After a year long “vacation,’ I am back in the classroom and I can honestly say that now I know I am right where I belong. But to get to this point of self-awareness, I had to go on quite a journey.
A couple of years ago, I had reached my limit as a classroom teacher. I had been teaching 2nd grade for 8 years in Tucson. I was burnt out, over worked and in extreme debt. Over the course of my career, I managed to rack up nearly $25,000 in credit card bills. That’s a lot of crayons and scholastic books! I was no Destiny’s Child. I was strugling to pay my bill,s bills, bills. I had also just completed my National Board portfolio and did not see any where else for my career to go. I knew I needed something different. At some point in my life, I’d like to have a family and I’d like to be able to support that family. I know I am not alone in this desire. There is something in the male ego that drives us to be the primary bread winners for our families. Maybe we’re not as secure as our female counterparts. So I made a decision. I decided to leave the classroom and pursue other avenues.
I resigned from my school and got a job as a bartender at a swanky resort in the nice part of town. This new job was one of the most fun jobs I ever had. I got to go to work and basically socialize and joke around my whole shift. A bartender’s main job is to keep people happy and I was good at keeping people happy. Therefore, this position was highly lucrative for me. I had some nights where I made my two week teacher paycheck in a matter of three shifts. And there were some nights where I made it in one shift. Besides the money, the stress level was much more manageable. When I clocked out, I got to go home and enjoy my life! I didn’t have to bring stacks of papers home with me. When I got up in the morning, I was able to leisurely read in bed with coffee, go to the gym, do errands in the slow part of the day, and to take long lunches with friends. I was loving this new life! For a time. After months of these days, I was getting a little bored. As the seasons progressed, I saw that there was no purpose, no challenge, and no creativity to my “new” career. I tried to get into other postions and jobs but nothing worked out.
Over the course of the year, I was able to create a friendship with someone I had met at my job. He worked at a school district here in Phoenix. He knew I used to be a teacher so he began asking my advice about many different issues. We would have hour long conversations. These conversations made me realize how much I missed the classroom. The classroom gave me a purpose. It gave me a career that I found mentally challenging and stimulating. In the classroom, I was able to look at problems and come up with new, creative and innovative solutions. Daniel Pink talks a lot about what drives us. Yes, I need money to live my life and I would still love to make the big bucks. But I know I need more than money to have a successful career and a happy life so I made another change. After months of his insistant nagging, I applied in his district and as you can tell the rest is history.
I am now in my second year of teaching third grade in Phoenix. I still bartend part time and it has helped me cut my debt nearly in half in one year. I know many teachers are leaving this field in droves due to the same struggles that I had. That is heart wrenching because our students deserve our best teachers. What is a resort going to do with a highly qualified, effective National Board Certified (I found out I achieved during my year off!) teacher? We need our good teachers in the classroom. I urge any teacher who is struggling with the decision to leave the field to answer this question. What motivates you to get up in the morning and teach your students? You may find that there are more reasons to stay than you realize and you’ll remember why you began teaching in the first place.
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