Friday, July 28, 2017

Changing Grades and Changing Plans

The teaching field has a way of lulling you into a comfort zone and then suddenly and without warning, turning it upside down. Things can become so unpredictable at a moment's notice. I experienced this myself a few years back, and I thought I'd share my story and offer some tips for making it through unexpected changes in jobs, grade levels, or any huge change you might come across in your teaching career.
If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know I started my career as a kindergarten teacher. I wasn't thinking about teaching kinder in the least while I was applying for jobs. In my mind, I was going to teach 2nd grade - after all, my mom had been teaching 2nd for over 30 years and loved every second of it - so why shouldn't I do the same? So, I started applying for jobs in different districts here in Arizona, confident that I would get a call for an interview at any moment. I went to job fairs. I dropped resumes off at school offices. I continued to apply for even more districts. Yet no one called. Not. One. Principal. Back in 2008, there wasn't the teacher shortage that there is now. Jobs were a lot tougher to come by. But surely someone needed an upbeat, excited new teacher who would give their all for their students....right?


My phone stayed silent nearly the entire summer. I started to get anxious and worried that I wasn't going to find a job. My friends and family kept encouraging me, and I kept trying to apply, and even e-mail principals to let them know I was interested in a job opening. Still nothing.

Finally, in mid July, which is fairly late to still have a job opening only a few weeks from school starting, I heard from a principal who wanted to interview me. I was so excited! I couldn't believe it! And it was even in a district I wanted to be in. I went to the interview and was full of nervous excitement until that principal told me what job she wanted me to interview for: a 3rd/4th grade ELL combo class. My heart sank, even though I kept a smile on my face. That wasn't the job that I was hoping for. In fact, it sounded terrifying as a brand new teacher to be faced with teaching students in not one, but two different grades all at the same time. Not only that, but I would be on a team of one, going solo. Not exactly the ideal situation to be faced with as a newbie teacher. But I kept on through the interview, answering questions as best I could and trying to be optimistic about the opportunity. I left the interview feeling disappointed and unsure of the direction I wanted to head. That night I went home, talked through it with those closest to me to get their opinions, and most importantly, I prayed that God would guide me to the decision that He wanted me to make for my life.

After deliberating, praying, and talking with family about my decision, I knew what I wanted to do. And the answer might surprise you. So when that principal called me to offer me the job....

I said no.


That's right, no. Even though it was close to the beginning of the school year and I hadn't received even one other phone call for any sort of interview, I said no. It didn't feel right. I didn't feel that God was leading me to take that job. And I had to be okay with my decision. Even though I desperately needed a job, I didn't want to get myself stuck in a difficult position where I'd be miserable and unhappy all year.

To some people, I'm sure that's hard to understand. And it may even seem ungrateful, or picky to some. Some people even told me that I should have been happy to take any job that came about. But everyone's life circumstances are different. I just did not feel like that was the right job placement for me at the time. And by the time the school year began... I was still jobless.

So, I went to Plan B - substitute teaching. No, it wasn't ideal, and no, it wasn't what I had envisioned for myself coming out of college. But here I was. I applied in the district where I student taught and started picking up sub jobs where I could. It seemed like the only jobs available were half day jobs at first, until I subbed for a teacher at the school where I did my student teaching. This ended up being a great opportunity for me. Not only was it amazing to see all my former "coworkers" (I say that loosely, since all I had done was student teaching!), but an opportunity came about for me to be a long-term sub for a teacher at the school who was soon to be going on maternity leave. Not only did this give me a steady job for a few months, but it was also at the school that I loved. It ended up being a great way to have my own classroom, but with the support of having the first few weeks' plans already made up for me. And the amazing part was, I already knew most of these kids - it was a 3rd grade class - because they had been in my student teaching class the previous year in 2nd grade. So, if I didn't have a classroom to call my own that first year, this was the next best thing. I continued substitute teaching in various ways while also working a second job to supplement my income.

The school year ended and I'd been applying for jobs all over again, but with a new excitement. Now I had something to put on my resume. I'd actually been teaching in a classroom. Surely this would give me an edge over other brand new teachers... right?

Wrong. Again.

All throughout the spring and summer, once again, I did not receive a single call for an interview. I began to wonder what was wrong with me. Sometimes doubts even creeped in that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't supposed to be a teacher after all, even though I'd dreamed about it since I was a kid making up class lists and seating charts with my Barbies and dolls. May passed. June passed. July was flying by. I felt hopeless and sad. When people asked me if I'd found a job yet, and I had to tell them no, I felt them silently thinking, "You could have had that other job a year ago." I already knew, I'd think back to them, because I already was doubting my decision myself.

At the end of July in 2009, I was just about to resign myself to applying for substitute teaching positions once again when I received a phone call. FROM A PRINCIPAL! A principal who wanted to interview me for a kindergarten position. Well now, as I said before, I never really thought about teaching kindergarten, but who was I to say no at this point? I certainly wasn't opposed to it. So, we set up the appointment and I hung up the phone feeling excited and hopeful. The day came, and I left a whole hour early, and printed out the directions on Google Maps (no smartphone or GPS at that time... haha!). And... the directions led me to THE WRONG SCHOOL. You see, it was a fairly newly developed neighborhood and not all of the directions had been updated. And I was late to my interview.

Do you know what a terrible feeling that is? To finally get an interview, leave way ahead of time, and not be able to find the school? Who on earth would hire anyone that was late to their interview? But what could I do? I called the office, let them know I was lost, and then finally made it there. I met with only the principal, no other teachers, and I thought it went well, but wasn't feeling so sure because of my lateness. The whole weekend passed and I didn't receive any phone calls. I thought that was it. I remember it was a Sunday afternoon that I was at a friends' house for a barbecue, and I got the call from the principal - I had gotten the job! I was beyond excited, but also so nervous and stressed because the first day of school was literally one week away, which meant that I had to spend the entire week before school started attending new teacher orientation meetings and new staff meetings in the morning and set up my classroom as fast as I could during nights. Meet the teacher night was only 4 days after I got hired, so mere minutes before parents and students were due to arrive, I was shoving things into cabinets and hiding boxes in my office. 

Needless to say, saying "no" to that 3rd/4th grade combo class was the best decision I ever made, because that kindergarten job ended up being my dream job. I had the best teammates ever - they taught me so much about what it meant to be a good teacher and they even made their own amazing resources - which inspired me to further do what I do today. We were a well-oiled machine and always had fun every day we came to work. It's hard to find a team that has that magic together. You can have a solid team, even a good team, but I was lucky enough to have the magical unicorn team teaching a grade that I ended up absolutely loving. If I had settled for that first opportunity that I knew wasn't right for me, I would have never experienced that. So, sometimes it's okay to say "no".

Things were great. I loved my school, loved my students, loved my team, loved my coworkers. 6 years passed by and I figured I would be at this school forever.

Wrong again.

I don't know what it's like where you live, but in the state of Arizona, we often have school district overrides that the public votes on in order to continue a property tax that provides funding to our school districts. This provides for low class sizes, full-day kindergarten, teaching jobs, classroom resources such as aides and support staff, etc. Every time one of these is up for a vote, it's a scary time, because we know if it doesn't pass, people are going to lose their jobs. My first year teaching, this override was up for a vote, and it didn't pass, and because I was the low man on the totem pole, I received a Reduction in Force (RIF) slip. However, for whatever reason, that spring, it was able to be put up for a revote, and it passed, so I ended up keeping my job. This year, 6 years later, I was worried about it not passing, I stood on street corners with signs encouraging others to vote "yes", and I attended meetings for support groups, but I wasn't worried about my job. After all, I'd been at my school for 6 years and was on the leadership team, and was more of a veteran on my team. Surely I wasn't the low man on the totem pole anymore, right?

Wrong. (Are you sensing a theme?)

The override didn't pass. The people of my city had voted it down. We were crushed. And no one was more shocked than me when I received a RIF notice. For reasons I won't get into, the way they decided who got to keep their jobs hurt kindergarten teachers the most, and the biggest percentage of people who lost their jobs were kinder teachers. So, all of a sudden, I was a part of that, even though others who were first year teachers in different grades got to keep their jobs. I never, ever want anyone to lose a job that way, but that didn't quite sit right with me.

Needless to say, I was totally devastated. I loved my school and didn't want to leave my team, or my former students, who are ALWAYS my students for the rest of their lives once they walk through my classroom door. The thought of not seeing them anymore in the halls crushed me. I cried a lot of tears that month.

All of a sudden, I was having to apply for teaching jobs again. By the way, do you know how hard it is to apply for jobs when you hadn't gone to college in ages and had to track down all of those transcripts?! Ha!

This time, I had a lot of interest from principals wanting to hire me. I was grateful for that. In the span of a week, I ended up having 3 interviews. I was nervous and excited, but also confident. The first couple of interviews didn't feel quite right. There wasn't anything overtly wrong with them, but I just didn't get that feeling that they were the places I was supposed to be. And if there's one piece of advice I have to anyone who is going through a similar situation, it's go with your gut. Don't ignore how you feel! My third and final interview was amazing. I felt so excited about what was going on at that school, and I left the interview feeling so excited about the possibility of working there. And after 4 long days of waiting... I got the job! I was completely over the moon about it and felt like it was the exact school I was supposed to be at. And that's the school I have been working at for 3 years now, I'm happy to say.

However, things STILL didn't end up working out as planned - and as I'd learned throughout my short career, do they ever?! I was hired to teach kindergarten, but then they didn't end up having enough students to warrant a third classroom, so they cut my job and I was moved to first grade in the middle of the summer. Thankfully, I was able to stay at my school and not get surplussed to a different one. I taught first grade for a year, and then the same thing happened - we didn't have enough students for 3 classes, so I moved grades again - this time to 2nd grade!

I have to say, teaching a new grade level is not easy. When I taught kindergarten for as long as I did, I knew it like the back of my hand. I was becoming an expert in that field; and I knew what those kids needed best to succeed. I thought I had myself all figured out, and I was going to stay in kindergarten forever! But, needless to say, God had other plans. I've now taught 2 different grade levels in 2 years, and each time I felt like a first year teacher all over again. It's tough. And this year, I'm moving again! Only two second grade classes were needed, so it's back to first grade I go for this upcoming school year. Maybe someday I'll be able to stay in the same grade for more than 1 year :) - but for now, it's all part of the adventure, and I try to embrace whatever challenge comes towards me, because no matter what grade I teach, it's all about the kids; and it's been kind of fun teaching new material.

If you are still with me and reading the longest blog post on earth, I thank you! Hopefully you can relate to my story in some way and know that you are not alone. If you're experiencing unexpected change in your school or job, here are some tips to help you make it through:

Even though losing my job at my first school was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. I love where I am now and the school I am at allows me to bring out my creativity in the classroom. And even though it's been an adventurous two years moving around to different grades, I'm grateful for it. I feel like I'm a better teacher having had these experiences in different grades. I love teaching kindergarten, and I still feel like that is where my heart is, but teaching first and second grade is also a blast in their own different ways as well. And if there's one thing I've learned as I'm going into my 9th year of teaching - expect the unexpected, but embrace it when it comes.