I vividly remember sitting down with my husband a few years ago with tears running down my face telling him I could no longer be a teacher. I had hit a brick wall and I was miserable. I wanted out. Just thinking back to this time brings tears to my eyes because it was such a real moment for me. We sat together and looked at every possible way to make it work, but our family’s health benefits were impossible to get around. There was no other choice but to go back to teaching in the fall. After crying over my fate (it felt like one), I did what my dad has always taught me to do in times of struggles…I pulled up my bootstraps and faced my problem head on. I stopped crying and began reflecting on why I was so miserable. Here is what I learned and what turned my teaching career from a prison sentence to the greatest job I could ever hope for.
I started by locating the beginning of my misery and it was apparent it began when high stake evaluations started. Teachers were told that seniority no longer existed in job placements each year, and that we would be ranked on an evaluation system that could only be mastered if you were a robot. Our entire climate changed in one meeting. I felt my colleague’s doors close, and competition start. Out shining each other became the norm, as it was our only hope to securing our jobs. Without consciously doing so I began as well hoarding my ideas and wanting to look better than my dear friends, all in the name of keeping my job. Blowing out each other’s candles became our climate. Jealousy ran deep. We all wanted the spotlight. And when someone else had it, others would cut their hard work down and alienate them. I sadly was there too. This is very hard to admit to all of you. This is not a time in my life that I am proud of. In reflecting nothing was more apparent to me than knowing my misery was not external, but internal. It was not the evaluation system. It was me. It was my attitude and actions that robbed me of joy and what teaching had once been for me. So began my journey to find myself again. I knew I was in there somewhere and I was determined to find the real me again.
I began by asking myself questions. Why did I choose this profession in the first place? What were my beliefs about this profession? How could I get back to enjoying it? Every answer went back to one; students and their learning. I began to see my truth and my why. I wasn’t teaching every day for myself; I was there for my students. I was there to create an environment that children felt loved, accepted, to help them grow academically and emotionally to their fullest potential, help them explore their passions and fall in love with learning. I knew for this to happen, students had to not only feel this in my classroom but throughout the school. Thus, came the realization that my attitude and actions were not only robbing me of my happiness, it was robbing my students of what they deserved every day. A place that felt like home. A place in which all teachers care for all students, not just the kids in their classrooms. A place that they were greeted by name by the entire staff. Sadly, this was not happening, and we all felt it. I couldn’t change anyone else, but knew I had to change immediately.
My attitude changed from being focused on myself to those that mattered the most. The students we serve. I began my journey of looking at other teachers and opportunities to celebrate them. If they were reaching their students in a way to elevate their learning, then the students and their learning deserved to be celebrated. If students are winning, then we all are winning became my new motto. I began asking questions, sharing lesson ideas, and looking for others who wanted to collaborate. The transformation from misery to joy began to happen. I felt connected. I felt proud of the work we were doing for all students. I became energized. I began to fall in love with teaching again.
I truly believe that once schools begin to see themselves as a team for ALL students, and All students become the utmost focus, there will be an unstoppable climate where great emotional support and learning happens for all students. Focusing on all students removes the element of competition, because we are all working towards the same purpose. With that said, we need to honor one another as unique individuals. We are all at different stages in our lives and teaching careers. When our focus is on all students, love and supporting our colleagues becomes a natural effect, because when students are winning, we all are winning.
Looking back at my cry session with my husband, I am grateful that our health insurance was a blockage to me resigning. Through honest reflection and calling myself out when I needed to, allowed me to know without any reservations teaching is my calling. Having all students feel loved, seen as individuals, supported, and encouraged to explore their passions and fall in love with learning is my why. Lighting other’s candles and collaborating for the better of all children is my pathway.
Blowing out someone else’s candle does make your candle shine brighter. We shine brighter when we lift and support one another.
Kellie I too had such a moment, but mine came after my first year as a principal at a school. I had been asked to move from my principal assignment at an incredible elementary school to position at a middle school where the previous principal had been removed. I saw it as a challenge and natural career step and agreed. The year was extremely difficult for reasons (some incredibly difficult staff issues) I won’t get into. I was stressed and anxious and it began to take a toll on my health. During Spring Break that year I broke down to my wife and told er she was going to have to put our son in daycare and go back to work because I couldn’t do it anymore. In the end I finished the year. The last day of school a teacher had a public showdown with me. After that day I realized that quitting was not an option and that I had to continue to do what was right for kids and lead the school away from where it was. I did and two years later was promoted to supervisor principals within the district. When you focus on kids and what is right for them you can overcome the hate, noise, and distractions others throw your way. Push forward and be a force for good in this world.
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Thank you for sharing! I often feel we need to hit the wall in order for our true grit to show.
Putting kids first changes everything! ❤️
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What a story, Tim! I wonder if you knew how difficult it would be going in to that MS assignment? Your comment reminds me of one of my favorite movies, “Hoosiers” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoosiers_(film). The bickering, competition, parents pushing people around, other coaches complicating things, etc. making for a seemingly impossible situation for Gene Hackman’s character to survive, let alone succeed! I am glad that YOU not only survived, but grew through your position of peril.
One thing that always stood out to me as a lesson from Hoosiers was the importance of passing the ball. This relates to teaching in that the whole team is stronger when it shares responsibilities. Share those, and everyone glories in the successes, rather than one person bringing home the trophy. Thanks for adding to Kellie’s awesome blog with your own story, Tim!
Tim, I have to add a few more thoughts here. I am so grateful you pushed through and continue to be an intricate part of students and teachers lives in your school and district. You are an intricate part of my life as well! You (without you probably knowing) have become a strong mentor in my life. I have learned so many things from you and by your example I lead. Thank you for drowning out the noise, and fighting for students to have what they need and deserve. 🥰
Kellie this is an incredible piece. Thank you so much for sharing your heart, what a need for this post right now in education. I appreciate your voice!
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Thank you, Alana. 🥰
To be completely honest and transparent, I too deal with the competition, envy, jealousy feelings. It doesn’t come from harsh evaluation standards; It’s just a natural tendency to analyze myself compared to others. I have to consciously tell myself that I’m not in a race or war. This is why I purposefully work at making my ideas free to all and try to give credit to others. It is like a work out; a psychological exercise for me to NOT hold back. I liked your metaphor with the candle. I’ll add to it. (And, that is part of my philosophy of education: Add to each other. Make each other shine that much brighter.) But here is my addition: When other candles are extinguished, your flame only APPEARS to glow brighter. The actual flame intensity is still the same. It is just that the DARKNESS IS GROWING. Your flame will now have to work that much harder to light the room. Everyone will have to squint that much more to read, sharing your little light. Yes people will be drawn to your flame, because it is the only one available, but how much better would it be to have a room FULL of light, so bright that everyone can read comfortably? Now, we can all get so much more done! Working together, collaborating, supporting one another; That is the way to go!! Thanks for posting such a beautiful message. It was thought-provoking and insightful.
Matt, thank you for being open and honest about competition in your life. It runs through many people and work places. I am very competitive, so I have a natural tendency to share your same feelings as well. I really connected with you on how you mentioned you fight against these feelings by sharing and giving credit where needed. Bravo! We should all be practicing this same exercise daily. It gives me such joy to celebrate others! I agree with you that one candle shining alone, isn’t brighter, it just has to work harder to brighten the room. It’s just a lonely overworked candle.
If we all are shining, it will look like the sun is our source of light! ☀️
Matt, I appreciate you so much! Thank you!
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Beautiful piece friend! I am honored and blessed to call you my teaching partner and friend!! Looking forward to many collaborative moments with you!!
I’m so blessed as well. You and Jenni are incredible sharers, supporters, collaborators! True professionals and friends. 🥰 We are lucky to work in a school where kids come first!
Kellie! #1: every time I hit the publish button or submit a piece of writing, I panic p, and I wonder WHY I keep doing it! But, I do. You need to as well. #2: Your honest words are ones we can all relate to. I hAve a similar story also to do with evaluation changes and a terrible supervisor — who I think was intimidated by me, so she made my life miserable. At the end of the year, I came very close to retiring early because technically, I could — but, like you, medical benefits kept me in the game for financial reasons. During that summer before returning, I also questioned myself trying to remember why I quit my long-term, lucrative, first career to teach! The KIDS! It’s always about the KIDS! September came, and to my surprise, so did a new supervisor. I was taking my power back. I returned to my room with smile and re-connected with those peers in my PLC. No more competing, crying, stressing! I returned to doing what was right for kids! I happily taught another three years until retirement! The power is always within us to stick to our convictions! Proud of you on so many levels! 😘
Jeri, you have been an inspiration and role model for me as I continue to grow in education. Thank you! And thank you for being open in sharing your story. Knowing I’m not alone gives me strength to keep walking one step in front of the other, being vulnerable, and being honest with who I am. As you said, we have the power over our thoughts and mindset! We get to decide how we see and handle life. I’m choosing positivity, kindness, and support to others. ❤️ Thank you, Jeri!
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