We’ve all heard the stats before-next to half of all teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. Of course this statistic varies from province, state or country but regardless, the numbers are high. When I applied for my very first teaching job in 2009 fresh out of the Faculty, I asked my future employers during my interview, “What’s your advice for new teachers as they embark on their career full of hope, energy and purpose? What advice do you have for me to make sure I don’t become part of this statistic?”. Their answer, “Find balance”, which is ironic because most scales in this profession are tipping (and I’m not talking about our salary scale, although that’s up for debate!). We are over achievers and set high standards. We care so deeply that we put the needs of the people we serve before our own and our own families. We sacrifice so much of ourselves for others. Educators are a special kind of creature.
I was hired last year to be part of the amazing staff that opened École Sage Creek School in the Louis Riel School Division in Winnipeg, Canada. An experience not every educator has the opportunity to take part in. This group of determined and driven innovative educators were hired because they are forward thinking and prove it. At École Sage Creek School, big ideas are brought to fruition and the students own the stage. The students’ storyline is spectacular as they lead front and center. They put on a great show, but no one sees or even understands what’s really happening behind the scenes.
The time. The mornings, the lunch hours, the “prep” times, the evenings. The weekends. The emails. The decisions. The brainstorming. The research. The meetings before, the meetings during, the meetings after school hours. The meetings to make meetings. The cars parked in front of the school on weekends. The stress. The skipped lunches. The EA’s running marathons. The planning. The connecting. The networking. The worrying. The communicating. The back and forth. The non stop hustle and bustle. It never ends. We tell ourselves it will be better after report cards, of after the winter concert or after the month of February (oh the month of February! – Valentine’s, I love to read month, Olympics, Festival du Voyageur, Hundredth day of School, Report cards anyone and may I mention all in 19 teaching days!!), but it’s just a line we use to trick our brains that things will get easier. Truth is, it does not. I believe we are numb and get used to the constant demands from students, parents, colleagues, school initiatives, divisional priorities and policies because that’s what we do. It’s what we have to do. To be an educator who has a meaningful impact on the lives of the of learners they teach, it does not get easier. Each calculated decision has a meaning, a value, a purpose. Some years are harder. Some years seem shorter. Some years are smarter. But the job is not getting easier. We’re fools to believe it does. Maybe it’s just me and my personality because I can’t accept mediocrity and I continuously want to better myself. I work hard. Others may say, work smarter, not harder…. I just secretly chuckle to myself as I politely nod and smile. They have no idea.
I’ve worked in two other schools and this one is completely different. The stakes are high, the pressure is on and we are all feeling it.
So how do we find balance as teachers/leaders?
It’s next to impossible for me. I realized I can’t be a great wife, mom and teacher all at the same time. Last month, I decided (not by choice, but for the sake of my mental and physical health) that I would put my Master’s on hold. I am so incredibly close to completing it- in the final stages – and I temporarily (key word) gave up my personal goal to better balance my home life and work life. This is never seen before footage from me, just ask my husband. Never have I ever not met a goal I set for myself. Never have I ever not been able to juggle all parts of my life, until this year. SO when I actually dropped it, my husband knew it was serious. I have even considered becoming a full time substitute teacher to be more present for my own family. To raise my own kids. Yes it’s a significant salary drop, but not really, when you break down my teacher salary into an hourly wage and consider the evenings, weekends, and weeks of summer spent planning, prepping, creating and reflecting. I’d be the awesome wife I once was, a way better mom who witnessed those milestones and a teacher in different ways. It does seem pretty inviting. After discussing it with someone who I admire more than words can express and who has shaped me into the teacher I am today, he said “Nycol, I support you in whatever decision you make, but you wouldn’t have the same impact you have if you left the classroom”. And, he’s right. This man is always right. He reminded me of my purpose. It’s sometimes hard to remember your purpose when you have all of these extras and to do lists you need to attend to. We need to remember to open our eyes and see what’s in front of us day in and day out- our very students. They are our purpose. The struggle is, that I have three of my own along with the 22 others I play a part in raising.
In order to make it as a teacher, collaboration is key. We can’t work in isolation. George Couros says it himself, “Isolation is now a choice educators make.” Personally, I’d rather get in the canoe and paddle together up this “creek” because doing it alone is not an option. It’s actually impossible.
This morning, I came across these illustrations on social media by DestinyBlue. I feel they capture my feelings perfectly, when I think of how fortunate I am to work alongside a team of people who consistently strive for success and offer help when they too are in need of help. The staff at École Sage Creek School is a true team who “work smarter” in the good times and the hard times.
The picture above illustrates exactly how it feels when you have no choice but to do it alone. You feel trapped, stuck, powerless, worthless, inferior.
This second illustration by DestinyBlue portrays exactly what happens when you and your colleagues work as a team. They pick you up, give you wings, they offer help, and see your worth. They do not let you fall through the cracks. What I also love about this illustration is that it can also be compared to the relationship between a student and their teacher. The teacher reminds their students of their sense of purpose and their worth. Inspires them to take flight and discover what the world has to offer. It can also be viewed as the relationship between two friends, helping one another, because we all know students are teachers too.
Bottom line, it all comes down to relationships-having someone you can count on when you are feeling defeated, empty, alone, worthless, tired and uninspired. Having that someone who sees your strengths, who believes in you, who values you, who cares about you, who understands you and who will stand by you no matter what. We all need those relationships, adults, children, educators and students alike. So if you’ve lost your sense of purpose or feel as though your efforts aren’t worth it, know that you are not alone. But before you consider leaving the profession – really think of what you are leaving behind. You’re leaving your mark on those you serve everyday. You’re making a difference. What are you leaving?