Teaching Profession Opinion

Your Middle Career Years Don’t Have to Slump

By Starr Sackstein — November 16, 2017 4 min read
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As an early career teacher, I took advice from anyone who offered it. Questions were like air, in high demand and necessary for survival.

Although I never felt good enough in a lot of areas, I comforted myself with the reminder that I was still new at the job, the career that would define my life.

But no pressure there....

Growing out of my early years (we’ll say years one to five), there were many other myths that I noticed about middle career teachers. Like the middle child, they aren’t the oldest or youngest anymore but can often get lost in the mix.

Along with the time in the classroom and natural “comfort” that can happen, many first career teachers are growing up with their jobs. By my fifth year, I was a new mom, early in my marriage, and building that life outside of school. My home life became more challenging to balance than in my early years.

When I started teaching, my job WAS my life. Arriving early every day and staying late, then staying up half the night writing lesson plans that often didn’t go as well as I had imagined they would. But I had the time to be the job and proud that I was.

Things got more complicated moving through my middle years, as my son got older and my marriage didn’t go as planned. By year eight, I was balancing my work life with my divorce and home life. Of course, the lack of happiness at home propelled me back into my work where I wasn’t really satisfied, but had potential.

As a middle career teacher, I needed to work harder to get better because being just a “good” educator wasn’t enough for me. I longed to be the kind of teacher students remembered when asked “which teacher made the biggest impact on your life?” The learning in our space needed to be amped up.

Since I wasn’t necessarily getting the feedback I needed for growth, I took it upon myself to try my hand at National Board Certification since everyone told me about the rigor of the process and how worthwhile it was. Deeply reflecting on my practice, I began to blog and get connected on Twitter.

These moves changed me as a teacher; they forced me to move beyond the ease of complacency that can happen in middle years as an educator. It becomes way too easy in years eight through 15 to recycle projects without change, especially if teaching the same classes year after year.

Boredom can be a killer to innovation, so I realized that if I wasn’t excited to come to class, my students also wouldn’t be.

So, I did something very uncomfortable... I started over in a way.

Change HAD to happen. The more I connected with folks on Twitter and the more I considered my practice, I realized I had so much to learn despite having learned so much since year one.

There was a tech infusion revolution in my classroom and I started to deeply consider practices that I’d grown used to, like how students were assessed and who was doing the heavy lifting. Reflection and Twitter were helping me grow so much, so I figured why not introduce them to my classes too? Why not grow with the students as we explore new learning together?

My middle years despite the personal struggles and challenges (and there were many) became the years that began my metamorphosis into where I am now. Sixteen years into my career, now a lead learner working to get more of best practices into the hands of more teachers for the benefit of all kids.

When in the middle of the change, it’s easy to think that everyone else is getting it, but that isn’t necessarily the truth. Just because something comes easily or we become aware of something, doesn’t mean everyone else has also. It’s our job to share our stories and work together to make real, sustainable change in education globally.

Taking risks has become a hallmark of my career and they aren’t all winners. Sometimes they flop and I have to be comfortable with that. I must share those failures as well as the successes or else the context is lost. In education, each up hinges on the down that came before it and the more transparent we are about that with our colleagues and students, the richer the learning environments are.

Change is the only constant.

So as I’m transitioning into my new role and learning more every day, I keep my feet firmly planted in the memory of staying fresh with best pedagogical practices and continue to listen so I keep growing.

Here are some things I do every day to keep moving forward:

  • Spend time on Twitter, connecting with educators who push my thinking
  • Read a few blog posts every day and share the ones I feel can help others
  • Reflect and write on my own blog to keep myself honest
  • Talk to my colleagues about best practices
  • Visit classrooms to see great teaching in action
  • Go to edcamps and educational conferences to mix and mingle in person
  • Try out new apps that may help me be more efficient or help students learn better
  • Give and ask for feedback where applicable
  • Read educational books and journals that keep me up to date with the newest findings and research

What have you done in your career to stay fresh? Please share.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.