why I’m Better Off

Originally posted on Those Who Teach:

Last month, essays like Randy Turner’s “A Warning to Young People,” and Christine McCartney’s Letter of Resolution, gave voice to teachers who have decided to quit the profession, and those who’ve committed to stay despite their shared frustrations, including standardized testing, merit pay, and Common Core Standards.

After four years as a high school biology teacher, Rose left her job, and the education field, in 2011. In today’s post, she reflects on the joys (yes, the joys) of leaving teaching.

UPDATE: Read Rose’s take on the downsides of leaving, plus my reflection on the popularity of this post.

Starting a new job is like starting a new relationship.  In the beginning, you’re just getting to know each other, and as time goes on, you decide if you’ll go long term. Sometimes, you realize you love your partner, but the relationship just isn’t healthy.

This is what happened…

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Fasting in solidarity with Shaker Aamer

Yesterday I undertook a twenty-four hour fast. I did it as part of a solidarity compaign for Shaker Aamer. He is the last British prisoner in Guantanamo Bay prison. He has just gone on hunger strike himself. The campaign has been organised by human rights activists to raise awareness of his plight.

I managed a full day but Shaker Aamer is aiming for much longer. I had all the distractions of the modern world to keep me occupied. Imagine what it must be like to fast in a cell.

I started the day with a cup of hot water. To begin with I felt fine. I walked the dog and felt quite energetic. The only things allowed were water and tea. I really missed my caffeine and I realised I am probably addicted to coffee as a raging headache set in. I kept drinking water throughout the day. At lunch time I allowed myself a cup of tea which was wonderfully comforting.

By the afternoon I was feeling lightheaded and a little shaky. I still had a headache. I did another dog walk and felt slightly surreal. I could feel my mind sharpening and my senses becoming more acute.

I meditated and did some very light yoga. I felt better.

I managed to read and do some light housework. In the evening I curled up and watched TV, falling asleep by nine.

I woke up at half past three still with a bad headache.

Try as I might I could not get properly back to sleep so I just lay there thinking. I got up and broke the fast with a smoothie made from fat free milk, cocoa powder, a banana, non-fat Greek yoghurt and a spoon of instant coffee all blitzed up in the blender. Wow, it tasted good and after downing it I felt instantly better. My headache dissipated and a calm, relaxed feeling overcame me.

All in all it is not that difficult to fast just for one day. I am not sure in my present state of mind if I would be able to do it for longer. The headache is the worst part. I felt tired and didn’t have much energy so I would not have been able to work. I would like to build up to doing longer fasts but I need to practise with one day ones for a while. I have the utmost respect for anyone who uses a hunger strike as a means of peaceful protest. It takes a lot of self-discipline.

I think fasting can be a useful spiritual tool. It puts you more in touch with yourself. Thoughts clarify. It can also help with weight loss. I lost half a kilo.

I hope the campaign at least does something to help Shaker Aamer and to hasten the closure of Guatanomo Bay.

Book Review David Nichols Us

This book starts when its middle aged male narrator is woken in the night by his wife who announces that she wants a divorce. In order to save his marriage they set off on a grand tour of Europe with their teenage son (inter-railing for adults). The narrative moves back and forward in time as we learn more about the disintegrating marriage. I enjoyed the level of detail about the relationship, always fascinated by the arrangements and feelings of others. I sometimes felt like I was prying into someone’s private diary.

The book is easy to read and to follow and the narrator appears to be reliable. The trouble is he is not very likeable. He is a scientist and seems to lack empathy with others which leads to the failure of the marriage. He reminded me of some people I know.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of the cities in Europe which I have also been to and the wry observation of English middle class life. There is much humour. I did feel the book was over long and the themes were becoming repetitive. It is hard to see why such a straightforward book was nominated for the Man Booker but who am I to judge?

Overall I enjoyed it.

Giving up alcohol for good

In September I signed up for the dryathlon challenge which is to give up alcohol for a month to raise money for cancer research. I managed it and I have decided to give up for good. I am now that strange phenomenon: a teetotaller.

I have been a regular drinker for as long as I can remember, having a drink most days though never quite dipping into alcoholism. I suppose I come from a Viking culture, first in the north-east of England and then in Scotland. Everyone drank. I started with cider and black in the local pubs underage, the blackcurrant masking the taste of the alcohol which I didn’t even like back then. Then in Scotland I moved on to beer. Sometimes the local heavy or guinness and sometimes more trendy bottled beers like Furstenberg. Special occasions would bring out the whisky. I often drank until unconsciousness, getting myself into sticky situations as a result. I lost whole days with awful hangovers which immobilised me completely. I didn’t give my drinking a second thought. Didn’t everyone do it? It never occurred to me to give up. It was part of who I was: a go out a lot good time girl.

When work started in earnest I became more sophisticated so I thought. I moved to Manchester and gave up beer for wine. I would kid myself it was classy. I drank wine with my dinner and afterwards in the evenings, most evenings. Hey I was virtually French. I am far from a wine snob but I enjoyed the taste and started to get more discerning. The rich reds were my favourite from Spain and the new world. In reality I was self medicating, using the wine to relieve the stress from my almost impossible job. It numbed me, reduced the full horror of actually existing and trying to make my way in the world. I needed it. I rarely drank spirits and I didn’t drink during the day. So I didn’t think I had a problem with it. I wasn’t an alcoholic.

Later I moved south and the wine drinking continued though I stopped going out so much. It was just glasses of wine in the evening. In times of stress it would get worse. I would drink whole bottles to myself on occasion. It was a way of blotting things out. I would give up for months at a time and then go back to it.

This time I decided it would be different. I have given up for a whole month and I plan to continue. Something has changed in me. I don’t see the need for it any more. I want to overcome the addiction, to really beat it. I need to explore the reasons I drink in the first place. I need to get to the root of things.

I have read all the websites and blogs on the subject. Everyone promised me I would lose weight. As yet I haven’t. I was told I would have bags of energy but I don’t. I still wake up feeling groggy in the mornings. My dream of leaping out of bed like I am in a yoghurt advert has yet to transpire. Though I really wish it would happen. I have eaten healthily and slept like a log. I have done lots of walking and yoga and meditation. I am dosed up to the max with vitamins, iron water, B2 powder, B12 spray, St John’s wort. I have been kind to myself. I didn’t want to put myself under any pressure. Giving up alcohol was the goal and other things would have to wait. I have noticed my mind is clearer. I can finally think straight. I am making better decisions. I am losing ridiculous obsessions and self-sabotaging behaviours. I still don’t really know why I used to drink so much but I am finding out about myself. I read somewhere it takes a a year for the mind to really heal and re-porogram itself. I am hoping the good feelings will continue.

At the moment I have a feeling of well being and the dog tiredness is starting to fade. I hope I can continue the good work and rediscover myself.

Book Review: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I very much enjoyed this book. It opens with Elizabeth Gilbert lying on her bathroom floor in her New York apartment in despair about her marriage. She appears to have everything: a successful writing career, a Manhattan apartment, a country house and a supportive husband. She is deeply unhappy. After a messy and stressful divorce she starts a voyage of self discovery by taking a year off to travel. She begins in Italy where she eats and drinks to excess and meets a lovely Italian family.Eating is the first part of healing herself as she leaves her skinny New York figure behind. Then she travels to India to stay in an ashram. This was my favourite part of the book. At first Elizabeth finds meditation really challenging but she masters the art and has an amazing metaphysical experience. Finally she travels to Bali and learns wisdom from a traditional medicine man. Here she learns about balance and learns to combine the different aspects of her personality. She falls in love with a handsome older Brazilian man so there is even the fairy tale happy ending.

I felt a kinship with Elizabeth though she is a much richer, prettier and more confident version of me. The book is a breeze to read and often very funny. I loved how candid she is about how she feels and sitting here in cynical Britain it was refreshing to read someone talking about their personal search for God so candidly. There are no new truths here as everything can be found in spiritual texts already of course but this take on it was great fun aswell as enlightening.

I found the book quite inspirational. Maybe I’ll be taking a spiritual trip sometime soon.