Washington D.C. (March 11, 2021) – About five years into teaching, I had reached my physical and mental limit. Working at a D.C. public charter school for students with special needs, the proverbial “burn-out” mixed with grief from the recent loss of my mom was resulting in a toxic imbalance. I’d come home each day, exhausted and defeated, and felt like a shell of a person.
As a means of survival, I made a tough decision to leave my position, mid-school year. I was leaving the education field, with no clear path of return. I felt ashamed of my choice and weak for not “powering through” and sticking with my degree-granted expertise.
Women are victims of societal judgment, but that doesn’t even begin to encompass the self-inflicted scrutiny we endure. I had a significant reason to feel dissatisfied with the demands of my teaching job but only allowed my personal struggles to be the justifying factor for leaving it.
Teachers, especially women, too often assume a martyr mentality. They accept their long hours and pennies as payment to be a societal norm and “not the reason” they do the work. For me, that mindset permeated into my expectations for myself, my career, and ultimately, my worth.
I also believed that I was “just a teacher,” minimizing my value and skill sets because my role was familiar and didn’t have a fancy title. I would say to others “everyone knows what a teacher does” and “everyone’s had a teacher at one point in their life.” While true, I assumed that non-educators really knew what or, rather, how I did my job as a special education teacher.
Patient is often the first characteristic I was labeled with. But skills like organization, problem-solving, time and project management all fall into the job requirements of any teacher. Every teacher I know has the ability to mediate and collaborate; is dependable and diligent; and makes more decisions in an hour than some professionals make all day.
It took my departure from the classroom to realize these attributes in myself and how transferable they were to many other jobs.
After I accepted an administrative assistant position in a public policy department, I was extremely intimidated and worried that someone at this new job would figure me out — that I was “just a teacher” and had no idea what public policy was.
But the biggest barrier to my success was my limited view of myself. I confused my competence with my confidence. I wasn’t a pity hire, my strengths as a teacher were exactly why they had offered me this job!
I had forgotten that I was still capable, savvy, and quick on my feet. I may not have ever studied or worked in government relations, but I certainly knew that learning is fundamental to growth. I had diminished the triumphs of my teaching days and discounted the fact that they had been filled with equally, if not more challenging demands.
I quickly learned that after five years of teaching, I truly could handle anything — even outside the classroom. I was an awesome assistant and was quickly promoted to support the president of that company. Within two years, I took on a new role as Director of Operations for a private firm led by a former U.S. senator. Now, I am the Vice President of a national program, advocating for better broadband in schools.
I never could have anticipated that my career would come as “full circle” as it has, and sometimes I still struggle to widen that narrowed scope of my professional self. But I will continue to advocate that teachers, or really, all women, regardless of their profession, are limitless.
Seize opportunities to grow and learn. Give yourself permission to re-evaluate and pivot to suit your needs and desire for fulfillment. You aren’t selfish, you’re brave. Grant yourself the kindness and understanding that you’d give others. You are limitless.
About the Author: Emily Jordan, Vice President, Connect K-12 versees the day-to-day operations of the organization’s Connect K-12 initiative. She manages external relationships with key stakeholders at the state and federal levels of government, including governors’ offices, education agency heads, and like-minded advocacy and membership organizations. Emily helps state education leaders and K-12 public school districts improve school connectivity and make progress toward the FCC’s 1 Mbps per student bandwidth goal. She also equips national, state, and local organizations with data to be effective advocates for the federal E-rate Program, the primary funding mechanism for school connectivity nationally.
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