Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher
I’ve told my story before—in lots of places to lots of people across the nation. It also appears in bits and pieces in my co-authored book, Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank, and was conceptually grown with Rebecca Coda as one of our all-time most powerful passion projects to help not only school leaders, but all educators deal with and work through organizational chaos and adult misbehavior that takes place in our schools.
But, then, there is my contributing chapter in the book, entitled, The Fire Within, edited by Mandy Froehlich--a beautiful human being who tackles the tough topics just like me and Rebecca do. My chapter focuses on my own situational nightmare of being a superintendent in times of extreme adversity and tumult—a time when I needed to step down. A time of defeat and mistakes. A time to gain more wisdom. A time to get back to my roots, someday, perhaps.
So, I needed to support my family and get back to work. You know how it goes. Live modestly, but pay the bills and make sure my kids could get a cavity filled or a prescription when ill without paying full price due to having no health insurance coverage. Well, I landed on my feet right away and stepped into a position of leadership within the business sector—and, thank goodness, it was related to K-12 schools. I was the Director of K-12 Education for a book and curriculum company which, unfortunately, after being established for over 20 years, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and laid off slews of people, including me. For them, Chapter 7 is looming just a few weeks away, sadly enough.
Again, I was faced with unemployment just this past March. I started to look around and make contacts with my friends. Some people promised to help me, but didn’t help me. Some people promised to help me land a few leads and they came through with helping to secure a few interviews for me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, though. Principal? Superintendent? Manager? Director? Supervisor? Assembly line worker? Not sure. Just, not sure.
I decided that I wasn’t going to give up getting back to what I was trained for and passionate about: education and kids. I could have gotten a job somewhere else doing work that wouldn’t fulfill me. Meaningless work just to pay the bills so my wife and I wouldn’t have to sell our house. But, something more needed to happen. I was sure of that and wasn't going to give up.
After four months of looking for work back in the K-12 setting, I was either deemed “overqualified” or a “criminal.” I was either “washed up” or a “threat” to those who would feel extremely endangered by my experience and background in education—treating me like I would only be there to steal their jobs. Author. Speaker. Trainer. A threat to the status quo, in their minds. “Oh, he must be rich because he’s an author and speaker,” some thought. These people didn’t want to hear about the new me; they just wanted to dwell on the old me who has a terrible digital footprint, but holds the true and real story to explain why the old me suffered from addiction, depression, anxiety, and stress. But, very few people afforded me the chance to tell my story in the professional arena after my career in education ended.
Last month, I interviewed for a teaching position at a school about an hour away from my house. I thought that the interview team consisted of extremely nice people, until a question was thrown at me which made my stomach turn: “What can you tell us about a typical day in your classroom because we are quite interested in what you will say since you haven’t taught for close to 20 years.” My mind swirled. Was that ageism? Even though I described what good teaching was, needless to say, they didn’t e-mail or call me back. I felt worthless after that question. They saw me as “washed up.” They perceived me as an old dinosaur. Not able to teach today’s kids. Whatever I did in the classroom, years ago, just wasn’t going to cut it with modern methods. Maybe I was just a “filler interview” to qualify their hiring process so that they would feel confident that they invited a Ph.D. to compete with the other person that they ultimately hired? I’ll never know.
But, then, I met Cathy, the Head of School, at a wonderful Charter School just minutes away from my house. She wanted to listen to my story, not just hear my story. There is a huge difference between those two terms. I told her everything--even the most vulnerable parts of my career and professional journey. We sat together for over two hours. We laughed. We traded secrets. She gave me a tour of her school. I fell in love with this potential position and environment. When I left the school and got into my car, I felt alive. I wanted to be there. I knew wanted to work there.
Cathy offered me a position to teach Grade 9 English and take on the leadership role of Humanities Department Coordinator. I’m headed back to my roots. I’m headed back to children. I’m headed back to the first-time happiness that ever existed in my career and I won’t let those kids down.
This new chapter in my life isn’t on the mythical plane of what we think a “promotion is” in education. I’m not climbing, hierarchically, to the titled position of “District Superintendent” or “State Chancellor of Education.” There is no “Commissioner” in my title. I will not make a salary like I used to make. But, I’m a teacher and I’m proud to be a teacher. I will be happy again, I just know it.
My heart races, like it used to, as I think about creative ways to plan the school year, get my classroom ready, and see the beautiful faces of my students who are counting on me. I’m ready and I’m eager.
Thank you to my wife, Jennifer, who puts up with so many headaches that I give her each day. She has always rooted for me. I will, forever, be grateful to my pirate family for what they have given to me in order to embark on any journey out there as an author and speaker. I've been to places I've never imagined and have met thousands of amazing educators. Thanks for believing in me and supporting me, Dave and Shelley Burgess. Thank you to Cathy, my new boss. Thank you to Rebecca, my closest friend, co-author, and business partner. You are like a sister to me. And, last but not least, thank you to my PLN.
I’m a bit of a Sylvester Stallone and Rocky movie fan. When I speak to groups of educators while on the road, I always refer to how Rocky was meant to do what he does best no matter what medical condition he was faced with or what others thought of him. Just get in the ring and box your heart out. That’s what Rocky was meant to do and that’s what I will do. I’m back Jennifer, my Adrian. I’m back and excited! Once a teacher, always a teacher.
I invite you to share your ideas and thoughts about offering advice to a new teacher who used to be a teacher but will always be a teacher, yet starting from scratch in 2018. Please blast your ideas to the hashtag #startfromscratch and feel free to send me your ideas that I will post in my upcoming blogs.
You know that I will keep you all posted on what this new journey entails for me and what the school year will bring to my students. The good news is that I can have my toothache looked at and get back to my roots with children. No pun intended. It has been a root-canal-journey that I wouldn’t trade for the world, funny enough. I feel accomplished and fulfilled, again. I feel appreciated, finally. I feel invigorated.
I was once a champion under the status quo for the wrong reasons and I will emerge again as a newly, invigorated champion for the right reasons--similar to when I first began my career in education--rooted in what I did best: teach.
Let the teaching excitement flow through my veins again! I will push boundaries this year and make children feel like a million bucks. Will you, too, get back to your roots and reasons for why you went into education in the first place even if you have resided in K-12 for a long time?
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