After two and a half years teaching at Homestead Senior, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life–to leave.
Why I decided to leave? I still can’t logically explain it. Nothing was wrong. I had the best students, the best administration, I was doing so much, getting kids to learn, to invest in their education, to express themselves through art, to showcase their talent. I was doing everything a TFA teacher dreams of ever accomplishing.
The problem was, I wasn’t at my best.
I wasn’t happy.
And at first I felt like such a failure for wanting to leave teaching. Teaching used to give me such life, joy, and purpose. I had made a commitment to these kids. To empower them to fight against the social injustice plaguing their communities. I had preached many a off topic lessons about putting your education first and to never give up. I had first-handedly seen these kids transform because for the first time, they believed in themselves. Right then and there, I felt like a huge hypocrite. How can I convince students to stay in school if I, myself, was leaving? I felt like I was letting everyone down, my students, my administration, my family, myself.
I lived my whole life wanting to serve others, not because I wanted them to like me, but because from the bottom of my heart, I want to make people happy. I wanted to make their lives a little easier even if it meant complicating mine. I wanted to love on those who society deems unlovable. I wanted to tell those who’ve been hurt and broken that they are loved for their brokenness, not despite of them. I wanted to help carry their pain just so they wouldn’t feel so alone. Doing all these things satisfied my heart because my heart is for people.
But, somewhere along the way, I forgot to take care of my own heart.
And silently, I struggled, not wanting to admit it. Not wanting to let go of the legacy I had built. Every day I showed up with a forced smile, falsely motivating students to love a topic I didn’t even love. And though I never loved geometry my first two years of teaching it, something about this year was different. Teaching became teaching which isn’t teaching at all. But though many were fooled by my false display of hope and joy, I wasn’t. My entire being was telling me to get out. There was a stirring in my soul, a new calling that I knew wasn’t in Miami. And everyday I stayed, I felt like my soul languished a little more.
In the midst of my breakdown, my younger brother told me these wise words, “you have to distinguish between moving on and giving up”.
And that was when I knew. I wasn’t giving up because I could’ve done that a long time ago. I wasn’t giving up because I had already poured my heart and soul into this school and my students. I wasn’t giving up because I wasn’t capable. I was moving on because my job was already done. I’ve influenced the most people I’ve ever influenced in my entire life. I’ve learned more than I have ever learned. And I have loved harder than what I thought was possible.
I’m 25 years old, almost 26. And in the depths of my heart, I still harbor my greatest dreams. It’s my students who have helped me realize that I needed to pursue these dreams. That I need to follow my heart.
And it is scary.
I remember telling myself (yes, I do talk to myself sometimes), “I’m not one of those people who just drops everything to pursue their dream of being a musician, or xyz.” But then when I think about it. I am THAT person. Maybe some people see that as selfish, illogical, and irresponsible. And in a way, they’re right. But I can also tell you that those very people probably will never have the courage to follow their hearts. To want something so badly that they will drop everything to follow it. I call that courage, drive, and sacrifice.
If we let the fear of what others think keep us from being who we are and doing what we want to do, we will never live. And isn’t that what life is really about–to live? Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Don’t be afraid to fall. Don’t be afraid to go against our socially constructed norm. Because if you really want to stand out, you gotta go against this crowd. And yes, it will hurt. Yes, you might question yourself. But that’s okay. Every heart break only makes you stronger. Like how muscles need to tear to grow, so too your heart.
I still don’t have all the answers. Yes, it is frustrating and annoying. But self-discovery is a journey, not a race. It’s like in the movie, “Stand and Deliver” (I know, very TFA-ish), when the teacher is so fed up with the students’ wrong answer, he goes, “What’s wrong with you? It’s like you’re a blind man, looking in a dark room, for a black cat, that isn’t there.” That’s me right now. The only difference is, I’m not using my eyes to see. I’m using my heart.