Most working professionals who are thinking about quitting their jobs and traveling for a year are not worried about what I’m worried about. Rational people worry about money, mortgages and health insurance. They don’t worry about actually missing their jobs. Forgoing the nine-to-five grind, unchaining themselves from the cubicle and giving the boss a certain finger on the way out the door is usually the best part of exiting corporate America to become a wandering nomad.

Due to an utter lack of common sense and an ‘I’m-not-thirty-yet’ naiveté, money is not my number one concern.

But I panic at the thought of not getting to go to work.

I’ve wanted to be a teacher my entire life and I love it. I dream about creating lesson plans. My co-workers are some of my closest friends. I get really excited whilst figuring out how to make population density fun. (If you want to know how, email me. It’s a great lesson.)

But I really love my students. This might sound crazy coming from a middle school teacher, but my kids are my sanity. For educators in urban schools, it’s often said that you – the teacher – can be the one constant in a child’s life.

But it’s the other way ‘round for me. My kids are my constant. They keep me happy, energized, and productive. My students (VERY unknowingly) got me through a divorce last year. When a doctor called my classroom earlier this year and told me “I’ll keep the office open for you, get here as soon as you can” (Health tip: If a doctor tells you this – you have cancer), I couldn’t dwell on it too much. I had to teach geography that day. I had to worry about why straight-A-Jose had failed his test, why “Nikki” had scratch marks up her arms, and why only three people were grasping the similarities between African and Australian colonization. Two days out of the hospital I was making up excuses so I could go to school and just see some of them for a minute.  

So as my fifth school year ends and I (willingly) don’t have a job next year, I can only hope that traveling around the world will be half as fulfilling and rewarding as teaching has been.

I always tell my students to surround themselves with positive people. “Sit next to studious peers. Hang out with people who don’t do drugs on weekends,” I sagely advise. I encourage students to make friends with classmates that will help them memorize the elements on the periodic table, the causes of the French Revolution, and the fact that the correct answer is usually b. I fully believe that you pick up on the habits of those around you.

And then I realize that I’ve surrounded myself with middle-schoolers. Not good.

I’m turning into them! I’m suddenly listening to hip-hop stations, wherein the singers are half my age. (Do you know that Will Smith’s DAUGHTER has an album out?!? Isn’t she, like, three?) Why did I just write “like” into that sentence? Oh yeah, the 180 bad influences I interact with each day.

I am seriously appalled by my behavior at staff meetings. I whip out my phone to change my Facebook status when the principal isn’t watching. I roll my eyes and dramatically mime slitting my throat when a co-teacher glances my way. I stare at the clock longingly and wonder if a well-timed “bathroom” break will help me get through the next hour. I embody everything I despise in my student’s behavior.

It’s not my fault. I’m delimited by negative influences.

I repeat everything three times now, even when talking to my friends. It’s a vestige of saying “turn to page 421…yes, 421…that’s page 421…it’s on the board, page 421…go get a book and open to 421…” every hour on the hour. Non-phrases like omg, lol, and even lmao are appearing in my own spoken and texted vernacular.

But of course there are good things about being influenced by middle school children. I’ve rediscovered the seriously underrated world of young adult literature. I watch my students drop everything for a friend who’s in need. Say what you want about ‘mean girls,’ but bonds of middle-school friendship can cut pretty deep as well. I look at my students and see myself in them. I remember the insecurity. I remember being positive that I would never get a boyfriend, or travel, or see anything pretty in the mirror. And just as life opened up for me after fifteen, it will for them too.

Maybe being influenced by my middle schoolers isn’t so bad after all. Even so, I’d better take a year off and travel – just to make sure.