If you’ve been following my rebranding through my blog, you know that I have relocated. I am now in a school district where for the first time in six years I feel heard, respected, and appreciated. My move was a little more drastic, relocating 298 miles away from my last community. But what I got out of the move has made it worth it many times over. That got me thinking.
Relocating for work used to be more prevalent. Of course I could date back to many centuries ago to a point in time when people were gradually spreading throughout the United States in search of work and prosperity. Instead, I’ll just go back to the late 1980s where over 40 percent of job seekers relocated for a new position. This trend has decreased over the years to now just over 10 percent of workers relocating for a position. And while there are many factors that go into this national survey, I couldn’t help but wonder if educators should consider bumping these percentages back up.
An unpopular opinion I share is that of tenure. Before you try to string me up, hear me out. Tenure, typically obtained after successfully completing four good years of teaching in one place, was a teacher’s protection against unfair treatment including the possibility of dismissal without cause. This is important, and if there is no other way to protect a worker’s rights, then tenure should remain. In my opinion though, the thought of giving up tenure and having to earn it somewhere else is often a barrier to teachers leaving a school.
The thought of acquiring tenure again should never be considered a deterrent in the decision to leave a job. A teacher who knows their worth also knows how effective they are in the classroom. Acquiring tenure never once crosses their mind because they will be the same teacher regardless of status.
On the flip side, if tenure is used as a coercion tool to join committees or give more of yourself than necessary, then you should probably reevaluate the organization or person you work for. Tenure should not be given as rewards. Tenure should be earned. If you cannot earn it through the hard work you’re putting into your teaching, but rather, you have to win it through jumping through hoops to appease someone, then you’re probably in the wrong place.
Tenure should not feel like a chokehold on you if you’re unhappy in your job. Nor should it frighten you to earn it again at a different school. Some states, Illinois included, allow previously tenured teachers a faster track to earn tenure at their new school based on performance.
I am always impressed by my sister. A veteran art teacher, she was tenured and in her first position for 13 years. And while she loved certain aspects of this position and school, she realized for her own mental health that she needed to make a move to another district. She not only gave up tenure in her transition to new employment, she also didn’t let the next thing I’m going to discuss hold her back either.
A recent publication from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the average commute time for Americans has increased to a new high of 27.6 minutes. My first teaching job included a daily commute of just over 20 minutes. And while I live in the community where I teach now, I am within 30 minutes from at least four different school districts. In other words, I have options if needed.
Many workers dissatisfied with their jobs cite a disdain for commuting as a reason for staying unhappy. Yes. I am saying that people would rather be unhappy in their job than have to commute to a job that could potentially make their lives happier. I would argue that having a commute has several benefits.
When I commuted to work each day I was able to use that time in the car for me and my thoughts. I didn’t fill it with talking on the phone, although, for some, that would be a great time to catch up with a friend. It also allowed me to decompress after a rather difficult day. It sort of became a longer version of counting to 10 when frustrated. I could work out scenarios or replay events to see how I could have handled something differently.
Working where you don’t live has other advantages as well. As elementary teachers can easily tell you, teaching the primary grades makes you a rockstar with a room full of students each year. And that status rarely fades as they move on. Meaning a retiring kindergarten teacher has roughly 700 fans that adore seeing their former teacher regardless of their age. (Trust me, I still get excited when I see my former first grade teacher.)
Sometimes though, we want to don the oversized sunglasses with a hat pulled low, a look perfected by Julia Roberts in the Ocean’s franchise. A quick run to the grocery store isn’t always quick and is almost certain to be void of anonymity in a smaller town. Living somewhere else allows you to maintain privacy not afforded when you live in the community where you work.
Taking up residency is a long argued practice for administrators. Boards of Education want their leaders to live in the community because that is the Board’s perceived way of being involved. And while I was a resident in my district for my six years of being an administrator, it also led my family to often go out to eat in other communities so we could eat uninterrupted.
Quit Surviving…Start Thriving
Life is too short for many things. This includes being underappreciated. This includes being miserable. This includes letting a person or organization turn you against a profession that you love so much.
Teacher burnout and demoralization are more prevalent than ever before. A recent article from the NEA noted that, “burnout is often a more temporary condition in which an educator has exhausted the personal and professional resources necessary to do the job. Demoralization occurs when an educator believes she is unable to perform the work in ways that uphold the high standards of the profession.”
And while there are many factors that contribute to both burnout and demoralization, one of the main factors has been and continues to be the climate of the school. So the question I pose is why do we stay? There are over 130,000 K-12 schools in the United States. Why would we let people or an organization lead us to leave the profession when we could find a better place to reignite our fire?
If you feel unappreciated or you are unhappy in your job, let’s be slow to generalize our unhappiness in the profession and consider some options first. I do understand this isn’t the case for everyone. Some are truly burned out.
I’ve said before how close I came to leaving education. And it was all because of one experience with several insignificant people. I will not let others define who I am or my happiness. And if it takes relocating close to five hours away to find that happiness, well then, show me the Uhaul.