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.