After sixteen years of teaching and fourteen years in the same school, I made the difficult decision to move to another school district. When I announced my plans to my family, friends, and coworkers, I was inundated with comments about how brave and/or crazy I was for giving up tenure and leaving the community into which I had invested so much of my time and energy. I started to have doubts about my leap of faith but plowed straight into my first year as a “new teacher.” A year later, you may be wondering how I’m feeling about that leap of faith…
Well, I made it. I have completed my first year as a new teacher for the first time in fourteen years, and I have survived to write this post. So I’ll dive right into the big question: Do I regret leaving my comfort zone and leaping into uncertainty? Not even a little. If you are even considering making a move like I did, here are five things I want you to know.
- Change can renew your excitement in your profession. Lets face it. We can all get in a rut. This may be especially true of teachers because of the nature of our job. As a secondary English teacher, I not only repeat the same curriculum each year, I repeat it five, sometimes six, times a day. I have never been one to copy and paste my lesson plans from one year to the next, but “the rut” found me anyway. I was in the same classroom for 10 years. In my entire adult life, I haven’t even lived in the same house for 10 years. Over those ten years, I considered leaving the profession about 2,319 times. I’m obviously exaggerating, but there were years when it felt like that many. I lost my passion for what I do. And that is a dangerous thing for a teacher to do because, again, of the nature of our job. While we may have taught that same standard 42 times, the students in our classrooms are getting it for the FIRST and sometimes ONLY time. We cannot afford to lose our passion in what we do. When I realized my passion was gone, I knew I HAD to do something about it.
- Change can motivate you to grow. Yes, even you. Even that person who thinks they know everything there is to know and has experienced everything you could possibly experience in the classroom. Even you. I had lunch with a former colleague the other day and heard myself say this: “I have become quite the education nerd.” His eyes widened. After all, it had been less than a year since I was teaching in the classroom next to him and something about me had completely changed. There is no option for teachers except to grow, and I have experienced more growth in the past year than in the five previous years combined. Guys, Twitter is life for an educator. It has turned me into a teacher geek, and I am proud of it. Shout out to my principal, Heath Harmon, for pointing me to Twitter for the purpose of building a PLN. (Check out his blog post on Twitter here.) It has changed my life. But it hasn’t just been Twitter that has motivated me to grow in my profession; it has been the teacher across the hall who has become quite the expert at talking me off a ledge, the instructional partners who speak to me as if I am an educated adult (shocking!), and the curriculum coordinator who (get this) emails to thank me for being a part of the team. BREATH. OF. FRESH. AIR. And I needed it desperately. I needed to surround myself with new faces and new voices who could speak life into me because of “the rut” we talked about up in #1. Let me clarify: I love change, and I realize I am in the minority there. Even when stuck in that same classroom for 10 years, I sought out change. The reason I had to leave in order to grow is because I did not have the resources to experience the kind of growth I knew I needed, and I had spent 14 years in the same system with the same voices speaking to me, voices that had become so a part of “the rut” that I could no longer hear them.
- Change can fix your attitude. This one can get hairy and personal. So I’ll just say that when you are in the same place for 14 years, events and/or people that have hurt you or disappointed you or caused you to question your career choice can build up on your heart and mind and affect your daily attitude. I needed fresh air. I needed positivity. I needed encouragement. Change was the only way I was going to get those things. If #3 were the only thing on this list, it would’ve been worth it to me.
- Change can lead to beautiful partnerships. I have worked with some fabulous teachers over the years. I am who I am as a teacher and as a person because of coworkers and administrators who have poured themselves into me. This post is in no way meant to diminish those inspiring relationships or the dedication and talent of the educators with whom I have worked in the past. What this change did for me is not change my PLN, but rather widen my PLN. The partnerships I have formed this year consist of a brand of educator I didn’t realize existed: The professional. I am not talking about someone who behaves professionally. I have worked with professional educators by that definition my entire career. Let me explain. The level of professionalism I have encountered this past year is something to which my former colleagues and I were not exposed. Twitter is a big part of that (No, Twitter is not paying me). I have connected with educators at my school and on Twitter who are innovators and trainers and seekers of change. And this is a beautiful thing. I have my Ed.S. (Educational Specialist degree) but have never really been a part of a leadership team, even as head of my department. In my first year at my new school, I was referred to as a leader. There is a group of teachers from my school who have not gone more than 48 hours without communicating new ideas with the rest of the group…during the summer…because they love it (FYI: Voxer has been a game changer for us). Our ideas and efforts are celebrated and encouraged. I feel like a welcome part of something beautiful and exciting. I am a professional, and I love it.
- Change will make a difference for your students. This is the most important one because none of the other revelations I have experienced would matter a hill of beans if this one were not true. We do what we do, first and foremost, because we want to make a difference in the lives of our students. If you are stuck in “the rut” and have lost your passion, your students are suffering. If you are not seeking to grow as a teacher and a person, your students are suffering. If you have a negative attitude about the work you are doing, your students are suffering. If you do not see yourself as a professional whose ultimate responsibility is to keep up with the ebb and flow of the ever-changing culture of education, your students are suffering. When we are excited about teaching, our students are excited. When we grow, our students grow. When we have a smile on our faces, our students feel free to smile. When we reach out and connect with other educators, our students benefit from the wisdom and expertise of more than one professional. And we owe them that much.
You may be thinking, “I am fine where I am. I can’t afford to give up tenure to change schools. My kids go to school here. I don’t want to move.” And you don’t have to. Get on Twitter. Connect to educators outside the walls of your school. Be in tune to your needs and to the needs of your students. Don’t be afraid of change, even if that change is inside the same four walls where you have taught for 20 years. Seek out professional development opportunities rather than waiting on someone to tell you what workshop to attend. Open your mind to new ideas. Be the positive voice in your school and seek out other positive people. Your students deserve it. Your colleagues deserve it. YOU deserve it. You may feel like an “old dog,” but from one old dog to another, I am telling you we still have new tricks to learn. If this ol’ mutt can do it, so can you. 🙂