Why Leaving My Teaching Job Was the Hardest Decision Since My Diagnosis
Teaching is my calling. I’ll never forget my years as a paraprofessional because I always wanted to be the teacher. Each teacher inspired me in different ways, and in August 2018 I finally became a special education teacher. I always saw the possibilities of students with disabilities. They are my heart and soul, and I will spend my life showcasing their strengths, not their deficits.
My first year of teaching was amazing. I thrived under pressure and loved every second of it until May came around, and I started throwing up.
My first summer off as a teacher was hell. I pictured myself bathing in the hot sun enjoying my fair share of piña coladas, and instead I spent most of the summer in cold ER rooms with confused doctors. I had a severe migraine the entire summer, couldn’t eat or see in one eye and spent the majority of my time throwing up or crying. Most teachers don’t want summer to end, but I couldn’t wait for it to be over. When August 2019 started, I threw up for a week and in September, I was symptom-free eager to teach my second year and put the roller-coaster months behind me.
The roller-coaster wasn’t over. When mid-October rolled around, I experienced a month-long migraine, went half-blind again, and ended up in the hospital for a week. I was finally diagnosed with Devic’s disease (or NMO) after my MRI scans showed lesions of the brain, severe inflammation behind my eye, and positive blood results. NMO mainly affects the spinal cord and the optic nerves – the nerves that carry signals from the eyes to the brain. As a result, the disease can cause paralysis and blindness.
Though enduring this disease is truly one of the most difficult and painful things I’ve ever faced, sometimes pain isn’t always the worst part about chronic-illness.
My illness has left me feeling inadequate as a teacher. The time I missed from work was time stolen with my students that I’ll never get back. I started to forget my students laugh and missed the warmth their hugs brought to my heart.
I started a chemotherapy treatment called Soliris and though it has prevented another attack, it has made me weak no matter how much I’ve changed my nutrition. I felt horrible day after day by how much time I missed and not being there for my students. So with a broken heart, I had to say goodbye to them and a school that became instant family.
They became the kind of family that when I had a mental breakdown nearing a panic attack on the floor of my classroom, my assistant principal was by my side in a minute holding my hand trying to get me to deep breathe. It was those moments that kept me holding on until the end.
The thing about being a teacher with a chronic-illness is that you have to learn when you’ve done your part, and when it’s time for someone else to step in to give your students the best education possible.
There comes a point when you realize your students deserve better than what they’re getting from you, no matter how much you will miss them. Yes, I miss their smiles, their questions, their struggles and their aha moments. Every time I packed up something in my classroom, my heart stung. My student’s tears became my tears, and those last few days wrecked me. I pray the next teacher sees just how unique and wonderful each of them are.
I know I can’t control what this disease does to me, the side effects from treatment, or the fact that I am visually impaired, but deep down, I know I can give so much more and this is why I left. Right now, I’m in the thick of this disease figuring out what works and what doesn’t — and I need to rest. For now, I’ll sub in the district I live in on the days I feel strong and rest on the days I can’t, and hope for disability benefits.
I’ll continue to trust in God’s timing and when he thinks I’m strong enough to have my own classroom again. The prior hour drive weakened me before I even made it to work. I dragged daily, barely able to pull one foot in front of the other and it showed. Feeling embarrassment while walking the hallways was inevitable.
And so, I will wait. I will heal. I will be strong for the students in my future because they will deserve no less.
I know color will come soon where there is a whole lot of grey.
I know I will be Mrs. Wall again.
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