I posted in August about reentering public school employment after taking a year-long leave of absence from teaching — and thus many of you have begun asking: “How has the transition back to working in education been?” Two months into the endeavor, I’m ready to give an update.
1. Great school communities are gold.
Though I was social during my year-long leave, nothing beats the camaraderie of being part of a school’s staff. Hard work with a common aim of helping students can be exceptionally bonding when done well, and I’m thankful every day for the colleagues and excellent leadership at my new school.
I’ve been thinking a lot about loneliness lately — both because of my recent recent divorce, and because of the new global focus on social connections being a key indicator of wellbeing… right up there with food. The conclusion I’ve come to is that a workplace where you feel connected with, and valued by, colleagues is absolutely central to a robust community network, and thus happiness.
2. Teaching is so enriching — and intense.
Being an educator in public education is one of the most complex challenges imaginable, and it’s hard to fully communicate that to folks who haven’t seen what it looks like, day in and day out. That said, I’m energized by the sense of purpose being back in teaching brings. I truly appreciate that in my new role, I’m encouraged to innovate, experiment, and also take a “long view” learner’s stance, as I get to know the new school community and role.
But also, to be honest… I’m deeply tired by the end of each school day. I am putting in every effort to maintain work-life balance, but not always succeeding. Which brings me to a very important point…
3. Changing roles can be key.
Being transparent: I would not have been able to go from a leave of absence back into full-time classroom teaching — especially not with the 140-student load I had before my leave. It would have destroyed me.
My transition to becoming a half-time school librarian this year (click to read the full story) was the best possible choice I could have made, even though it involved learning a whole new set of skills and getting additional certification. In fact, learning those skills has been utterly exhilarating, and I find many of my new responsibilities to be a much better fit for my talents than my previous role. The leap into the semi-unknown paid off!
Given this, I urge anyone who is returning from a leave from teaching and is worried about burnout to strongly consider other positions than what one had taught previously. “Teacher” is a much more wide-ranging set of options than people realize, and a simple shift of role or school can produce a completely different result — which might be a better match.
4. Salaries change your brain and life.
I can’t stop thinking about how different I feel in having a steady salary again, versus earning via hourly wage self-employment. It’s literally a change in my brain chemistry. The constant mental calculations of which dollars add or subtract where has eased, and I find my breath steadying.
Having a salary also alters how I think about travel. With hourly employment, every day I was away from Boston was lost wages. Being salaried now, however, I can actually consider vacations again — and maybe even be able to relax on them! (Er… once I’ve fully launched my third website, which is getting close.)
Reentering Teaching, in Sum
I give thanks for having found a fulfilling, community-oriented, innovative, steady job for my reentry back into teaching — and also for the privilege that I was able to take a leave from the school system, then return to it. It’s been challenging for sure, but is absolutely the right move.
I hope that by sharing my story of career twists and turns, it helps open up options for others to explore. Have YOU returned to a job after a year-long (or longer) leave? What was your experience, and what advice do you have? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!