Welcome to my Second Acts Series!
Today, we have Gwen Stephens chatting about her transition from the classroom to a perfect (but temporary) second act.
Ask a young child what she wants to be when she grows up and the answer may surprise and amuse you. Princess, baker, dermatologist, Olympic gymnast, and Hollywood stunt double are some of the future careers my girls have dreamed up over the years. My imagination rarely stretched this far when I was a kid. From an early age I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and my sights never wavered.
But in my working class, inner city neighborhood, higher education was regarded as something other people did. College was reserved for the elite – rich kids, great athletes, the academically gifted. Fortunately I married a guy whose vision extended beyond the confines of the old neighborhood. He encouraged me to follow my dreams, and as soon as it was financially possible, I earned my teaching degree.
Throughout the course of my career, I’ve worked everywhere from the gang-infested inner city to upper-middle class suburbia. What I’ve learned is regardless of life’s challenges, children at their heart are remarkably similar. They all need love and trusted adults to guide them, instill confidence, and believe in their abilities. It’s what I’ve tried to do with each student in every class I’ve taught.
What I never expected was how truly difficult the profession would be. The work is physically and emotionally exhausting, and as I gradually discovered, it never gets easier. Those challenges compounded when I had children of my own. Trying to be a good teacher and a good mother at the same time seemed an impossible feat. Something had to give, and for a long time it was my family.
My decision to resign from classroom teaching was not reached easily. I loved my job, and years of hard work had earned me the respect of colleagues and the community. But ultimately I loved my daughters more, and they deserved a better mom.
My Second Act began in 2011 when the ideal opportunity came along: a part-time position in the same school, working just four hours a day. In my view it was the perfect “Mom Job,” so I decided to snap it up and call myself a Lunch Lady.
Friends and colleagues thought I’d lost my mind, yet this job is one of the best I’ve had. My team includes five other 40-something moms who are also on career hiatus for the sake of the family. We supervise the lunchroom and playground for each grade level’s daily recess. There’s almost no stress. I get to spend my workday outdoors. And I still have daily interaction with students.
Probably best of all has been the difference in my home life. A much more relaxed Mom has had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the family. Home cooked meals have replaced pre-packaged convenience foods. I’m able to help with homework and drive carpools. The extra time in my day allows me to pursue my interest in writing and participate in neighborhood book clubs. I know how lucky I am, and every day I’m grateful for my good fortune.
Returning to the teaching profession is a question of when and not if. It’s my true calling, and I can’t imagine myself in any other career. Someday when my children are grown and I can devote myself entirely to the demands of the job, I’ll go back to the classroom. Until then, I’m making the most of each day with my kids, because it’s time I’ll never get back.
Visit Gwen at her website.
Gwen, I applaud your decision to take a “Mom Job” and devote more time and energy to your family and creative pursuits. Best of luck with your writing.