After a teaching career of 13 years, 3 of which I worked as an coach supporting teachers in a high needs school, I left.
It wasn’t an easy decision. I come from a family of educators and my inner circle of friends is filled with amazing teachers, administrators and support staff who are some of the most dedicated people I know. Kids are their business, and it shows through their passion and commitment to the field.
When I first started thinking about leaving the classroom, it was a scary moment for me. Working for a school district has its challenges, but for the most part, the district that I worked for was relatively consistent. I would always experience the ups and downs that come with working for the public school sector, but I would always have benefits, job security, some type of retirement package and a rewarding career.
Yet I desired and needed something more. Something that the four walls of room 603 were no longer providing.
I love kids. I love connecting with them and watching them grow through my support year after year. I always felt as though I made a difference each and every year, and helped students achieve great things- no matter what factors they were facing. Those are the golden threads that kept pulling me back to the profession year after year.
But the desire for something more, something different, always lingered. And it came from my work as an instructional coach.
Teaching is hard. If anyone tries to convince you otherwise, or mumbles that ridiculous quote about how ‘those who can’t, teach’, well, you may need to
run away slowly back away from them.
And because impacting, supporting, and helping students to be career and community ready IS an enormous responsibility and a multi-dimensional process, many people in the field reach burnout within their first 3 years. And those feelings don’t just disappear as time goes on. Many veteran teachers go through cycles of burnout throughout their careers. While they may not leave the field at those later stages of employment, their years are often filled with stressors, frustrations, overwhelming feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. And while some of the variables causing the distress are things that educators cannot control, often times they feel unheard and unsupported regarding the needs of their classrooms, their own professional needs and their emotional needs.
When a teacher feels as though their voice isn’t heard, and they are feeling as though their needs aren’t being addressed or met (either by outside and/or self-driven forces), the conditions for learning in that teacher’s classroom are greatly reduced. A teacher’s personal well being is important. Their emotional needs are important. Being able to recognize, verbalize and problem solve through these needs are a BIG piece of the puzzle of improving learning for ALL students. It really becomes an equity issue- is every child sitting in the classroom receiving the best version of that teacher so that their learning is prioritized?
In my work as a coach, I was able to support teachers through this shift in self-awareness and self-care. At first it was a challenge bringing teachers to the point of believing that they deserved the support of someone who was going to openly listen to them, validate their frustrations, challenge them to think differently and openly, and work together with them towards solving their barriers. To understand that teaching does not have to be this mentally exhausting existence and that burnout is not inevitable. What I’ve learned through coaching is that everyone, not just new teachers, deserves a coach or mentor supporting them through this challenging, yet rewarding, career. Someone to bounce ideas off of. Someone to problem solve with. Someone to provide them with feedback that will help them grow as a professional. Someone to be a partner through this journey.
I soon found that assisting teachers through the process of growing both professionally and emotionally was where my heart was. Being a part of a teacher’s shift in thinking and navigating them through the creative problem solving process was not only an encouraging experience for me, but an empowering one as well. Witnessing a teacher of 20 years realize just how unhappy they have been and then partner together to dig deeper as to why, and begin to unpack and flip those reasons, ultimately resulting in a significantly positive classroom environment change, were powerful moments that led me to begin thinking about coaching full time.
I applied for a position with a non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving student learning through a focus on teachers and their practice by providing the skills, tools, support and resources necessary to impact each student they come in contact for every year of their career. This company was an integral part of my transition from teacher to coach as I was a participant in their professional development for coaches program f0r the duration of my coaching assignment. I truly believe in their values, mission and approach to supporting educators in our country- especially those working in the highest needs schools.
After some self-reflection, many, many interviews, long conversations with friends, family and co-workers, and a bit of patience, I found myself saying an eager “YES!” to an offer for a position as a regional consultant and presenter! I am now traveling to school districts everywhere from Florida and Georgia to Virginia and rural Tennessee delivering and facilitating learning to site based instructional coaches and new teacher mentors as they grow into their roles supporting teachers and their students. It has been a wonderful experience being able to interact and learn from other districts and witness the great things they are doing to ensure equity at their school sites. I’m typically away from home 2-3 days per week a few times each month, and when I’m not traveling, I am working from home preparing for the next learning, providing feedback to my colleagues and continuing to grow my skills as a presenter and coach. It’s exciting work, satisfying, rewarding work and I’m looking forward to the new adventures that are to come!
Not only do I love the role, but I also love that I have such a supportive, loving husband-to-be waiting for me at home (or alongside on some trips!) that encouraged me to take a chance and go for this position. Without him, I likely would have never risked the change and I’m thankful to have someone in my life who not only supports me, but challenges me to be my best and give it my all.
So what lessons have I learned from this experience?
Although cliche… change is still always good! There are always those people who will hit you with “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side” downshift. But my response is always an upshifting“it’s a good thing I’m equipped with my own personal watering can!” Always remember that YOU shape your life, your goals, your environment, your outcome. If they grass isn’t greener, cultivate and care for it so that it IS all that you expected and more.
Find your soulmates. When you’re looking to change something that will improve your life or your situation, surround yourself with those who get it and will support and lift you through the process. Your soulmates are the ones who will cheer you on, not tell you a million reasons why you shouldn’t or why it won’t work. Soulmates will bring out the best in you and help you see yourself in the best light. They will encourage you to take risks and not settle for the status quo. It’s ok to remove yourself from people who are negative, emotionally draining or discouraging- especially when you are going through processes of change. Watching someone else go after a goal can be frustrating for someone who has spent their life convincing themselves that they cannot change their situation. You owe it to yourself to remove yourself from those people. Allow yourself to cleanse without guilt.
Trust yourself, and your abilities. Once I got the position, it took me a while to embrace this mantra. I kept having to remind myself that I was able to do this job and be successful at it. It took some time for me to accept the idea that they hired me for a reason. We all have skill sets that make us great at things. Recognize those skills and own your strengths. You earned them. Allow them to shine so that you can get comfortable being the best version of yourself.
What is something you have been wanting to change? What support do you need? I’d love to hear!