Orange Is the New Green: The Night I Realized I Needed to Step Away From Teaching

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A man rests beneath an apple tree. Suddenly, he is beaned on the head by a falling apple.  Eureka! He formulates the law of gravity.

A woman glimpses key scenes of a popular Netflix series. Suddenly, she is stabbed in the gut by a provocative Orange. Eureka! She formulates a plan to save her sanity.

The most gratifying moments of my career in education have been when I’ve witnessed students’ eyes light up after struggling to master a skill or apply a concept, often after days or weeks of frustration and uncertainty: those “eureka” moments that remind me why I teach.

In one unexpected flash of insight, students unearth an idea or revelation previously mired under strata of confusion and chagrin, and they find confidence as they realize the significance and implications of their discovery.

One night last fall offered a moment like that for me. My husband and I had assumed our standard positions after dinner: he and I on either end of the couch with our dog, Dash, asleep between us. He was watching an episode of “Orange Is the New Black” as I applied myself to my email inbox.

Between responding to parent requests

“Mrs. Hershey, we R leaving after school 2morrow for a trip to see [my son]’s cousins in AZ for 2 wks, will U give him his homework in class 2morrow so he doesn’t fall behind, thx.”

and student inquiries

“why do i have a C in ur class??????????????? right back 2night PLZZZZ”

I looked up from my laptop to the television.



SCENE: FIVE INMATES ARE PLAYING A GAME IN THE DAYROOM, TRYING TO GUESS THE CELEBRITY BEING DESCRIBED BY THEIR PARTNER

TASTEE
(DRAWING A SLIP OF PAPER FROM A HAT)
Crazy dude–believes in aliens.

POUSSEY
Tom Cruise!

TASTEE
Yes ma’am! (SHE DRAWS ANOTHER SLIP OF PAPER)
Okay, okay. Umm, basketball. Uh, nerd glasses.

POUSSEY
LeBron!

TASTEE
Other one!

POUSSEY
D Wade!

TASTEE
Yes ma’am!

CINDY (INDIGNANT)
Man, what the —-?

TASTEE (IGNORING CINDY AND DRAWING ANOTHER SLIP OF PAPER)
Yo, chick whose husband died real young.

POUSSEY
The white Michelle Williams!

TASTEE
Yes!

SUZANNE (MONITORING THE CLOCK)
Time! You’re outta time!

TASTEE AND POUSSEY ERUPT IN CELEBRATORY DANCING AND LAUGHTER


Ah, to be one of those women, I thought. I LOVE games! Balderdash, Scattergories, Cranium, Scrabble, Charades, Pictionary…

When was the last time I had the mind space, not to mention the TIME, to sit around with friends and play games?

Those women are privileged. They are entitled to generous free time to spend with their friends without lessons to prepare on Sunday nights, without standardized tests to panic about, and without a stacked inbox of endless emails to respond to. They clock in and out of their jobs at the prison kitchen, laundry, electrical shop, commissary, or library, and they spend the rest of their time as they wish. Sigh. They have it all.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. What? “Have it all”? I recognized the emotion driving my delirious reaction: Envy.

meme

Just as soon as I identified it, it vanished, driven out by dominant waves of reason and logic.

But envy overwhelmed me again when I caught part of a scene later in the episode during which another inmate was reading in her cube.

Reading. A book. That she had chosen.

I tried to recall the last book I read that wasn’t a young adult novel. (Not that I don’t enjoy YA fiction, but my “Want to Read” list on Goodreads was growing at a rate that threatened to overtake my “[Have] Read” list before too long.)

I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t (twice) entertained the evil green that night. Yup: I was envious of inmates in a federal correctional facility.

And that, friends, was the night I knew I needed to act boldly to combat the resentment, anger, frustration, anxiety, and inadequacy that had tormented me as a teacher. Time to step away, take a break, play a few games, and hit the library for some of those books on my “Want to Read” list.  

Eureka.


Tell me about your “eureka” moments below.

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12 Comments Add yours

  1. beth says:

    Elena-thank you so much for sharing about your brave choice.! I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. elenahershey says:

      Thank you, Bethy! So good to hear from you. I hope your teaching is going well.

      Like

  2. beandog9 says:

    Mine is not nearly so poetic. I was just fed up of compromising my values to help someone else earn a buck.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rebecca says:

    Superb Elena. I love this. I love your style. You need to write a BOOK!

    My Eureka moment was after having my first child and feeling that she needed me 24-7 and then going on that first trip out of the country. Ahhhhhh…it was like breathing again, living, being, feeling, flying…to be me, to travel, to feel to taste. Oh yes, THAT was a Eureka moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m enjoying reading your blog. My eureka moment came when Colin asked me what else I could do when I was complaining about how much I disliked my job. I’ve been working as a phone triage nurse behind and computer for the last year, and not liking any part of it. I was meant to have direct patient contact, and instead I was refilling medications and resubmitting diagnosis codes (not my only job function but a big part of my job). I told him that I’d love to be a lactation nurse. It would be the best of both worlds- still getting to work with my favorite patient population but less physically and emotionally challenging than labor and delivery. That night I went home, did some reasarch, and am currently studying to be a lactation consultant. I’m so glad to hear that you’re exploring your options and taking a much needed break. Let me know if you recommend any of the books you read!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Don Price says:

    OMG! U should B a comedy riter. U R sew talented & fune!

    But all seriousness aside, well done Ms. Hershey on this blog. Entertaining, funny, and perceptive about life.

    Dog walking date?

    My eureka moment came when Sheri looked at me & said: Don, you’re wasting your life working for the government. Go to business school and then get a real job. Funny how subtle comments can still spur one to action.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. elenahershey says:

      That Sheri is a wise one. You married well!

      (I’m still working on kicking that PF we discussed early in the summer, so a dog walk will have to wait.)

      Like

  6. Cathy Hivner says:

    The revelation that I needed a change happened over time with several life preservers being tossed my way at various times. However, there was a Eureka Moment that began it all. I had settled down for my normal evening of correcting writing pieces when the doorbell rang. There was my niece, stopping by for a rare and unexpected visit. My first thought was, “This is going to mess with my correcting schedule.” Seriously, here was my niece whom I adore and rarely get to see, and my first thought was how inconvenient her visit was. After spending two hours of laughter and relaxation with Jill, I closed the door behind her and cried. How could my first reaction to seeing her be, “How am I going to get my papers finished?” I vowed to never again let that kind of thought take precedence over people I love. Somehow I finished the papers, of course, but that is not a memory I kept. What I do remember is how much I loved the time I spent with my niece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. elenahershey says:

      I’d love to hear more about the “life preservers” sometime. I had a series of similar experiences during my parents’ weekly phone calls on Sunday nights. Because I was always anxious about preparing for the week, I was consistently curt, distracted, and completely inattentive with them. I always felt horribly guilty, but I never could find a way around it. (Regardless of WHEN they called from August through May, my level of stress was unmanageably high.)

      Like

  7. Meg says:

    Elena – you are doing what SO many of us fantasize about doing. Really rooting for you for on this year of discovery – enjoy every minute of it!!

    Like

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