I have only lived one biological life.
But I have found myself reborn multiple times: once, at 19, when I dropped out of college; again, at 20, when I returned to college as an English major; yet again, at 25, when, after pursuing entrance to a PhD program, I ultimately decided to pursue teaching high school; a fourth time at 30 when I was hired by a local public school district after struggling to make ends meet for 4 years on a private school salary; again at 32, when I started lifting weights and was literally awakened to the capabilities of my physical body; and once more, at 35, when I realized that I needed to step away from teaching to pursue other interests.
Somewhere within all those reincarnations, I called myself a poet, a bookkeeper, a vegetarian, an omnivore, a scholar, a grad student, a fiction writer, an essayist, a blogger, a cook, a student, a personal trainer, a coach, a health coach, and a philosopher.
This spring, I made the decision to undergo yet another reincarnation, this time in a role with which I was already very familiar:
As a teacher.
In April, I made the decision to return to my position as a high school English teacher for this upcoming school year.
I subsequently resigned from my position with a local health insurance company — in fact, last week was my last week working there.
And like every reincarnation I have been through, I am excited and nervous to make this transition.
I mentioned the work I was doing as a health coach on this blog a few times; in fact, several recent posts, like this one, and this one, were born from my recent work in behavior change and health coaching. This work was work that made me feel like I was doing something good — like I was helping people who needed the help.
But there’s been something pulling at my commitment to that health coaching work for a while, and teaching was always in the back of my mind. It wasn’t that I was constantly thinking about going back to teaching, exactly, though I found myself consciously considering that question more every day.
What was pulling me back about teaching was something more intangible, something I couldn’t really put into words.
Until I was sitting at my desk in my office downtown one Friday, and I turned to my left to see this old newspaper clipping on my pegboard:
(You can read the entire piece here, if you like.)
That newspaper clipping hung next to my desk at the private school where I taught for the first 4 years of my career. It then hung next to my desk at the public school where I taught for the next 5 years. It even followed me to my desk at the insurance company, where it has been for the last year.
So the idea of teaching — even when I wasn’t a teacher — literally never left my side.
That Friday, when I turned to my left and reread that newspaper clipping for what seemed like the millionth time, I knew why I hadn’t been able to articulate my thoughts about teaching, despite the fact that I thought about it every day.
I was afraid that articulating something definitive about it, and returning to it, meant that I was moving backward, rather than forward, in some way.
Don’t mistake what I mean by this — I do not mean that taking time away from teaching was a mistake.
But going back is hard. And there were things about teaching that I was struggling with, terribly, when I left. I felt like I was investing so much of myself — my time, my energy, my emotional capacity — to my teaching that I didn’t have the ability to invest myself in other areas of my life.
And I am most certainly the kind of person who invests herself in everything she does. It isn’t worth doing, in my mind, if I cannot do it wholeheartedly.
That devotion to what I do most certainly played into my decision to leave teaching as well — leaving was the hardest decision I ever made.
But I recognized, after rereading that newspaper clipping, that I had unfinished business as a teacher, unfinished business that trumped my fear of returning. And that business wasn’t with students, or colleagues, or administrators, or even the literature I would be teaching.
No, that unfinished business was with me.
My identity, for the last 10+ years, has been wrapped up in the word “teacher” in every way possible. I taught students, yes, but I also found that my teacher identity was one that leaked into everything else I did.
As a blogger, as a trainer, as a coach, even as a partner, I am, at my core, a teacher.
NOT being a teacher for the last two years has left me with an odd sense of identity — it’s no secret, nor a coincidence, that my struggle with food and weight happened concurrently with my decision to leave teaching. That’s why I wrote this post. And this one.
And no matter who you THINK the intended audience of this post is, I’m pretty sure I wrote it for ME.
So the decision to go back to teaching, despite all my resistance to even thinking about it, turned out to be the easiest one I’ve ever made.
Because it’s who I am.
And knowing that is both a relief and a rebirth.
I am ME again.
And no matter how many other “lives” I have lived, no matter what I called myself during those lives — poet, coach, trainer, or otherwise — they all fall under the only name that matters:
Me, Kristen, the teacher.
That’s a name, and a rebirth, worth living.