Earlier in my career, I was struggling as a teacher to make ends meet. I loved my job, deeply loved it, but it was just hard to make a living, as many of us can attest. And I know other teachers have been in the same boat or continue to be.
Even now, I have one full-time colleague, a brilliant and well-loved math teacher, who moonlights as a waitress at night and another colleague, a husband and father, who works at a local theme park on the weekends. We were and are still dedicated to education, but are working to find our pathways through this new profession.
I call teaching a new profession because there is an evolution going on. Perhaps it was brought on by financial need. Perhaps simply by an awakening of sorts happening in our troops. But it is happening, and teachers, both new and veteran, must find their place in this new profession.
For me, I had an awakening when my sister gave me the following advice: "Find what you are good at, and invest in yourself." This little nugget took me towards writing, blogging, becoming an author and curriculum designer, and designing online classes. It's helped to supplement and support my family, sure, but more than that, I think the professional morphing that I underwent is indicative of a trend happening all over this new profession.
Our Many Hats
After all, we now talk deeper and more seriously of hybrid teachers, teachers stepping up to demand their voices be at tables of policy and curriculum design.
And here's other truths. There are more teachers:
- Forming the ranks of a new administrative cohort, one more trained and dedicated to best practice and working in collaboration with their staff
- Percolating towards a new union, one focused on protecting contracts and achievement
- Helping to design lessons and assessments and sitting on committees that decide the direction our schools should take
- Writing, blogging, interviewing, being interviewed, producing, and podcasting, sharing their insight and knowledge of schools, students, and staff
These teachers all had their own epiphanies about how they can improve their lot and improve their profession. Because, frankly, while I still love my job as a full-time teacher, I am very aware of the problems in teaching. Some are systemic and frustrating. We have all left school feeling bloodied, banging our head against the wall of a seemingly impenetrable machine. But some problems can be solved by in the trenches, well-intentioned people who are dedicated to improving this system from the bottom-up -- and who aren't scared to create a new profession of teaching.
I am in awe of teachers who have been in the classroom for 20, 30 years. Many of them are wonderful, gifted educators who deserve the respect of students, fellow teachers, and the public. But I don't know if that is still what our profession is headed towards.
I have a relative who works for a social media company. (Work with me here, I promise I get back to teaching.) He has great, specific, institutional knowledge about technology, but had just applied and was promoted to manager of a tech team within his company. When asked how he felt about leaving a more hands-on rung on his career's ladder, he explained that in his business, if you don't evolve, you lose your job. It's too exhausting, he said, to continue at 50 years old keeping up on the trends and fads that change from week to week. He talked about how people can price themselves out of a job by going up and up in price without bringing something new to the professional conversation. "I just had to reinvent myself," he said. "Now I'm working with a team. My job is to put together the best team, and try to get the best out of them."
Clearly, as with any conversation I seem to have, even on them my free time, this got me thinking about education. (See, I told you I'd get back to the task at hand.) Now, I know that we aren't a business per se, but surely there are connections here that cannot be denied and that make sense.
Teaching can be a 30-year path. But for many of us, there is a new profession appearing in which we want a piece. A new profession we want to help define, and a new profession we want to help shape. This might mean leaving the classroom eventually but still keeping our institutional knowledge in the system by redefining our roles in different branches of education. This might mean keeping one foot in the classroom and another in some other educational career.
By so doing, we will begin to shape a new teaching career, one that reflects a different, more flexible pathway through the teaching profession. One that allows us to exploit our talents outside the classroom. And one that elevates schools and teachers to a new level of respect.
Go forth. "Find what you're good at, and invest in yourself." Evolve the profession and evolve our schools.