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Thursday, January 21, 2016

reflections on our first semester as a married teaching couple

I am going to apologize in advance because this post reads a lot like word vomit (and because I found Frost's most cliche line applicable), but I realized today that we made it to a pretty big milestone, and I am a woman so I reflect at any given opportunity. 

Like the fact that today was our first full official day of winter break, which means we are exactly halfway through this school year. 

It was a really long semester, and not just because we worked 20 weeks in a row without more than an odd 4-day weekend here or there. It was long because the past 20 weeks have been a huge transition for us, a transition that has been much harder than I thought it would be (probably because I didn't really think about it at all). 

When we decided to move abroad in 2012, we told ourselves that we would give ourselves one year to see how we liked living abroad before deciding to sign Sean up for a teaching program. It is no secret that Sean would not be a teacher if we never moved abroad. Truthfully, his prior career roofing was far better for a few reasons: more income, more favorable hours and more reasonable demands. 

However, halfway through our first year in Taiwan, we decided that being abroad was not just going to be a 2-year fling (I think we made this decision while staying in Thailand- Railay in particular, which is a beach paradise- for the entire month of our winter break), so Sean enrolled in an education program. For the following two years, he worked almost non-stop to complete his degree. 

Then, last June, he signed a contract to teach 4th grade at my international school for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years. In July, we went home to Washington, excited and eager, and purchased two suitcases worth of supplies for his new classroom. 

Then, September came and it got real fast.

I think after three years of being a single income household, we forgot what it was like to be a double income household.

Let me explain what I mean:

When we were a single income household in Taiwan, I would come home from work and Sean would be eager to see me and full of energy. I, on the other hand, would sometimes come home cranky and would regularly come home exhausted. 

However, Sean's energy would often seep into me, and we would have wonderful evenings together. Now? Two exhausted people come home from work. Someone still needs to cook dinner. Someone still needs to do the laundry. Someone still needs to take out the garbage. And those two people still need to be eager to see each other and full of energy in order to give their best to each other rather than to their jobs. 

That is hard.
Over the last three years, I forgot just how hard.

Truthfully, there were days I longed for the way things used to be.
But not Sean.
Sean wanted needed to work.

And the truth is: Sean likes his job. 
Today is our first day of winter break, and it is obvious he misses his 13 kiddos. 
And Sean is good at his job.
Trust me, it takes a certain kind of person to spend 8 hours a day with a hoard of 4th graders.

Anyone's first year teaching is hard

Sean is figuring out four new classes: math, science, English and social studies. He is dealing with demanding parents. He is getting used to the idea that teaching is so much more than class time. There is the planning, the grading, the emailing parents, the staff meetings, the department meetings, the curriculum development, the observations, and then there is the photocopying, cleaning up students' puke, drying the kids' tears, dealing with bullies...

Me? I took on a new high school English class. It has been interesting, but my kids turn in 5-page papers. I have 80 kids. You do the math. 

We have been treading water to keep from sinking under the load.

And this has certainly leaked over into our home.

Because now we work at the same exact place. And how easy would it be to come home and complain about our classes or our shared workplace? Too easy. So now we have rules about that. And how easy would it be to come home and sit on the couch in spent silence because we are both tired? Way too easy. But it's a lot harder to make rules about that. 

However, there are obvious benefits:

Like the $.
Now we have twice as much.
We paid off my debt three years early. 
We bought a really, really nice couch.
Here, and elsewhere abroad, $ will never be an issue. 
We will always have plenty to spend and to save.

However, we also know $ cannot buy happiness.
Luckily, there are other good things. 

Like our future prospects. Our friends just came back from a job fair, and it is incontrovertible that people like us--married and experienced international teachers-- get shown preference. Schools want to hire married teaching couples. We can cut in line at the fairs--figuratively speaking, because literally speaking that is just rude-- and schools will pursue us rather than the other way around. We have job security one way or another that most people can only dream about. 

There is even more:

Like our standing Thursday lunch dates.
Like classroom drive bys. 
Like having almost an entire month off together in the middle of winter.
And then two in the summer.

All of that said, truthfully, I don't know what our future holds. 

What I do know is that we are going to see these two years through, and then we will have some pretty tough choices to make.


To stay in Taiwan or move to ___________________________ (fill in the blank with nearly any of the 200+ countries that exist).
To continue teaching or pursue something else?

Being a married teaching couple overseas is not perfect, and it is not what I imagined it would be, but Sean keeps reminding me that there is nothing inherently bad about that.

And I think more than anything, for the first time, I truly understand what my husband did for us. In his 30th year of life, he threw caution to the wind and started a brand new profession. How many people are courageous enough to do that?! He dove in head first, and gave it his all. He didn't really know fully what he was getting himself into, and he had no guarantee it would "work" or that he would be "good" at it. But he leaped anyway. He got a little wet, and he hasn't quite made it to shore yet, but he has not sunk either.  And he won't. 

My husband is the coolest, most brave person I know. And I am in complete awe of his dedication to us, this dream and his kids.  I am one lucky gal, and I will continue to follow his example as we move forward.

So while I can't tell you for sure that this whole let's-be-international-teachers thing will work long term, I can tell you that I am not going to let uncertainly or tough transitions or a little bit of hardship stop us from finding out. And if it doesn't? I will just use my husband as a role model for figuring out Plan B.

Or Plan C.

Or Plan D. 

Because part of bushwhacking your own path in life and doing something most people would not even consider is expecting and encountering some bumps in the road and then just deciding to go for it, come what may. 

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