I’ve always been a woman with plans. Type A, long-game, write-a-list-about-them plans. When I started teaching 8th grade at a 4th-8th grade school fresh out of college, I quickly decided that my plan would be to teach there for five years. Five was a nice round number (whatever that means) which would allow me to see my current 8th graders graduate from high school and teach many of their 4th grade siblings (who I had also grown to love) as 8th graders. It seemed perfect.
Like so many of my fellow educators at Title I schools, I was actively engaged in expanding opportunities for my students. I had developed an excellent relationship with my administration, and I loved my students and subject area–and it showed in our test scores. Because of this, I had a good deal of freedom to innovate and create–an environment in which I thrive. I designed an advanced reading course to prepare students more appropriately for high school honors classes, and I started a dance team. I shared some of my favorite topical novels with my students (after requiring students’ parents to sign permission slips), and although I felt like I was burning out, I was also so fulfilled and so happy.
Until I wasn’t. As my fourth year of teaching progressed, I found myself aggravated more often than I’d like to admit–and not with the students. The politics of my school and district, the lack of meaningful and differentiated professional development, and the laissez-faire attitude of many of my colleagues was wearing on me. Additionally, balance wasn’t my strong suit, and I hadn’t been able to find a way to nurture my personal life in a way that I needed. I was allowing negativity and frustration to take over, and it was happening so seamlessly that I hardly even realized it.
When I went back home for winter break that year, the internal calm and return to contentedness I felt there stood in sharp contrast to what had become my normal in Phoenix. The comparison was unsettling. For the first time, I was dreading going back to Arizona and dreading going back to school. But I was only in year four of my five year plan. Back in Phoenix, I continued to allow things to enrage me, and though I tried to make change where I could, I was admittedly losing the optimism that had previously sustained me.
During one especially frustrated call with my family after my return to Arizona, my dad suggested that it was maybe time to move on and that maybe I shouldn’t return to my school for the upcoming year. This was a tough idea for me to swallow, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like the right choice–mostly because living with my daily frustration with the system for another year was not the way in which I wanted to tackle the opportunity gap. Hindsight is always 20-20 of course, but knowing what I know now, I wonder if I would still be teaching had I changed schools prior to reaching my breaking point. By the time I had decided to find a new role, I was totally disillusioned. It sounds corny, but had OneTeacher been a thing back then, my teaching career might not have come to a close when it did; there were so many things about it that I loved. While I thrived at my school, ultimately my lack of alignment with the district’s policies and my campus culture proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for me. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Finding a strong fit school is so critical, not just in the short term but in the long term as well. Teaching is hard and stressful and incredibly rewarding. It pulls creativity and passion and love out of us in a way that few other professions do. But for me, without a school community that was all pulling in the same direction, it wasn’t sustainable. And while I was a really good educator, I know I could have been great under different circumstances.
So what’s my (perhaps unsolicited) advice for other educators?
- Talk to your people, especially those outside of education. Without my dad’s “hey, you’re kind of miserable!” perspective, I likely would have stuck it out for a fifth year according to my plan. My frustration would have undoubtedly made its way into the classroom–however misplaced it would have been–and my students deserved more than that.
- Find yourself a matchmaker. I recommend this not because I obviously think the work we do at OneTeacher is great, but because there will always be people in education who have been in more teaching environments than you have. Talking with them about your likes, dislikes, passions, frustrations, and pedagogical beliefs can help you find a school and role in which you thrive. Obviously OneTeacher is a great resource in Arizona for this, but talking to an influential and well-connected educator would at least help you identify some types of schools that you would likely love.
- Be flexible with your plans. Even if you’re happy at your school, it’s best practice to reevaluate every year so that you don’t find yourself several years in and surprisingly miserable. Just because you’re evaluating your current situation doesn’t mean you want to leave; doing so can help you identify and advocate for what you want and need to remain fulfilled and satisfied–which your administrator wants for you as well.
If you do decide you’re ready to make a change and want some help finding a school that is a great mission, vision, and values fit for you, the OneTeacher team is just an email away!