In his post, Why Are Good Teachers Leaving the Classroom, Dan Callahan states (for him), it all came down to “impact.” I get that…he wants to have long-lasting positive impact. The impact of a 30-year librarian (like at our school) or our principal last year or the 30-year teacher or the beloved gifted teacher or art teacher or coach or…you fill in the rest. I remember my PE coach from parochial school (I was sent there when the school I teach at now was just awful–way back in the 70s). Coach Larry made us run around on a field outside of Catholic school (girls had separate classes) just like the boys (which was innovative in those days in the South and in Catholic school). Coach Larry coached swimming, although he couldn’t swim. Coach Larry ended up working at the YMCA, where I became a member at 15 and later a fitness instructor, retiring, even. When he retired from the YMCA (mostly because of his Alzheimer’s), he became a crossing guard right by where we live now. He is one reason I became a teacher, stayed at the YMCA so long (I’m 22 years as an employee), moved into my neighborhood, and have fond memories of school. He absolutely had impact. I loved him so much because of his impact–both in and out of school.
I agree with Dan Callahan. The smart teacher weighs the pros and cons of leaving the classroom. It is painful. He writes: “The toughest part of the decision, of course, is that layer of separation now between me and the students.” Did Coach Larry feel that way, too? Does he know in his afterlife how much he was loved and admired by his students, friends, coworkers, and neighbors? When given the opportunity to leave the classroom, what teacher wouldn’t hesitate, just a little bit? Who wouldn’t crunch the numbers of impact? Your family. The extra money. The fact your job probably ends with the clock (even if it looks like more than 37 and a half hours). The value others place on your new “outside of the classroom” position. The fact is that many of those jobs outside of classroom do pay more (and, therefore, have a higher value). The opportunities to move up and down the ladder (not just sideways or not at all). The stresses that will be null and void outside of the classroom (sure, there will be new ones, but not the same ones). Impact says it all.
Recently, a very talented teaching coworker, who now is in an instructional coach position outside of the classroom, talked with me about a few of her frustrations. I sensed her distress and she even articulated she didn’t feel respected because other teachers commented about her not being in the classroom, as if she wasn’t busy. I liken it to the years I spent as a part-time fitness instructor and full-time mom of three small children. Moms who worked bitched and moaned about child care (as if I didn’t understand) and moms that didn’t work at all bitched and moaned about the pressures of staying at home with their kids. I always felt left out and a bit angry. I even had a few that said I wouldn’t understand. I had the very best and worst of both positions. As with my co-worker, she, too, has the very best and worst of being outside of the classroom.
However, what she really is, what she really should think of herself as, is a wealth of information and experience and know how. She is a Coach Larry. She has taught two of my own children and countless others. She has raised her family. She has worked in lots of positions. She has amazing ideas. She has impact.
How many of us see the impact we have on others in ourselves? How do we create a feeling of this both in and out of the classroom? Most of us ardently want to have impact on our students, our coworkers, our children, our spouses, our friends, etc. We want to feel appreciated, valued (both with money and kind words).
It is through constant reflection and exploration of myself and for the new and different that I begin to see ways I can impact others positively, a way I can stay in the classroom for now, with the ever-increasing demands and really rather callous public sentiment toward teachers, teaching, and public schools. I love to hear others perspectives on this, and I’m so glad that Dan Callahan shared his because without others, we create that “layer of separation” between ourselves and our impact. Sometimes it feels like we’re barely keeping our heads above water. Sometimes it feels like we are aimlessly swimming in a stormy sea. Sometimes it feels like leaving is better than staying (and when that time comes, it will be). In the end, it all comes down to impact. Whether we exit the classroom or this mortal life, we are our impact.