My First Colossal Failure & My Supportive Spouse Overseas

***This post belongs to the series True Stories of Real Army Wives. A new chapter appears each Monday morning on storiesofourboys.com.***

My First Great Failure & My Supportive Spouse Overseas

 

My last post was about how miserable I was as a teacher. Alan must have called me the morning after my first or second day of teaching from Iraq.

What he wrote in response to my hardship is one of the most touching, empathetic, heartfelt letters I have ever read. No, he wasn’t physically there, and yet with this letter you can see how he was still obviously there for me when I needed him most.

Tues., 19 Aug., 2003

6:35 am

April,

I love you, April. I just got off the phone with you, and I’m bursting with feelings of grief, sorrow, sympathy….things I’ve never felt so strongly for anyone else before…only myself!!! April, I hurt so bad for you right now, but indeed, I am giving it all to God RIGHT NOW, our Rock, our Fortress, our Comforter, our Lord.

Oh, April, how I wish there were something I could do, there! Aaaugh!!!

But what this has done is it has forced me to go to my knees and begin this battle by asking for help where the most help will come from!

April, I know you can do it (teach) and do it EXTREMELY well….However, enjoying it is a completely different story! April, if it’s still this bad by the time you get this letter then I have no problem with you quitting.

When you feel bad, it really makes me feel sick at my stomach….literally. And when you said you’ve been too stressed out to eat all day long, I could have cried! Now I don’t have an appetite!

Oh, April, I just love you so, so much. I want so badly to be there with you. God knew this was coming all along just like he saw everything coming that’s happened over here. He wants us to turn to Him for strength! He loves us so much more than we can even imagine!

Oh, April, I love you so much. I feel so terrible, but I know God will get us through this and when it’s passed, the three of us will all be that much closer!

1 Peter 5:7   “Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.”

April, I love you…and I am praying for you harder than ever!

Always Yours,

Alan

 

*******

Y’all must think I am pathetically weak to fall apart at such a thing as having a job that I hated. Ha! That’s how it felt at the time though.

Alan took this trial on as his own, not just as mine, even though we were oceans apart. That’s how you support your spouse from overseas. He never once downplayed my unhappiness, even though he was in a WAR zone, and I was simply unhappy at work.

I forged through the first four weeks of teaching.

There was the day I even got to work so early, I set off the school alarm and caused all sorts of trouble. But gracious, why did they give me a key if I also needed an alarm code!?

There were parent/teacher conferences where I faked “happy teacher” as well as I possibly could.

I was an emotional mess. I lost 20 pounds and got down to a pitiful-looking 110 pounds, on a 5 foot 6 frame.

During this time, three soldiers from Alan’s unit, 4-42 Field Artillery, were killed in action in Iraq.

Up until this point, I’d built Alan’s Iraqi world in my mind as not a super dangerous place. This wasn’t anything like the Vietnam War, I figured. Alan was hooking up utilities and working with the Mayor’s office of Ad Dwar. He worked with the local civilians, so he must be okay, right?

Then came the three deaths, and these weren’t faceless names on the news. These were men in our very own unit. Reality once again nudged at me with a pitchfork. “Wake up, April, your husband is in combat. That’s why he gets “hazardous duty” pay. This is real, and anyone you know, including Alan, could be next.”

I didn’t say much about that to anyone, I stuffed my feelings inside…

only to let them come roaring to a head when children in my class made fun of the pledge and danced around making faces and wouldn’t stand up straight and put their hand over their heart.

That was it, the proverbial final straw. I was leading my 3rd and 4th graders in the pledge, and THAT KID kept goofing off and disrespecting the flag, the teacher, the country, in my mind everything, and of course, it had to be the very kid whose mother was constantly bothering me. (Look, I still treated him very nicely. I was professional, but this day his behavior set me over the edge that I was already falling off of.)

So what did I do?…..Well, I went on a tirade, giving the offending boy, his buddies around him, and the entire class, a very thorough lesson on the reason we say the pledge with respect. I reminded them that many of their mothers and fathers, and step-fathers, and cousins, and my husband were overseas fighting for us, and the least we could do was show proper respect. They were passionately instructed on sacrifices made during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. I exalted the importance of respect in general.

The class was silent and wide-eyed. They were like 10. What did they know?

It wasn’t really them I was losing it with. It was me, it was the world, it was everything. That morning I had a high school student in my classroom as a teacher’s assistant. I instructed her to watch the class, and I fled to the bathroom to cry and get my act together.

I stared at my sleep-deprived, red, mascara-streaked, freckle-covered, miserable face in the bathroom mirror. “What kind of a teacher am I? I have got to get out of this!”

Soon after, the administration announced that it was time for us to sign our contracts.

My mind reeled.

Then the moment came. Mrs. W. asked me to come by her office to sign my contract, and I had to tell her.

Mrs. W. was the principal’s wife, but she was also the assistant principal. She was an adorably cute but commanding and accomplished, small African-American woman with super curly hair. If she had asked me to please stay, I might have caved, as she was such a great leader. I looked up to her. It was humiliating to have to confess this to her.

“I can’t sign the contract because…because I don’t think I can finish this job and stay here all year.”

Mrs. W. looked so surprised.

Cue the waterworks. I tried not to cry, but there was no stopping them.

“This is so hard for me to quit, admitting defeat, and leaving these children with no teacher, but this job is too much for me. I cannot do this. I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to admit this. You know Chelsea?”

“Yes, Chelsea, yes,” she listened intently. I know she was in shock. They all seemed to think I was doing just fine.

Chelsea was a student in my class, well known for being capable and working hard. Her mother also supported her well.

“I was Chelsea. I was that girl. Success mostly came easily, and now here I am, and this is it for me. This is my first time to completely fail at something.”

“Oh,” she said, and she said other things, motivating things, and she asked me to please sleep on it, but I knew there was no turning back. I put in my 2 weeks’ notice.

I wanted out of this job as much as you’d want to escape a 0 degree dungeon infested with rats and cockroaches. Teaching was so very not a match for me.

**********

The first week of my notice, I still struggled to get out of bed and go to school. One day I called in sick with a “migraine.” I didn’t have a migraine. I had a bad-life-choices-hangover, the kind you get from regret and confusion.

I felt guilty from lying about the migraine, so I went to work all the other days of my notice.  People there were kind. A replacement followed me around that last week.

She leveled with me, “Why are you leaving? You’re doing great. You should stay.”

I began to actually consider it. That last week wasn’t so bad. Some things actually started to click. It was week 6. My LD kid was learning his own spelling words and reading his own beginner books. Maybe I was making a mistake. Maybe I should stay.

I came in the Saturday after my last day to finalize the 6 weeks’ grades for the report cards. Mr. and Mrs. W. were there going through my class’ papers too.

Mrs. W. talked as she sorted, “All of the assessments are here, April. This is good. You know, we didn’t really believe that you’d quit. We thought you’d change your mind and come in Monday.”

Ever so young and dumb, and still excited about not being a teacher anymore, I didn’t get the hint. She was totally giving me another chance to stay. Perhaps I should have taken it.

I’ve always wondered if I made the right decision that year.

Did I just quit when things got hard? Yes. Yes, in the career realm that is EXACTLY what I did, which sounds weak, wrong, and disappointing.

I re-hashed that decision in my mind for years, but the thing is you can’t go back and fix the past. What would it have been like had I stuck it out, and why didn’t I??

Looking back now, I see so many different things going on. I was immature, and my deal-with-it- tank was already full from the moving away from home and sending my husband overseas in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

There was nothing more anyone could have done for me. It was simply more than I felt I could handle at the time, and I have to make my peace with that and move on. Could I handle that job now, at 36? Yes, it would still be hard, but not the horrible misery it was at 22.

But that’s the thing about the past.

Our mistakes and failures are what make us sweeter, humbler, more merciful people, and sometimes also tougher, more dependable people, so long as we learn from them. I regretted quitting mid-year so much that I have been loathe to ever quit mid-stream again in anything.

You accept the past for what it is and learn from it all that you can.

 

 

 

 

Miserable Teaching with 20 boys & the Toothless Wonder

20 boys and the toothless wonder. story of my first week of teaching

***This post is part of the Real Army Wives series, which runs every Monday on storiesofourboys.com. For last week’s chapter click here.***

Sunday, Aug. 17, 2003

Oh, Alan,

I missed you the MOST today!

We had “Back to School” night, where we meet the parents. Everything was fine except instead of 22, I now have 25, and also this grandparent with two children in my class stayed after and basically threatened me.

Yeah. This ignorant, toothless wonder, with a strong cigarette odor about her, told me, in a menacing tone, that her kids will break all my rules, and if I get on to them too much or hurt their feelings, she will come down to the school and yell at me, and she assured me she will yell so loudly that everyone will hear. (Yes, I only wish I were kidding.)

Well, I didn’t say anything in response to that. I dryly and quietly said, “Well, hopefully we won’t have any problems. Did you see their homework folders?”

I drove away from school bawling, not just because of that one parent, but also from so many emotions. After coming home and talking to both of our mothers on the phone, I started feeling better. Then I actually got a lot of work done.

But I’m so exhausted, and I have to get up at 5:30 tomorrow. It’s 11 already, so I’m going to bed. I wish you could give me a massage tonight! I need you! I love you.

Love, April

 

Tues., Aug. 19, 2003

Alan,

Hey! This was the 2nd day of school, and I survived! It wasn’t even torture! It was fine. Yay!!!

I’m so exhausted though.

Today was SO much better. The administration has just been incredibly supportive. I had my kids write about their first day of school today, and that was very interesting. They thought they just had a fun day of school. No one said that I had no idea what I was doing or anything.

But Alan, out of 25 students, I have 20 BOYS!

I wonder if God is preparing me to have lots of sons! Oh, dear! But you know what? Out of 20 boys & 5 girls, I have already seen THREE kids cry, and they were ALL boys.

Andrew cried because he’s just whiny. Michael cried because he didn’t have his breakfast money..Oh!.. Make that 4! Chris cried because he didn’t know if he was supposed to ride the bus or not, and Matthew cried because I gave him a “warning.”

The student that really breaks my heart is my reading L.D. student, Tyler, who sits quietly in my class everyday and when asked what he wants to learn this year, he will tell you the same answer every time:

“I want to learn how to read.”

He tries so hard. Oh, it just breaks my heart. He needs one-on-one help so badly, and no one will give it to him. He is a fourth grader, the age of a fifth grader, and I wish he were spending a reading hour each day with the special ed teacher. That is what he needs, but she seems to have no plans to work with him at all.

Meanwhile, Alan, my friends and family are all being so supportive, and I’m thankful.

Most of all, I’m thankful for the prayers that you and others were saying for me. Let me tell you, God was all over my class today–all over. I have never felt such sincere gratitude towards my Heavenly Father as I do today.

And to you, Alan. Your phone call last night was on my mind all day long. You are just like one of my angels, no matter how far away you may be. I love you so much.

But it’s 10:50 pm, so I HAVE to get to bed. I love you!

Your silly wife,

April

 

I had little time to spend with my Army Wife pals during this phase, but Sarah would often show up in my classroom after school and help me get everything ready for the next day. I don’t know what I would have done without her!!

That First Week

It seemed like I couldn’t get anything right that first week. I had about three boys who were so unruly, I did not know how to keep them under control. All day I felt like I was having miniature heart attacks. I would get all worked up, my heart would pound wildly, and I’d have these adrenaline surges, but there was nothing I could do with all that energy, which left me just wanting to scream.

This was probably the beginning of my heart problem, but I did not know that then, so life without beta blockers went on..

There were two AmeriCorps workers put in my classroom to observe, or maybe to help, but I had no clue as to how to utilize their help because I was only figuring things out myself. AmeriCorps is an organization much like Peace Corps, only they work here in the U.S.

The sweet AmeriCorps lady, probably in her late 30s, reassured me day after day.

“I feel so bad for you. I know you’re struggling, but you are so nice to them. They need this. Many of them don’t have anyone like you, who is sweet to them. Don’t be discouraged.”

That was true, and it should have been encouraging, but instead I felt like I was drowning in this job. I only had the AmeriCorps workers that first week. After that, they moved on to help in the high school.

There was no planning period, so I was with the children all day long. They didn’t even leave the classroom for lunch. Trays were brought to them, and they ate at their desks.

Alan had been right when he’d said I had not actually spent much time with children.

I enjoyed reading to them and even teaching wasn’t bad, but keeping order felt impossible.

From the very beginning, every single day was a countdown until summer and freedom from this misery. Why had I ever thought I wanted to teach???

Each night I’d stay at school until 6:45 or so, trying to get caught up. Then when the weekend came, I still needed to grade papers and work on lesson plans.

That first week my washing machine also quit working and flooded my kitchen completely. With my work schedule, it took me 14 hours to get it completely cleaned up.

Are there really people who love teaching? I wondered.

I was literally a square peg trying to shove myself into a round hole.

But it was only the first week. Surely things would improve, right?

When it rains, it pours.

My teacher gig did not improve much as the weeks went by. The toothless wonder turned out to not be too big of a problem since half the time she didn’t even bother to send her children to school. Naturally, their grades were suffering.

Another parent kept grilling me with questions about “the curriculum”. Gracious, I barely even knew what curriculum meant. I was making up my lesson plans as I went, which is definitely not what I figured I should tell her…This was my student teaching year! Only because Texas had a teacher shortage, I was a student teacher with no overseer, other than the assistant principal.

The Second Week

The second week of school, Mrs. Brown started sitting with my class during lunch. I was so ecstatic for this 30 minute break from the classroom!! I practically leaped into my Grand Am and sped off to the Dairy Queen for a cheeseburger, feeling like a convict being let out of prison.

Meanwhile, the phone calls from Iraq slid to a screeching halt. Casualty rates were rising, and something was going on with the phones. Almost every time Alan tried to call me, he was cut off after “Hello.” It was heart-breaking.

My neighbor, Shelby, must have been going through something too because she was screaming and cussing people out on the phone even more than usual, so I got to go to bed to the sound of that coming through my paper-thin master bedroom wall each night.

I rarely had any time to spend with my friends anymore. It felt like the lights had gone out on me, and I was suffocating and losing 5 pounds/week, when I was already considered “underweight.”

When you find a job that is your calling in life, or you’ve always known it was something you wanted to do, or you have a knack for it and enjoy the challenge, I think you are better able to handle the negatives of that job. Part of my problem was that I had no true desire to even be a teacher. I knew going into this that trying to control other people stresses me out. Managing people is not my gift.

The truth was that I never actually wanted this career in the first place.

Teaching doesn’t bother me, it’s the crowd control that was killing me, but that’s a big part of being a successful classroom teacher. I wrestled with this in my heart. I hated my job and missed my husband so much, but I had no idea what to do about it.

 

Come back next week to see how I handled this!

Click here to read last week’s chapter of this story.

 

 

 

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True Stories of Real Army Wives: My First Teaching Job

my very first teaching job. True Stories of Real Army Wives during deployment

Sun., Aug. 10, 2003

Alan,

Hey Babe! Tomorrow is my first day of work. In case you haven’t yet gotten my previous letter, I got hired by Graham Elementary School downtown yesterday! Yay!!

I’ll be making $32,000 this year. It’s a state charter school serving mostly low-income students, but it’s located in a church. Yeah, it’s different, but I’m excited about it. I’ll be teaching 3rd and 4th grade in one classroom, all subjects.

It’s going to be tough. School starts the 18th, but teachers start tomorrow. I have to be there at 9:15 am, and from now on, I have a full-time job! It’s exciting and yet terrifying at the same time.

Last night, I cooked dinner for 8, mostly our neighbors: Elsie, Cloe, Annie, Kayla, Katherine, Jay, Phan, and myself. After dinner, Jay left and all the girls stayed and talked while I cleaned up, joining them occasionally in the living room.

I’m glad you met Kayla’s husband. She’s a real sweet girl. She’s enrolled at Central Texas College.

I got those three cameras developed today. I cannot believe you managed to use up 3 cameras in 1 month. And almost all of them are landscapes! Take pics of you and your friends, geez. Just do the method we use to take pics of ourselves, hold the camera in your right hand and click. I do it.

 

my very first teaching job. True Stories of Real Army Wives during deployment

Not all of Alan’s “landscape photos” were uninteresting. This one is of the Tikrit Palace Compound, which became 4th ID Headquarters during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Alan!! I’m so nervous!! How can I be a teacher??

I’m so scared! But it did hurt my feelings in one of your letters when you said you didn’t know how I’d be with kids because you’ve never seen me with children. Hello! Kid’s Klub! And did you ever notice Laura Ellen and Matthew like me? I know you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but I couldn’t help it.

It’s so weird that I’m starting a new job tomorrow, and you don’t even know about it. I hope you call or email soon so I can tell you. I love you so much, and I hate not being able to share stuff with you. But I’ll deal.

I keep having these dreams that we’ve lost touch, and in them I’m always sad because you never call or visit.

In the dream, I’m all confused, and I don’t understand why we aren’t together. Dream April doesn’t know that you’re in Iraq. Many times you’re just in another state, but always we’ve lost touch, and I’m so hurt.

Depressing, huh? I guess my subconscious knows you’re gone, misses you, and feels abandoned, like a cat in a box on the side of the road. Ok. Ok. Sorry. I’ll stop.

I MISS YOU! I miss you so much I just want to cry! And if I keep thinking about it, I will cry, so I better move on to another topic.

Your family has been really helpful with the teaching job. Your mom and Ellen gave me lots of good ideas, which will help. I’m glad there are lots of teachers in the family.

I love you so much, Alan. Keep praying for me. The first year of teaching is super hard, but add that to the stress of a year-long deployment, and the thought is foreboding. I’m just thankful I’m a Christian. I couldn’t do anything on my strength alone. All credit is due Him.

Thank you for marrying me, Alan. If you were here, I would climb up in your lap and hug you so close and just have a good cry, while you tucked my hair behind my ears and told me everything will be okay. How I wish you were here. I know you do too.

I love you, you big stud muffin.

Forever Yours,

April

 

************

Was it a bad sign that I hadn’t even started my job yet, and already I wanted to cry?

Starting a full-time job like teaching was exhausting, and I was still trying to be a good housekeeper and a faithful friend. The funny thing is that once you have a full-time job, whether you are a man or a woman, something has to give.

No one can do ALL the things. Even without kids, we have to delegate things to give ourselves space to breathe.

When I was in high school and college, I worked, but I had certainly never been a school teacher before. To this day, I will tell you that all teachers are underpaid, and I have all the respect in the world for them!

 

***********

Tues., Aug. 12, 2003

10:48 pm

Dear Alan,

I just have too much to do to get to bed early! And I’m sleepy! But I guess you know what that’s like.

I had in-service training from 9-3. I stayed after and talked to Mrs. W. I can’t remember her name, but it starts with a W. There were so many questions I still had unanswered. Mrs. W. was very helpful, and she will be extremely easy to work for.

After work, Annie needed me to drive her to the PX so she could buy a phone card to call her fiancée, Drew, in Germany.

Then I had to drive to Copperas Cove and fill out my “I have a job” form. By the time I got home it was 4:45. I came in and changed, vacuumed the house, tidied up, and collapsed on the sofa at 5:30 or so for a brief break in which I consumed like literally 20 ounces of blue Gatorade in 2 minutes flat.

I was exhausted!

So I made myself dinner, and I was all excited about watching the Miss Teen USA pageant, but I didn’t even really get to watch it because the phone rang. It was your mom, and the call was helpful because I got some good ideas from her. Then my mom called, which was good, but they were both very long calls.

Then I had to get online and submit my application for certifications, and I got that done, and that brings me to now.

I don’t have any idea how full-time workers keep a clean house!

There is delicate laundry hanging to dry all over the place, dirty dishes in the sink, clean, unfolded laundry and school supplies everywhere! I could get much more done if the phone didn’t ring so much, but I know that it is good for me that so many people love me and want to talk to me. Even still, I did ignore three other phone calls.

Oh, Alan! I CAN’T WAIT ’til you get back! I need you! That would help my busy-ness because you can take over the laundry. You’re better at it than me anyway.

 

my very first teaching job. True Stories of Real Army Wives during deployment

Me, in teacher classes. Yes, I used to be tiny, but I promise I do have a right arm. That was an odd angle.

 

I also learned more about the school and my room today. This school is fine arts oriented. Many children miss out on opportunities for piano, dance, those types of lessons because their parents can’t afford it, like when I was little. I wanted to take dance but couldn’t because it was too expensive.

This school has several fine arts teachers to provide those services. They have chorus, piano, violin, ballet, etc. Really! Pretty cool, huh?

Yet they have no media center…not so cool…But I think it’s a good school, and I’m excited about working here.

I love you, Alan, and I miss you so much. I get letters from you constantly, almost everyday. It means so much to me! You know that though because I’m sure you feel the same way about me.

I know I’m complaining about getting too many phone calls, so allow me to clarify. I am thankful that I am loved. It is a blessing. Calls from you MAKE my day. I love it.

So you just call ANYTIME.  I love you so much, and I always will. Hang in there. It’ll be winter, or at least fall, before you know it!

I love you,

April

*************

I didn’t even get to go into my classroom until the third day of training, and there was such an overwhelming amount of cleaning, decorating, organizing, and planning to do in there.

My friend Sarah was a life-saver. She rescued me day after day, organizing my things, filing my papers, helping me move desks. I couldn’t have done it without her.

We poured ourselves into setting up that classroom, which left little time for planning the actual lessons! I was left furiously scouring the internet for good first-day-of-school ideas the very night before school was to start.

And I’ll tell you all about the first week of school, and the mother I called “the Toothless Wonder” — Don’t worry. Only in my head I called her that– next week!  😉

 

Want to catch up? Click here for last week’s post and here for the very first post in this series.

 

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