After what seemed like an endless wait, I'm now officially permitted to work in the US and I have my professional educator's licence so (finally) it's high-ho and off to work I go. Having missed the start of term, permanent teaching posts are a little sparse, so for now, I'm substitute teaching in a lovely local school. The bookings came almost immediately and so far, I've taken a range of classes - from second grade music (hilarious) to twelfth grade statistics (not hilarious!) - and not exactly Shakespeare either - but it's a joy to be back in a school. There's something about corridors and classrooms that feels so like home. But as much as I'm loving being back in a professional setting, I've realised it's me, and not the students, that is having to learn the biggest lesson.
This time last year, I was teaching a subject I loved at the very highest level. I ran whole-school training sessions in improving teaching and learning, I had the title of 'Lead Teacher' and a decent salary. In my first week as a sub, I handed out worksheets and tests on subjects I knew nothing about and supervised first graders during what was a very noisy and messy lunch period - all for just above minimum wage. I couldn't help but feel a tinge of resentment. When speaking to my husband, I described it as being a hairdresser, but not being allowed to hold the scissors. So what am I learning?
Professionally, I've taken some significant steps backwards, and my pride has taken a battering. Even writing about this makes me feel ashamed to admit it, but it's part of my ex-pat experience and so I'm sharing it. Others making a similar move might find themselves in the same boat and I know I'm not alone - one of my good friends here - a trained GP - has spent the last three years doing a job that she's brilliant at, but massively over-qualified for because she cannot practice medicine in the US. Eventually, the pull of her calling got too strong and was a big factor in her family's recent decision to return to her home country.
How often in life do we find ourselves back at the beginning? How often do we have our wings clipped? And how do we cope or react when we do? The sub-coordinator at my new school very kindly tries to give me as many actual English lessons as possible so I can really support the students, but in truth, I think it's me that really benefits! And so, last week, I found myself standing in front of a freshman class teaching one of my favourite poems: Ozymandias by Percy Shelley. The theme of the poem? PRIDE! In the poem, a great Pharaoh (thought to be Rameses II) has a huge statue made in his image - an eternal reminder of his greatness. Centuries later, however, a traveler finds its crumbled remains in the desert, eroded by the sands of time - a stark reminder that nothing lasts forever - least of all, man's power. It's a warning not to take our own success too seriously.
And so, I approached my next substitute teaching assignment with a new attitude. The day began with a challenging, fast-paced lesson with a senior class on Moby Dick and American Romanticism and ended with me sitting in a rocking chair in the school library reading 'The Gingerbread Man' to first graders. The joy of literature played out in front of me from both ends of the spectrum, both classes enthralled and full of questions and me, being reminded of why I love teaching - not for glory, not for the status - those things don't last - but for the pure joy of telling stories - something the sands of time can never erode.
Perhaps, just like Ozymandias, we all need a lesson in humility once in a while. Being back in the classroom might not be all I had hoped it would be, but nothing about this last year has been; in many ways, it's been so much more and as ever, I'm looking forward to the next chapter.