How a year off made a world of difference in my teaching practice.

I’ve been lucky.  When I graduated in 2001, districts were bleeding teachers.  I moved home from college and applied everywhere.  Miraculously, I found myself not with the difficult decision of which part time job I should take, but the pleasantly difficult decision of which ELA teacher position I should accept.

I don’t mention this to boost my ego, but to set the stage.  14 years later, I’m still in that same position and that’s a good thing[1]; but one can’t be faulted for thinking “what if…”

In the June of 2013 I took a leave of absence from the teaching position I held for the past 12 years.  It was the most difficult decision I have had to make in my career.  It didn’t help that, as usual, the entire school community knew before I had a chance to collect my thoughts.

Regardless of my second guessing and gnawing sensation of guilt, I was able to make a life changing decision a little more manageable with some help from my Union.  Thanks to contract language, I had the ability to request a leave for a year, knowing I could return in August and bring with me a year’s experience and knowledge.  In the normal everyday world of academia one might call it a sabbatical.

I spent the next 12 months working for a for- profit education consulting company, guiding teachers and admin in looking at their data more strategically.

While I brought back knowledge of data analysis, I returned with more pedagogical knowledge than could have been absorbed in 10 years of PD.

Without the concerns associated with evaluations and forms, grading and planning, etc.,  I spent quite a bit of time reading and thinking; necessities that I often considered luxuries as a classroom teacher.  I thoroughly read through the standards and my curriculum without the naysayers and over thinkers breathing down my neck.  I read more about pedagogy than I had in undergrad, or in my entire career for that matter.  I asked questions of teachers in classrooms and districts other than my own. My lunch was longer than eighteen minutes.  It was glorious, and the cynicism that had been creeping in over the past few years all but disappeared.

Despite being away from the classroom for a year, I never took off my teacher hat.  I kept thinking; I could do this, or we should do that, why are we working so hard when the answer is right in front of us? 

A day doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t ask me, “so are you glad you came back?” with a slight twinge of what the hell is wrong with you in their tone.  (I can’t fault them for both the question and the tone; things have been stressful the past few years in my building.)

My consistent, unwavering answer; I am.

I am glad I returned.  For every thought that may have led me to think of staying in the private sector, there were ten more which made me wish I was back in my classroom implementing new knowledge.  The energy we all have that month out of teacher prep or undergrad programs was back ten-fold.

That energy helped recommit myself to this profession.   I committed myself to being a reading comprehension trainer for my local; I committed myself to being a more active voice in my school.  I’ve committed myself to offering advice and sharing best practice.  I’ve committed myself to my students.  And while I know, not everyone feels that I am committed to my school, I suppose that is the price to pay for pursuing knowledge and taking chances.  In the end, I know that I am, and I’ll still be here teaching years from now and that’s a beautiful thing

[1] Recently, teaching seems to have an “entry level position” tag associated with it.  This bothers me to no end.  I like teaching, whether it’s children or adults,  I don’t have to “move on” after I’ve had a few years of classroom experience.

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