People have asked me over the years why it was I quit teaching. After all, they argue, I'm very good at explaining even the most difficult of subjects and I'm pretty good with kids as well. The answer was complicated and became simpler as time went on. To illustrate how time effects the response given, see the short list below.
Answer in 1988? "My life is too busy as it is. I need something that pays better. The unions have too many rules. The administration is too rigid. They don't like me because I'm Orthodox Jewish. The commute is too far. My family is worried I spend too much time in a gentile environment. The students are uncontrollable and the administration doesn't help. Female teachers with husbands don't concern themselves with the money and go on strike. My wife complains about everything. I should be doing better with the degrees I have. They don't let me teach subjects as I like nor what I prefer to teach. I'm tired all the time." (The list continues with excuses I can't even remember at this point.)
Answer in 2006? Depression!
All the excuses and complaints held sacrosanct in 1988 may or may have been real, legitimate concerns. However, in the course of subsequent years spent in mostly unintended self-discovery, I happened upon the realization that, true or not, those problems never posed any insurmountable challenge to my happiness. My unhappiness came from a single source and held me back from enjoying not just the classroom, but much of my life in general. That 'thing' was depression.
Depression does different things to different people. It operates at varying degrees of intensity and must interact with our biology, gender, social position, and education. For myself, I think that depression robbed me of my self-confidence and, as a direct result, caused me to shy away from conflicts and challenges, choosing the path of least or no resistance at every turn. Should obstacles come up, I was not always emotionally competent enough to handle them and, therefore, I made excuses for my lack of perserverence by blaming others, or even myself, for the a bad turn of events. It's easier to say "It's my fault" and be done with it than to assess the true causes. I would end up taking responsibility for things I hadn't even done!
It's a damn lucky coincidence that I enjoyed academic study, possessed a good work ethic, and had a relatively decent brain to start with or I'd have been just another abject failure suffering from depression. The few qualities that Nature and Nurture so kindly bestowed upon me likely saved me from a fate 'much worse than'. People are willing to overlook your glaring deficiencies when their needs are met through rigorous application of your better qualities. I should probably thank my father's insistence upon a job well done and a work ethic that seems genetically inherent in his side of the family. Without those, I would likely have been ignored or shunned altogether for my lack of social graces and oft melancholy demeanor. I use that to my advantage even today.
Depression is something that undermines life without the possessor ever realizing it. Has my better knowledge of self stopped the cycle completely? Not really. It has slowed it down and taken the 'edge' off its effects. That much is certain. It has also made me honest about who I am. Most of all, it has increased and improved the empathy I have for others in similar straits. That itself goes a long way to improving my social abilities and emotional fitness. Rather than shunning the company of others, I have been, for several years now, seeking deeper and more meaningful personal bonds. I am not afraid of showing my true face.
Maybe there is still some teaching in my future? I think about it sometimes.