Teaching Profession Opinion

Starting From Scratch After 15 Years, Sort of

By Starr Sackstein — September 13, 2016 3 min read
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Starting a teaching career is hard. One has an expectation in one’s head about what it will be, but it is often very different than one expects.

Once a teacher endures those early years and becomes more established, some day to day stuff gets easier because there is a level of comfort that is developed. Early on, it isn’t uncommon to start a new school or job because sometimes it takes a while to find a good fit.

When a teacher is lucky, a good fit is made and that teacher can grow with the students, take risks and develop tools that push him/her to keep moving forward as a pedagogue. By the time we make it to our middle careers, there is confidence and reputation behind the work we do. We have made it to a plateau and often have to work harder or different to keep moving forward.

Some will take on National Board Certification or an administration program or a doctorate and then there will be career moves and decisions to make. Whether shifting roles in the same school or moving to another school, the change of focus will not be without a transitional growing pain.

When I took on my new job, I had no illusions that there would be challenges. As a matter of fact, I had great anxiety about the shift. At my old school I had developed my reputation, started a program and grew it from scratch to award winning and put systems in place that had begun to run themselves. Starting over again at almost 40 is different.

That isn’t to say that it is impossible or that I won’t be able to make it happen, it’s just with a different set of challenges that I haven’t connected with for a long time.

On my Facebook page, a friend and respected colleague, Dennis Dill reminded me of the following, “Moving to a new school is tough ... I did it a few years ago after teaching at a school for 12 years where I knew everyone and all the kids knew me ... starting at Jewett School of the Arts I was just another teacher to the kids. Being at a new school is strange as you have to go through this weird acceptance phase where you are feeling people out and they are feeling you out. Trying to not rock the boat, but still let the true you shine through. I am sure you will be awesome.”

My first couple of days didn’t go as I had hoped in a lot of ways it was as challenging as the beginning of my career. Then in other ways sort of harder. I know what I’m capable of, but no one at my new school does and that’s a challenge. To be honest, I started doubting myself a little too. Am I giving people advice in my books and blog that I actually can’t do anymore? What if I am a fraud?

Now this may all sound very existential and over the top, but it happens. However just because I felt for a moment or two that I didn’t it (what ever it is or was) doesn’t mean I don’t actually have it. It means it takes time to find a groove and to re-establish.

Even though these challenges do exist, there are also a few bonuses to starting over:

  • If there is something I wanted to change about my practice but couldn’t at my old school because of that established reputation, now is the time to be whomever I want to be and start to cultivate that new working persona.
  • I get the opportunity to take new risks and since the culture and atmosphere of the new school is so different, I don’t have to expect the same results because I’m dealing with new people, new people who may respond differently to my crazy ideas.
  • The possibilities are limitless.
  • Different resources are available now so many of the challenges that existed before are no longer an issue.

Although old challenges may no longer be present, new ones will certainly arise, but the benefit of starting over with the prior experience I have is what will help me and others grow. Walking into a new opportunity can be scary but it is that fear that will either force me to improve or force me into submission of some kind. Since I’m not a quitter, it can only be up from here.

Any other middle career or veteran teachers start a new position or a new school recently? What’s your story? Challenges? Successes? Advice? Please share

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