When I first started teaching, I loved my job. I woke up every single morning, feeling grateful for having the opportunity to work with so many students and for having the chance to impact their lives. I went out of my way to help my students in every way possible. I have accompanied students to the hospital/clinic, I have had to go to the police station for students, and I have spent hours and hours trying to track down students who ran away from home. There were weeks where I would be in school from 7am to 7pm, and then go home to continue with work. After a while, to be specific, after about 4 years, I found myself losing steam. I no longer had the energy to give it all. I could no longer deal with constantly thinking about work, be it lessons, marking, about the welfare of the students or various other committee/cca work. I started going home earlier. I started imposing cut-off times for myself (i.e. if I am unable to finish the work by 5pm, it is just too much work). I started resenting myself for not being as dedicated as I was in the first few years of teaching. I constantly compared myself to what I was like 4 years ago, and felt that I had become so much more cynical.
That is when I decided I needed to get out. Perhaps not leave teaching forever, but to take a break, maybe from the school, or perhaps from teaching itself. For the next 3 years, I tried and tried and tried to get out. I wanted to stay within the ministry, but for various reasons (which I shall not bore you with), it never materialised. The harder it was to leave the school, the more I wanted to. Finally, last year June, I got a posting of my choice. I was ecstatic. I never gave much of a thought to my last week in school, assuming that I would be nothing but happy.
Today is the last day of the term, and my last day as a teacher for the next 3 years. I have spent the past few days feeling really down, and somehow, I do not feel as relieved or euphoric as I thought I would.
Rather, I feel a huge sense of loss. While I am glad I am leaving, because I do need the break, I am angry with myself for having allowed things to reach this stage. Where I placed so many unrealistic expectations on myself, to the point where I almost burnt out a mere 4 years into the service.
Will I be happy in HQ? Hopefully yes. Will I enjoy my work? Likely. I know I will enjoy writing papers, doing research, having an insight into curriculum policy. But will I miss teaching?
If I could go back in time, and give myself advice as a beginning teacher, I would tell myself that it is possible to be a good teacher without losing yourself. Having a work-life balance is not a luxury or something that happens during the holidays. It is a necessity that allows you to remain sane. It is something that one needs to demand relentlessly, till it is achieved.
When I do go back to teaching in 3 years, this is what I will constantly remind myself of. So that I won’t ever desperately need to take a break.
Meanwhile, I have so many amazing memories that I have of the past 7 years, that I will always cherish and hold close to my heart.
Memories of colleagues who have become friends and family. I am not just surrounded by people I work with, but by people who genuinely care and show so much of love and concern. They have been through the best and the worst with me, and I know that when the going gets tough in the classroom, I just need to go back to the staffroom, and all will be ok with the world again. They have been with me through the whole process of planning for my wedding, and through all the madness of it all. They have shown me an unbelievable amount of care when I was sick non-stop for the first 3 months of this year. There were days when I would come to my table to find everything from medicines, to cooling water to healthy breakfasts, to delicious home-cooked meals, to bottles of Nutella to little gifts. We don’t do random gifts here, no we don’t. There is always so much of thought put into every little gift, and it is almost always elephants, or something else that I love. They have been so forgiving of my faults, been so patient with my short temper, and been so encouraging of my endeavours, and have been a huge source of comfort all the time.
Memories of students. My students have taught me a lot more than I could have ever possibly taught them in the classroom. Especially my first batch of students. The lessons I have taught them will be forgotten once their exams are over, but the lessons I have learnt from them, on how to be a better person will never be forgotten. I have taught thousands of students of the years, and they come from so many walks of life. I hold a special place in my heart for the ones from struggling families, because I have learnt so much about resilience from them. I will also never forget the arrogant ones, the demanding ones, for they have also made me realised how much work we all have left to do, to create a generation of good hearted people. Sometimes, I allow these students to make me dread stepping into the classroom. I often make the mistake of forgetting about the students who make all the effort worthwhile. The ones who send random thank you messages for no reason, the ones who remember you despite having graduated batches ago. The ones who promise you they will work hard, and stick to their word. The ones who liven up the classroom with their sense of humour. The ones who are fiercely protective of their teachers. The ones who use what little pocket money they have painstakingly saved, and make little cards or buy little trinkets to show their appreciation. The ones with dirty shoes and un-ironed uniforms, who tug at your heartstrings, and make you worry. The ones who are always sitting alone in the classroom during recess, because they don’t have money to eat. The ones who seek too much attention, and make you wonder why. The ones who have so much love to give.
I feel a sense of loss, for I will miss out on creating so many more beautiful memories with these people. But as I type this out, I feel so grateful, because I have been abundantly blessed with memories no one can ever take away from me. These memories will lift me up when I am down, and they will keep me company during lonely days in an office cubicle.
They will remind me that this is not good bye.
This article first appeared on Chronicles of A Singaporean Indian Girl on May 27 2016. It is reproduced with permission.
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