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You Should Stay in Education for a Long Time, But There Is One Catch

By Dave Stuart Jr.

It's been a whirlwind of change in my small world of late, and it's led me to reflect on a pair of truths about teaching. If you, too, are in a time of turmoil or tumult, consider the following.

First, I think we all ought to make it our goal to commit to education long-term. It's incredibly difficult to become an expert teacher. Expertise in this field, like all professional fields, is hard-earned, requiring years of earnest work, practice, study, collaboration, and humility.

Why spend only a few years teaching, never reaping the delicious fruits that come with mastery? The career educator is a person whose life's work creates an eternal echo; the generations that you'll change through spending decades in schools working toward the long-term good of kids… they'll go on to change generations long after you're gone. What a thing to spend your life's work on.

So, first truth: we're wise to gird ourselves for the long haul, focusing on developing expertise in the highest-impact areas first. (For help figuring out which areas these are, see Schmoker's Focus [2nd edition out this summer!] or see my own These 6 Things: How to Focus Your Teaching on What Matters Most [out in July 2018; here's the waitlist for more info when it's released].)

Second, sticking around is certain to bring hard changes and tough seasons. All professions are rocked by change — more now, I'm sure, than in less technological times. However, education in the USA is marked by high teacher and administrator turnover rates, and this means ours is a field marked by rapid changeability even for the times we live in.

Consider a few examples:

  • The great boss you have now? Enjoy them while they are there. Support them and encourage them. It's likely that there will come a time when you're still working that they'll move on. That's a reality of the job.
  • That course you cherish? Enjoy it while it's there, and leverage it with all your might toward the long-term good of your students. But courses and curricula and standards and programs change all the time. Be ready.

The work isn't rich because of your boss or because of your course. It's rich because it's teaching.

I'm cautious in writing all this because the goal ISN'T to grow cynical or pessimistic. Realistic idealism is what we're after. This builds in us the resilience to keep going, sustainably, even when times are tumultuous, or everyone around us is insane with neomania, or we get that quiet email announcement that seems to wipe away years of work.

The work is the long-term flourishing of kids. It's nice when the work is convenient, when administrative or curricular stability gives us ideal conditions within which to work. But this season, too, is bound to turn at some point.

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3 Responses to You Should Stay in Education for a Long Time, But There Is One Catch

  1. Ica Rewitz June 5, 2018 at 4:53 pm #

    Thanks for the encouraging message right now! I am finding myself feeling very tired and stressed as the days are winding down. (I still have 11 more!) The end of the year is always chaotic and sometimes I wonder how long I can keep this type of pace up. But also, the last couple of years, I have noticed bits and pieces of “reaping the delicious fruits that come with mastery” that you speak about. There are times when I feel like my knowledge and experience are very valuable, and are benefiting the kids, and that makes me want to keep going.

  2. Jean Martinez June 6, 2018 at 12:30 pm #

    Such a powerful article. I’m a newly retired principal and totally agree that it takes years to become an expert teacher/educator/leader. I love your blog and the wise thinking you share.

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