Embracing the Double-Edge Sword of Change


My first three years I taught an overwhelming four preps of high school English at a tiny private school. While my grading load was nothing compared to my public school counterparts, I was constantly prepping and learning and teaching myself the things that I hadn’t been able to learn with a simple bachelor’s degree.

While a move to a different city brought much needed change in my teaching load, I quickly discovered that a change in location and courses (even though I went from four preps to two) meant that year four of teaching often felt like year one all over again, or at least year 1.5. I was able to reuse some of the material, but the courses were different and had different expectations. I was relieved to not feel like I was constantly changing gears, but carefully cultivated plans that I had made over three years were suddenly thrown out the window.

I quickly learned that change is a double-edged sword. It brings new opportunities and may bring us closer to figuring out the kind of teachers we want to be, but it requires a lot of work, struggle with discomfort, and occasionally a feeling of failure when we discover that we don’t have it all figured it out.

I went into teaching thinking I would find my niche and stay at the same school for years. I would get comfortable and teach what I was good at and I would never want more. Maybe I would leave for a couple years after having kids, go to grad school in my “free” time, and then I would come right back to what I had been doing before those reasonably scheduled life changes.

Of course, that’s not how it happened.

I’m currently in my fourth high school in my fourth city in my fifth overall teaching position. I have taught all four grade levels and I’ve taught nearly every kind of student. I’ve taught classes that I loved from the beginning, classes that I learned to love teaching only to have my schedule change shortly after I got comfortable, and classes that made me feel like a complete failure as a teacher, a feeling that didn’t go away until I experienced yet another scheduling shift.

But despite the times when the teaching gets difficult, I’ve learned to embrace the change.

It’s scary. We don’t want to no longer be the expert. We get comfortable with what we are teaching and how we’ve taught it for years.

But changing it up can make a huge difference.

I’ve volunteered to teach courses that I desperately wanted to try and quickly learned that I needed to get out of my situation as soon as circumstances would allow because it wasn’t what I thought it would be. But I’ve also been asked to take on challenges that I had never considered before, only to discover that it was a career-defining move.

When I moved to my current teaching position, I suddenly found myself teaching an advanced class that was outside of my preferred specialty. My students did well on standardized tests and I enjoyed most of what I taught them…eventually. It wasn’t until I decided that I could be the quality of teacher I knew myself to be and embrace my passions at the same time that I reached a whole new level as an educator. Suddenly I was coming up with unit plans that not only changed the way I taught literature but changed the way I approached my classroom and students. They became some of my favorite units ever and I still pass them along to teachers who are seeking new ideas.

This year brought a new set of challenges. After four years of teaching the exact same schedule, I’m finding myself in classes that I haven’t taught in over four years. I love my change in schedule, but instead of just going with what I’ve been comfortably teaching and developing since I made the move to a new school, I’m digging out old lesson plans and discovering that those lesson plans need a complete overhaul, resulting in hours of lesson planning when I would rather be grading or spending time with my family. Just as I’m not the same teacher that I was as a fresh-faced 23-year-old 17 years ago, I’m not the same teacher that I was five years ago. Change has taught me new lessons and forced to rethink old ideas. I’m different and I’m constantly getting better at what I do.

I’ve discovered that being a master teacher isn’t about doing the same things year after year and learning how to do them perfectly. Being a master teacher means learning, adapting, and growing through the different challenges that we face every year. If I had stayed in my idealized second teaching position for the last 14 years, I probably wouldn’t be as good of a teacher as I am today. Change is hard and while I would never tell a fellow educator that they need to seek out change, I do encourage my teacher friends to embrace the changes when they come.

We never know where they might lead.


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sarahstyf

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Sarah is a high school English teacher and yearbook adviser in the Houston area. When she's not lesson planning, grading, or revising yearbook pages, she enjoys biking, running, reading, writing, and camping with her family. She spends her "free" time writing about camping, faith, family, and occasionally politics on her personal blog Accepting the Unexpected Journey.

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