Teaching Profession Opinion

Reflections on a Year of Change

By Starr Sackstein — June 11, 2017 4 min read
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Stagnation is the killer of creativity and after nine years at my previous school I had ceased to continue growing.

That kind of blockage is seriously detrimental for a person like me. Never satisfied with good enough or comfortable, despite its obvious positives.

Despite promises made, year after year, it had become evident that I wasn’t going to get where I needed to go if I stayed, so I took a major risk and left the career home I knew for nearly a decade, a program I had created from scratch and the colleagues and students I had grown to love.

When all hope seemed lost, I got the call I was waiting for. A job with Teacher Center as a teacher coach and teacher. The hybrid role that kept my foot in the door and also allowed me to work with teachers directly to help even more students. It was at a new school, so in addition to learning my new roles, I also had to develop relationships and my reputation with my new colleagues.

At the interview, I knew that the commute had the potential to be treacherous, but despite that knowledge, I took the job thinking of myself and my career path. My son wanted more independence so this was the way to start making that happen. We had tried out him getting to and coming home from school alone the year before right at the end; he was excited, responsible and capable.

I felt confident that despite the farther distance, he’d be good and I’d be headed in the right direction for my career despite the excessive commute (1-2 hours each direction).

And after a year at my current job, I have learned so much.

Although I ended up teaching more classes than I thought I would, I was brought back to basics which put all of the work I’m doing in perspective. Many people look to me to help them make big changes around assessment in their classrooms and since I had been in the same space for so long, I had forgotten how hard it is to start from scratch, but I did it.

Moving to a no-grades classroom in a traditional school that is battling with a lot of accountability measures because of its status in the system. I have never worked with harder working people - smart, talented and dedicated, every teacher I have collaborated with has taught me something that I didn’t know before.

In addition to helping some new teachers acclimate, I worked with a phenomenal ENL co-teacher who has taught me so much about ELLs and how to reach them on a number of different levels. I had no idea when I started this job that I would learn so much from the people I was supposed to be helping.

However, it wasn’t a good fit.

Turns out that my personal life made it very challenging to really focus on the school year. It was one of those kinds of personal years. In my 16 years of teaching, I may have had three debilitating years outside of the classroom that really derailed my focus and this was one of them.

Being a professional is of the utmost importance to me and I take my work very seriously. The commitment I’ve put forth into education is really only second to one in my life, my son. And this year, my son needed me. So the internal guilt of knowing that I was walking away from professional responsibilities to take care of the one little boy I’m most responsible to was challenging.

I’ve struggled.

And that’s an understatement. No one tells you when you get into teaching that it will be the most rewarding and physically and emotionally draining job you could possibly have, even when you love it, maybe even especially if you love it. When we give all of ourselves, we put ourselves out there, it expends a lot of energy and time.


It’s the one commodity that we never have enough of and when we spend it, we don’t get it back. This year I chose to spend my time making sure that my son was cared for as he needed to be with only a little hesitation at first.

Fortunately, I have amazing administrators and friends at my new job who have been so supportive. They knew what I was going through and gave me permission to take care of what needed to be done.

But I still struggled personally.

Now, it’s time to make another hard decision. Because of the distance from home and my son’s upcoming transition to middle school, I can’t be too far from home when I work and so another major career decision needs to be made. One that is happening very closely on the heels of the one that came before.

This time, I have to think about how my decisions impact not only me, but my family as well.

It’s weird being an educator who also gets to be connected with many folks outside of the classroom. Making many relationships, being respected for what my area of expertise is, but to be “just a member” of a school staff, not really able to share my expertise has been hard.

People ask me if I will consult and I’m not sure I’m ready to do that full time. I love being an educator. I love being in a school community. I also love writing and sharing my story with folks so that they can do great things with their students too. Helping other teachers build capacity and develop their own voices is as exciting as working with students directly.

So I think I’m ready to leave the classroom for a little while. Still working with teachers and students, but not directly. I’d love to teach one class, since I’ll be in a new school community and I like for my colleagues to see that I practice what I preach. I’m so ready to be coaching teachers and providing excellent, learner-centered professional development.

And although looking for the “right” job is not something I thought I’d be doing so close to the last time I did it, I’m taking the learning and relationships I’ve made this year to make another hard, but essential decision for the future.

I have so much gratitude for the amazing educators in my life who help to inform my decisions. The people who listen when I call, who answer my tweets. Thank you. Your experience matters and it makes me better.

What have you learned this year that you weren’t expecting to learn? Please share

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