It’s that time of year. April 1st…a day when we play practical jokes on friends and family. For educators, it’s also about this time of year that our minds start to play tricks asking us if we are where we are meant to be. As spring arrives, districts begin to prepare for the following school year and teachers and support staff have the opportunity to ask themselves “Is it time to stay, or time to go?”.
As a young teacher, I remember the excitement of my first full time position. I loved my job, loved teaching new classes, experimenting with ideas and getting involved with the school community. Changing schools wasn’t really on my radar. I will never forget a conversation I had with my vice principal after my fifth year of teaching. It was near the end of the year, and he had learned he was leaving for a new opportunity. He asked if we could talk for a minute. I thought he was was saying a nice goodbye but instead he asked me if I had taught at any other schools. Besides my practicum, I had not, so I told him no. He told me it was time for me go. At the time I was surprised… why leave? I loved my job! He nicely explained the professional growth potential that he saw in me and suggested that a variety of school experiences may be something worth exploring. He also explained to me that each school has a very unique culture – and sometimes you don’t realize its time to go until after you leave. At the time I was surprised. Looking back, I am so grateful for his words of wisdom. His words left me with curiosity to explore and shifted my direction. Since that conversation I have changed paths a few times moving from teaching to counselling, counselling to vp, from one district to another, from vp to principal and from secondary to elementary. With each shift I have realized that change isn’t as scary as I once imagined. Change keeps our ideas fresh, allows us to make new connections, renews our practice and gives us the opportunity to take the best from each school. It’s also an opportunity to escape routine. Schools have a habit of expecting the same person to take on the same responsibilities year after year. (When I came to elementary I was told quite clearly who was responsible for the laminator. This is great as long as that person wants the responsibility but it’s also funny how little things like this can become a burden over time if it’s not a role you want to have). Change allows educators to re-invent themselves and become who they want to be rather than who they have always been.
So… how do you know if it’s the right time to go? Of course, this is an individual choice. Some people thrive on change and like to move every year or two. Others complete their entire career at one school. One of my good friends has been in the exact same classroom for 22 years. She is an excellent teacher, happy with her assignment and has no interest in moving. She has made great connections with the staff and students and is part of a dynamic team. She can feel renewed and energized without changing grades or schools. I have another friend who due to layoffs has worked at seven schools in the last seven years. Unlike most, this process doesn’t bother her as she has met great people and loved the breadth of experience she has gained in a short time.
So – Is it Time to Stay or Time to Go?
Throughout my career I have heard some traditional wisdom that may help:
- The five year rule. There is an unwritten rule that five years is about the right amount of time to spend at a school and make a difference but also short enough to stay current and rejuvenated. For some, this works.
- The perfect posting. Perhaps you didn’t plan to leave but you happen to see a posting that screams “This is YOU!” It’s never a bad idea to keep your eyes open.
- The Pro / Con List. Many people would advise you to create a pro / con list. Personally this is my least favourite tool for making decisions. Perhaps because it cost me $50 000 + when I made the wrong decision. A few years ago my husband and I wrestled with the idea of moving to a new community. We made list after list and eventually decided that the list to move was longer than the list that said stay. We moved. We hated it. Despite the practical reasons, our hearts were not in the other community. Three months in we asked our kids and each other if we should move back. It took about six seconds to decide we should so six months after purchasing a house we sold it. Our realtor did the happy dance and went on another vacation while we sucked it up and paid all the expenses associated with moving for a second time in a year.
Here is my random list of unconventional wisdom that you may want to consider:
- Create your own job. What would be your ideal teaching assignment? What need exists in your school or your district? Maybe this is the time to suggest something new for next year. (team teaching, a new program, multi-grade classrooms, etc)
- What do your colleagues think? See whether they feel you are ready for a new role. A superintendent once gave me this advice. He said “If you think you are ready for admin, go ask a friend on staff to start staff room conversation asking who would make a great administrator. If you don’t hear your name, you are not ready”. I shared this with a teacher once who was considering admin and she shook her head and said “but no one here would see me as a leader”. We sat in awkward silence as the reality set in.
- When you walk in the front door of your school how do you feel? Do you feel like running for the hills or do you feel at home? If you feel like your school is an extension of you then you are in the right place. If it feels like a burden, it’s time to go.
- Do your colleagues drive you crazy? Do you see them for their strengths or have their weaknesses become your focus. It’s easy to blame someone for being ‘hard to work with’. It takes much more effort to see what you can do differently to be collaborative.
- Does your school get the best of you? Are you a professional continuing to learn or have you become so comfortable that you act like a crazy relative?
- What is your gut feeling? If you are still not sure,try this. Pretend you have accepted a new job. Drive to your ‘new school’ and park in the parking lot. Trust your gut – if it feels right, it is.
- Follow your heart. As I told one of our teachers last year, I would rather ask a teacher to follow their heart than ask them to stay if it didn’t feel right.
Whatever you choose, I hope you find the assignment that pushes you slightly beyond your comfort zone and gives you the opportunity to shine. Happy April.