Fifth Occurrence: Age 24
The Preliminary Situation
After graduating college with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2007, I had applied and been accepted to the same college for a Masters degree in Middle-Grades Education. The degree track I was on promised to take you from "newbie" to "full-fledged teacher" in two years, with 2 fall semesters, 2 spring semesters, and one summer session.
I fairly easily completed the first year of this program and was well on my way to finishing the program the next year with honors. Add to that the fact that I had begun a relationship in the spring of 2008 with the gaming buddy/college professor I had begun to court in 2007, and life was looking pretty good.
Well, except for the fact that I couldnít control the middle school classroom I taught in.
My ability to educate was just fine. My skills in planning, discipline, and logistics, however, were abysmal. I wanted to be the "nice teacher" that all the students liked and obeyed without having to be coerced--Iím a pleaser by nature, after all--and in pursuit of that goal, I was not firm with the kids when I needed to be. Plus, Iím not organized, and I suspect that my latent ADHD was rearing its ugly head even then. As a result, the students got rowdier and more disruptive the further along in the semester I went.
My evaluator, who came to observe me teaching several times, was very hard on me and yet was also utterly unhelpful. He insisted that I was "teaching fluff" (despite the fact that I SAW the students learning under my tutelage), and that I would need to "change myself" to be a better teacher. I simply could not bring myself to be as mean as he wanted me to be, and I hated the uncreative prewritten lesson plans that the school system had to follow. But I tried to be firmer with the students and work within the tiny box proscribed around me as a teacher. But my only rewards were more disruptions and more stress, and my evaluator continued to blame me without really instructing me as to what I could do to fix the problem.
Depression Floods In
By the end of 2008, I had put in 200 hours of internship in the classroom, double the amount needed for my school internship, because my evaluator said I "needed the practice." Nothing prepared me, however, for student teaching, which began in the spring of 2009, and put me on a two-month journey straight to hell.
Beginning in January 2009, I worked from 7:45 am-3:35 pm as a teacher, and then usually attended evening classes (2-3 days a week) from 5:00 pm to 7:50 pm. Then I came home and graded papers until around 3 or 4 in the morning (usually crying). I averaged two hours of sleep per night, had little to no real contact with my roommates, friends, or family, had no mental time to breathe, and my physical reserves of energy sorely needed a recharge, putting it mildly. I could have possibly handled student teaching by itself, or my masters' degree stuff by itself, but the two combined was an impossible workload, and the endless paper-grading just added insult to injury.
My schoolwork in my evening classes began to suffer, as did my lesson plans; I found myself driving 2 1/2 hours home and back on the weekends to see my boyfriend, my steady, stable breath of air, just to try to keep myself sane. I had such severe problems with a couple of students that I ended up either crying or screaming at them in the classroom. (The cherry on top of this train wreck of a situation: my evaluator witnessed me go pretty much batpoo crazy on one student, and APPLAUDED me for "finally finding my classroom management style." WHAT?)
Trapped in this pressure cooker of an environment, 140 miles from the love of family, friends, and my beloved, I came about as close to insanity as I ever had. My existence was nonstop work and a feeling of tumbling over and over in a never-ending avalanche. Death looked like an oasis in comparison; I began to even fantasize about running off the road and hitting a telephone pole just so I wouldn't have to go into work.
The Storm Breaks
One evening, I sat on the end of my bed, staring at the tall pile of student work I had to grade, and the equally-tall pile of work I had to somehow squish into my masters' portfolio in the next few hours. I remember thinking: "I might as well kill myself, I'll never get it all done." That was how low I had sunk into despair--my situation looked so hopeless that death seemed like the only escape.
Then, in the dimness of the empty apartment, I very clearly heard someone else say: "Why do you want to kill yourself over a piece of paper?" No one else was in the apartment, nor was anyone outside or in the apartments nearby, but the sentence definitely came from outside me***, and it was far more reasonable than my own thoughts!
This simple question jolted me out of the downward spiral I had been locked in; why did I continue to pursue this teaching degree, this "piece of paper" that I would almost certainly never use? Why was I so stuck on it, when the pursuit of it was only causing me and my students misery?
I had to come to two hard realizations in the next few minutes. One: I was a good educator, but I was not meant for public school teaching. Two: I was no longer the objective, firm adult that the middle-school students needed. Both realizations pointed me in the only direction I could go now: OUT. OUT of my student teaching, OUT of the Masters' degree program, OUT of Greensboro and back home. I didn't have to die to escape this self-created hell, but I did have to leave the situation, go home, and heal.
Healing--in All Ways
I was home recuperating within a week of this incident; my supervisor and cooperating teacher helped me exit the classroom environment gracefully, leaving on Valentine's Day of 2009 (a Friday afternoon), and I officially withdrew from the Masters' program a few days later. It was not what I'd planned, not what I hoped for, but it was absolute relief coming through my own front door knowing I never had to teach another class again.
For about five months, I hid from the world, healing from the intense stress, enduring frequent nightmares and occasionally some flashbacks (though I was never diagnosed with PTSD or anything similar). I did make lots of time to see and talk to friends and family, but I did not do anything else unless I felt able to do so. My mother and father were instrumental in supporting me during this time, as there was no way I could hold a steady job at the time. Other than going to church and singing in the choir, that was pretty much my life.
In early June, I went back to my apartment in Greensboro to officially clean it out, since I'd only packed the necessities (clothes, computer, etc.) to come home the first time in February. But while packing up and cleaning, I realized I had accidentally kept a textbook from the middle school, and so I arranged to come back to the middle school on June 15th, 5 days after school closed, to return it. However, when I arrived at the school building on June 15th, I discovered that because of the many snow days throughout the spring of 2009, I had arrived on the last day of school, and all the students were still there!!
I almost turned around and went home. I didn't want to face that classroom full of kids; I didn't want to have to explain myself. But I'd come 140 miles and I wasn't about to waste that gas or keep a book that needed to be returned. Racked with nerves, I approached the seventh-grade classroom which had witnessed my utter failure as a teacher (and as a human being, I thought at the time). It sounded like the class was watching a movie, so I thought I might knock and talk to my cooperating teacher outside the classroom. But when no one came to the door, I tried the doorknob and let myself into the darkened classroom.
The kids were all glued to the screen of the wall-mounted TV that hung on one side of the classroom, so I tiptoed across the front of the room, about to lay the book on my cooperating teacher's desk. She nodded at me, silently; I thought my entrance had been unmarked. Then, from the back of the room, one student suddenly cried: "OH MY GOD! IT'S MISS ALLISON!"
A giant cheer erupted from the classful of students, and several of them ran up to the front and mobbed me with hugs. The "last day of school movie" was paused as I explained (carefully) what I'd been doing with myself the last few months--my cooperating teacher and I had agreed, when I left student teaching, that it was best to tell the students that I had experienced a personal emergency and had to return home. (It was the closest to the truth without making them feel guilty or scared.) But aside from these few curious questions, the kids were overjoyed to see me. The love outpouring from them as they all spoke to me made me so teary I could barely talk...and in those moments I realized that my teaching had not been a total failure. By some miracle, I had impacted these kids' lives positively, rather than wrecking their school experience with my incompetence as I had so feared.
The End of the Fifth Cycle
It took quite a while to fully heal and come back to myself, even after the wonderful June surprise. But at last, in 2012, I began to feel normal again, especially after recovering from severe headaches and wisdom tooth surgery in 2011. And, excepting a few minor hiccups, that's how it's been up till the present time.
***: I have since come to believe that what I experienced was the "still, small voice of God," considering that this audible sentence halted my suicidal thoughts and helped me "snap out of" a lot of my self-hatred and anxiety. Some readers may believe that this was a hallucination or delusion, and that is quite possible, but in my experience, hallucinations and delusions are almost always negative and fear-laden, and this event was profoundly positive and brought a sense of peace.