How I Saved My Teaching Career: Introduction

A few years ago, I was ready to quit my teaching job.  But I didn’t.

I’ve been a teacher in some capacity for twenty-three years.  I fell in love with the profession when I was a college student and landed a part-time job as an assistant language teacher in an elementary school.  I was sure that I had found my vocation – that teaching would be a source of both income and happiness for the rest of my life.

I took an education degree and got jobs teaching English overseas and in Quebec.  Despite the difficulties I encountered, my dedication to the job never wavered.  Teaching inspired me.  The emotional rewards were immediate and powerful; the challenges were opportunities to learn and grow.

In 2001, I finished my Masters degree and began teaching English literature at a CEGEP.  Within a short time, I had tenure.  And for the first few years, my love of teaching persisted.

But teaching CEGEP was different from my previous jobs.  The responsibilities were greater, the marking load was enormous, and I faced many more classroom management problems than I expected.  Students cheated.  They failed and demanded that I give them second chances.  They lacked motivation and refused to follow directions, or were blatantly disrespectful and disruptive.

In the past, I’d found these pedagogical challenges interesting, but as the years passed, I became more and more tired, anxious, and discouraged.  The rewards seemed to diminish in proportion to the difficulties.  I began dreading the start of the school year, dreading Monday morning, dreading each class.  At 35, I began counting the semesters until I could retire.  And then I began concocting plans to leave teaching and pursue some other career.

But then I stopped.  I took some time to reflect.  I took some time off.  I looked around at what I had.  I examined what was really at the root of my problem.  I investigated ways to strengthen my skills and commitment.  I found methods to calm my mind and fortify my heart.  And I started to meticulously document my experiences, reactions, and options.

Now, a few years later, I’ve renewed my commitment to teaching.  I haven’t returned to my initial, giddy infatuation with my job; instead, I’ve developed a deeper and more sustainable understanding of my role and its rewards.  I don’t know for sure that I’ll be a teacher forever, but I know that I have a lot more years in me.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll outline some of the steps I took to regain my love of teaching:

Stay tuned!  Maybe my experience will shed some light on yours, no matter what your profession.  What’s more, I’ll present some general questions for you to consider if you are wondering how to love your job more/again/for the first time.

And please leave comments about your own path.  Have you struggled with whether your career is the right one for you?  Are you deliberating this now, or have you resolved the dilemma?  If you’re just embarking on your professional life, what are you going to do or stay motivated?  We’d love to hear your stories.

*

The series “How I Saved My Teaching Career” was originally published on the TimesOnline’s education blog, School Gate, in 2009.  Thanks to School Gate’s editor, Sarah Ebner, for her permission to repost.

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16 responses

  1. I struggled with whether my career was right for me and I ultimately determined that it was absolutely the wrong fit. I was desperately unhappy with my profession, the company I worked for, all of it! But no one told me that it didn’t have to be like that, I had to figure it out for myself. It took a while.

    That’s how I wound up back in college in my 30’s.

  2. The first time I questioned my career was before I even started teaching! I was in my first education practicum (in university) in an English 12 classroom, and my sponsor teacher told me that the best English teachers are those whom are “married to their work” and proceeded to talk about this amazing English teacher in the department who worked late every night but didn’t really have much of a life – or many friends – because of this fact.

    This idea almost scared me out of teaching – if the cost of being a good teacher was to lose my friends and everything I enjoy doing outside of school I didn’t want any part of it. Teaching is not my life. Although it is a very big part of my life, it doesn’t define who I am. Unfortunately, there are lots of voices in both the professional and pop-cultural realm (think Parker Palmer’s “The Courage to Teach” and the movie “Freedom Writers”) that seem to encourage (in part) the idea to teach at the cost of everything else. Although I do strive to be an excellent teacher, I also strive for balance in my life. It is in maintaining balance and doing the things I love to do outside of school that gives me the motivation, experience, and passion to do well inside the classroom.

    The second time I questioned my career choice was in my second year as a teacher when I had the disillusioning realization that I was bored with what I taught and I hated the way I taught it. And so started what has become a five year journey to align my beliefs about teaching with my practice and purging many ‘traditional’ ways of teaching in the process. Teaching with greater integrity has allowed me to feel much more peace, contentment, and job satisfaction! Although I’m far from where I would like to be as a teacher, knowing that I’m moving forward and continually improving has been tremendously rejuvenating.

    There are two main things that really helped me in this journey:
    1. I entered into a two year education program through Simon Fraser University
    2. I started to engage in the online community of educators who continually challenge, inspire, and encourage me.

    I appreciate your honesty and I’m glad you were able to save your teaching career. I look forward to this series as well!

  3. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series. Seven years into my teaching career, I’m right at that point of questioning whether its time to quit and start again with something new… but I’d love to get my teaching mojo back. Looking forward to reading more.

  4. I am just beginning to apply for jobs teaching English in Korea. I have been interested in teaching for some time, but have had neither experience nor training. I’m sure your perspective will give me food for thought. I’ll be staying tuned.

  5. This blog looks good, looks right.
    I’m at the end of my teaching career — elementary school. I will be retiring in a few years. I find myself isolating from my colleagues, and having great difficulty with another teacher on my team.
    Interestingly, my students are not the issue. The pressure and irrelevance of the public school workload outside direct classroom teaching is getting to me. The last time I worked under decent management was…. much too long ago.
    Teaching was never my first choice as a profession. It was my grandmother’s choice for me. I felt disconnected from it for a long time, even disconnected the people I was meeting in the profession. I didn’t like being an authority figure with children. And then I became comfortable and even good at it, and even had times when it felt brilliant.
    For the longest time, I thought teaching was bringing out the worst in me. The controlling, impatient part. I did not go into teaching because I loved children. I went into it because I love education, and I felt education saved my life when I was a child. It was a place of consistency, and good adults. The library was there. I was good at school.
    I dream of being the teacher everyone loves. I am not. I am not the teacher everyone claps the loudest for during the honor roll assembly.
    This is not to say I haven’t made contributions — especially in developing methods for teaching essay writing to kids. I’ve adapted and written and directed plays with children, but I find I don’t have the energy or heart for it anymore.
    How do I get through the next few years without feeling tortured, and how do I retire and hold my head up high, and feel good with how I’ve spent my working years?

    • 60yrold: I think you could retire right now and feel good about what you’ve done. Regardless of whether you are the “teacher everyone loves,” you have had an impact on young people’s lives, and whether or not you have been impatient or controlling at times, you have also taught children things they will need for the rest of their lives.

      Given that you will retire soon, is it possible for you to cut loose for the next few years and just follow what your heart and mind tell you in the classroom? To get up every morning with a general plan for “what will happen today,” and then to just watch what unfolds? On my best, happiest days, this is what I try to do. It doesn’t always work, but it usually helps, and it keeps my teaching life vibrant and surprising.

      • Thank you for your response, Siobhan Curious. I like that idea of allowing myself the freedom to follow my heart and mind. I don’t usually allow myself that freedom until after state testing, and I get more intense the closer it gets to testing. Yes, I like those vibrant, surprising times. Children do, too. It’s what they remember and carry with them from their school lives.

        My favorite teacher as a child was a man who very much followed his heart. He was funny and unpredictable and loving. Mr. Silberman.

        Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. It meant a lot to me.

  6. I am so glad I found this blog! I am finishing up my second year teaching in Korea and I feel like I am just going back and forth on if I want to pursue teaching as a profession or if it’s better to just leave now…

    • Stella: So glad you’re getting something out of it. Teaching is definitely a commitment, and it’s not for everyone. However, if you find it rewarding, it’s a worthy challenge!

  7. I question my teaching decision regularly. I think it is normal with a stressful job to think “what have I gotten into”. But then, a student inevitably makes me burst out laughing or has an “aha!” moment or reads a book to me when I know they couldn’t earlier in the year and I know this is exactly what I want to do. I actually just posted a much shorter version of how I am maintaining sanity. Free Godiva chocolates every month is one way. I’m excited to read your series and find some more ways to stay motivated.

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