[CASE STUDY] Success Story of Deanna’s Career Transition from Classroom Teacher to Mathnasium Director

This case study highlights the success of Deanna Forsythe, a teacher from Wisconsin.

Deanna enrolled in my “Jumpstart Your Job Search Program” in late April 2017. She landed her new job as the Director of a Mathnasium Center in mid-June

This was, without a doubt, the quickest success I have seen as a Career Transition Coach!

I would like to take credit for it, but Deanna did the hard work. My program and our one-on-one consultations contributed to her success. She was responsible for her fast transition, though.

The average job search today, from start to finish, is generally four to nine months. Given that Deanna’s process from start to finish took place over seven weeks is definitely not the norm.

What I observed about Deanna was her positive, “go-getter” attitude. I am sure she was a phenomenal teacher. She has all the right characteristics for an outstanding educator. She is extremely organized; she was highly motivated and hyper- focused; and she was eager to be successful.

When she first approached me, Deanna expressed a combination of frustrations.

She felt that the system didn’t respect her expertise as an educator anymore. She had even changed from one position to another in hopes of a better situation. She was disappointed to find that that change didn’t fix the problem, however.

 

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Respect vs. Disrespect

 

She also felt that she had more to offer than was being used in her current situation. Hear in her own words what she wrote to me about what led her to seek out my services:

“I have been an educator for over 20 years, working in the private, public, and choice sectors.  I have supported children of varying ages, academic abilities, and behavioral needs.  Over that time, I noticed a profound shift in the field of education.  Demands placed on teachers continue to increase, Autonomy continues to decrease.   I recognized at that point that it was time to utilize my skill set from both my BS and MA in a way that was far more productive, meaningful, and fulfilling to me.”

She took to the program with enthusiasm. The program includes online tutorials, recommended reading, exercises, and activities. She tackled the program as though she were undertaking a new advanced degree. She set up a system for herself, and when we held our first consultation, she was wide open to suggestions. She didn’t come into the program with a preconceived idea of where it might lead.

I discovered that Deanna has a deep intuitive nature. Part of what she was heeding was her gut instinct.

She knew there had to be something “out there” where she could contribute in a more meaningful way.

She also expressed her love for animals and how her dream is to one day be an animal healer. I encouraged her to continue to explore that. We don’t listen to our inner wisdom often enough. We shut down because we have convinced ourselves that certain things “aren’t possible.” I try to get my clients to embrace the idea that “anything is possible.” It is, in fact, “possible” once you believe it is.

Listen to Deanna’s testimony in her own words as they relate to her experience of the work we did together:

Deanna’s Case Study:  https://youtu.be/IOtJN7H31E4.

This video conversation holds several key pieces of information. Deanna made use of the entire program starting with getting in touch with herself and remembering what brought her job and peace.

Here is what she said about the nature of the instruction and inspiration she got from following the modules and the results she saw:

I developed my professional portfolio through LinkedIn (lesson 7).  Others in the field I am in accepted my invitations, and I continue to meet and expand my network today.

Also, I closely followed Kitty’s modules regarding bringing life to one’s cover letter/resume (lessons 3-4). I applied for the position I currently accepted, and within 24 hours, I received a response of interest.

A breakthrough I experienced was I recognized that I held the cards.  I simply needed the support of someone like Kitty who has ‘been there, done that’ to guide me through the process of reinventing myself.”

There are usually side benefits to taking part in programs like this. Sometimes they can be unexpected. Here is what Deanna said about one of the benefits she received from working with me one-on-one:

“Kitty’s ability to relate to and validate my frustrations as an educator in today’s world was valuable to me.  I no longer felt alone.  She is an excellent empathic listener!

I also felt supported in taking baby steps, as reinventing one’s self can be an overwhelming process.  She understands the challenge in breaking new ground, as she was once in my shoes.”

I always ask people if they would be willing to offer a recommendation on LinkedIn or a testimonial for my website as I draw my work with a client to a close. I did the same with Deanna. Here is what she offered that she would tell her friends and colleagues about working with me:

“I would (and already have) recommend you to others who are looking for more fulfillment in their professional lives.  You are authentic.  You have experienced this journey firsthand, and that lends credibility to your interest in supporting me to do the same.

You also have experience leading others outside of this realm/position, as former president of VEA, and that also lends credibility to coaching others, in my opinion.”

 

Man writing Happy Client on a virtual screen

Happy Client

 

So, there you have it. Another satisfied client. Another teacher who has decided that the system has failed her and it’s time to move on. I am confident that Deanna will be successful in her new role. She only need bring half of her enthusiasm to her new role as she brought to her job transition program, to that, but I know she will bring 100% to that new endeavor.

I am also confident that while she will bring tremendous value to her new position, she will learn as well as contribute and she may have even greater things waiting for her in her future.

It is a pleasure working with people like Deanna. She saw a need to make a change in her life, and she made it with confidence and determination.

What about you? Are you ready to take charge of your career and your life?

If so, I urge you to contact me for a 20-minute complimentary Discovery Session. Just go to my calendar here to sign up. It won’t cost a thing but 20-minutes of your time:  https://kittyatcareermakeover.coachesconsole.com/calendar/.

 

The Cycle that Keeps Many Teachers Stuck

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The career of teaching is unique in that it is one of the only jobs of which I know that allows you to complete a  full cycle, experience a period of rest and practically complete separation from the job, and then the start of a brand new cycle each year. If there is any job like that other than that of a college professor, I don’t know of it.

The school year in most parts of the country starts around August or September and ends in May or June, allowing students and teachers alike a full 6-8 weeks away before coming back and starting the cycle again.

The cycle that is embedded in the typical school calendar is part of what keeps teachers stuck–sometimes for years. They hang on from vacation to vacation. And certain specific emotions accompany each part of the year.

For example, at the beginning of the year, there is a certain sense of anticipation that is almost palpable. In fact, for a few weeks before the first day of school, the excitement mounts as school supplies appear on store shelves and preparation for the new year goes into high gear. Teachers and students alike enjoy the first day of school and the ensuing first few weeks. Eventually, however, the honeymoon period wears off as the routine of day-to-day school activities get under way.

In general, teachers are just as excited as the kids the first few weeks of school. If it is a “good year,” the teacher will count his or her blessings, and the year will proceed in without much incident.

If it is a “bad year,” however, that is another story. What constitutes a “bad year?” Teachers will know the answer to this question, but for those who haven’t experienced it, let me recount what a “bad year” was like for me back when I was starting my 2nd year of teaching.

There are 180 school days in the school year for my state not including teacher workdays and holidays. One hundred and eighty days of students.

I started my countdown on day #179.

I remember telling myself as I drove into my apartment complex after the 2nd day of school, “Only 178 more days.” That was 40 years ago…I remember it like it was yesterday.

Why was it a “bad year?” I didn’t have “bad” kids. In fact, on paper, they should have been a dream class! They were all bright with IQ’s hovering around 120, and they were all from nice, middle-class families. In fact, they were all in the band, so they had that in common. They were also incredibly poorly behaved with little or no impulse control, even for 6th graders.

I had a set of twins who were so similar that the only way I was able to tell them apart was the color of their tennis shoes. One of them forged his mom’s signature on a homework assignment…so I had to call Dad about that. Dad didn’t question that the twins were a handful. What he questioned was whether I had the experience I needed to manage them. (He was right to wonder given my relative inexperience.)

Another one of my students that year was like the Charlie Brown character, “Pig Pen.” He traveled with a cloud of chaos and clutter around him all of the time. His desk always looked like it had just exploded papers from who knows where. Maneuvering around his desk was impossible because his books, book bag, coat…and everything else he owned…was strewn in the aisles around him. He was a sweet kid, but I bet today wherever he is, he has left a trail of clutter in his wake. He could not seem to help himself.

I had another student who would occasionally sit on the floor and rock back and forth, hitting his head on the radiator. Nothing would console him when he was in one of these moods, and class would come to a screeching halt while I tried lamely to calm his ragged nerves over whatever the distress of the moment happened to be.

Another student…Richard…never stopped talking! He was extremely good-natured, likable, and entertaining…he is probably very successful today and a leader somewhere…but he was physically unable to restrain himself from talking…so I put him next to me at my desk so I could keep him close to me and away from his neighbors. It didn’t work.

I had yet another student in that class who was such a contrarian that if I had said the sky was blue, he would have wanted to argue that it was green instead.

The point is that this class never gelled into the highly functioning group I wanted them to be…the way the class I had the year before had or the way the group I had the year after did. There was always some drama going on with them, and teaching them English and Language Arts was more than a little challenging.

It didn’t help that the teacher they had before me went out on sick leave around the middle of October, and their long-term sub was too easy going and didn’t have the classroom management skills needed for the group. Neither did I given that I was still new and still learning. But that is what I mean by a “bad year.”

During a “bad year,” things just don’t as well as you might like. What keeps most teachers going is that for every “bad year” they might have, they will usually have a couple of “good years.” At least that was the case for me. I had a great group the year before and the year after. In all of my 33 years as a practitioner, I only had that one really “bad year.”

That doesn’t mean that the rest of my professional career was perfect, however. I was often frustrated with the low pay and the lack of respect I felt people had for my chosen profession. At one point, I even sought out a career counselor to investigate other types of work that I might do. Finding nothing suitable, I decided to go for my Master’s degree instead. If I was going to stay in education, I thought I should at least maximize my earnings.

Each year for the full 33 years of my career, I experienced the same cycle of excitement about the first of the year, sometimes feeling tired and frustrated as early as October and early November, hoping for a long weekend over the Thanksgiving break. I decided that you can do almost anything no matter how tired or sick or frustrated you are for the few weeks between Thanksgiving and the Winter Break. The New Year represented another fresh start, and then we would get into the slog of February and early March. I would start to look forward to Spring Break. Then, toward the end of my career, we started the testing season around the time of Spring Break. Testing season consumes all else. In my last school, the anxiety around the spring state tests was palpable. The school had been an at-risk school at one point, and each year, the fear was that the kids wouldn’t make the cut this year. I was there for eight years, and that fear never went away.

Once we got through the testing season, it was downhill to summer vacation. And that is the cycle that teachers typically experience.

This is also the cycle that I believe keeps teachers stuck in a profession that may or may not serve them any longer. Matthew Boomhower sums it all up pretty well in his blog post, “Emotional Stages of a Teacher’s Career.”

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The point is that when I talk with teachers who are feeling the painful symptoms of burnout by the time they are into year 9 (or 18)–they can relate to this cycle. It is the cycle that has kept them coming back year after year until they decide they just can’t do it anymore.

If you are suffering from those symptoms of burnout (and if you aren’t sure, you should down the free checklist of 7 signs of teacher burnout here), you should acknowledge them and consider if you can continue in the profession or if it is time to consider alternatives.

If you aren’t sure, you should check out my presentation on the 7 Signs of Teacher Burnout. You might find the information useful. I hope so.

So, if you can relate to this cycle, let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Let me acknowledge that I know not all teachers feel the symptoms of burnout, and I am glad that is the case. Our students need and deserve teachers who want to work with them and be with them. I am concerned about the teacher who has hit the point of no return and is having such a miserable time of it that all he/she can think any more is “there must be more that I can do than this.”

Are We Headed Toward a Teacher Shortage?

Bureaucrats at state levels of government have been warning of an impending teacher shortage for years. As they eye the bubble of teachers who belong to the Baby Boom generation, the numbers are self-evident. As Baby Boomers retire from teaching and take off to reinvent themselves for new endeavors (like I did), the number of new teachers in the proverbial pipeline doesn’t come close to matching the number who are leaving.

In this article posted in Huffington PostAFT President, Randi Weingarten,  argues the case for how a teacher shortage could become a national crisis.

I would suggest that the corporate reformers and members of the anti-union coalition around the country will cheer at the notion that their tactics are working. Legislators who have been offering anti-public school legislation based on ALEC‘s boilerplate templates won’t be sad to consider a teacher shortage, either. Instead of seeing a teacher shortage as a national crisis, they will see it as a win in their column and a way to further their agenda which is, I believe, to dismantle public education altogether. They will then be able to turn education over to charter schools (both public and private), private and parochial schools, and virtual schools that will assist the home-school movement.

Those in the media won’t be sad to see a teacher shortage either. Many in the mainstream media have deliberately and consistently contributed to the deterioration of the teaching profession as a profession for over 30 years, starting with their promotion of the negative narrative first presented in The Nation at Risk Report (1983).

I have been a public school advocate my entire adult life. I am a product of public school education and earned two masters degrees and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. From 2008-2012, I was the President of the Virginia Education Association. I went to battle with the then Governor and then Republican-led legislature during those years, trying to explain why due process for teachers doesn’t translate to tenure (a job for life). Most of the laws that were passed during that time were counter to what was in the best interest of public education and the children who attend our public schools. Additionally, the attack on teachers was vicious and personal. It was all part of a larger agenda which is to discredit public school teachers so that public schools can be dismantled and turned over to corporate entities who want to cash in on the charter school movement.

I left that position worn out and weary from the battle. The idea of returning to the classroom to teach again made me want to weep from weariness. I knew I was too physically and emotionally exhausted to do justice to my prospective students. I decided that for me, returning to what I feared would be an environment centered on testing more than teaching was a bridge I could not cross. So I left. Since then I have been coaching and counseling teachers who are burnt out and ready to find something else to do with their lives.

Teaching has ceased to be a truly professional endeavor. Teaching has become more about following a script, keeping up with the pacing guide, and testing for the sake of testing. It is ridiculous, and everyone involved knows it, but the political will to fix the systemic problems and address the underlying social issues that contribute to the problems in education leave teachers feeling helpless.

Teachers feel beaten down by what has happened to them and their profession. Some are still fighting the good fight, and I cheer them on because I want them to win.

Many are leaving the profession in frustration, however. They leave because, in spite of the fact that they still love their students, they hate all the other trappings of teaching in today’s data-driven environment.

I admit that I feel guilty on occasion about offering assistance to those who want to leave. I detest the idea that their leaving might speed up the dismantling of public education. I know in my heart, however, that life is just too short to do anything you no longer enjoy. I also believe that children deserve to have teachers who want to be with them. As a result, I want to help those teachers who no longer want to teach to figure out a way to do something else. Do I believe there is an impending teacher shortage? Yes. Does that make me sad? Absolutely. Do I believe that we can fix the systemic problems that are causing teachers to leave? I am not sure.

In case you still care about public education as a public good, whether you are a teacher, a parent or just an interested citizen, if public education is to survive, more people need to be willing to speak up for and defend it. So far that hasn’t happened, but I haven’t given up hope completely. Just this past weekend, a group of dedicated teachers gathered for a conference of members of the Network for Public Education. I am also aware of a group on Facebook of which I am a proud member:  BATS for “Badass Teachers.”

Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Julian Vasquez Heilig are just a few high-profile individuals who continue to advocate for public education and public school teachers. They, along with leaders in each of the teachers’ unions, the NEA and theAFT, are working hard to try to carry the message that we should not give up on public education. I am so glad they are still fighting.

At the same time, however, I get calls from teachers who are asking for my help. “I still love my kids and if I could just teach, I would be happy to stay. I can’t stand all the other stuff that goes with it, though. The endless testing, the meaningless paperwork, and administrators who no longer support me have made it an untenable job. I can’t do it anymore.”

If there is an impending teacher shortage, it should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.