Why I Walked Away
My relationship with teaching began in earnest at age eight. In my third grade yearbook photo, my hair is long, bangs cut straight across by my mother. I wear a light blue t-shirt and a buck-toothed smile. Next to my photo, it reads: Janine Perry. Favorite Animal: Dolphin. When I grow up, I want to be: A teacher.
My aspirations hadn't changed much ten years later, as I enrolled in the Elementary Education program at a mid-size university. I dutifully pursued the curriculum, standing out among my peers: "Would someone other than Janine contribute to class discussion today?"
Circumstances led me to transfer to Wheaton College, a small liberal arts school in Massachusetts with a knack for instilling a sense of social accountability in students. I enrolled in the Psychology program, passed several state licensure exams, and completed the fieldwork that would lead to teaching certification at the end of my undergraduate career.
My professors inspired alternate perspectives to educating children, introducing us to mindfulness techniques and awareness of the hegemonic biases that oppress students. These fresh ideas unfortunately didn't carry through in the dozens of hours of fieldwork I completed, where I was relegated to play the role of a subordinate aide. I was full of ideas, yet stuck reading storybooks and monitoring nap time.
My education at Wheaton was broader, and my ambitious peers helped me understand the incredible opportunities available to me. When it came time to prepare for student teaching in my senior year, I found myself daunted by the prospect of another glorified babysitting job.
Every aspect of human existence can be understood through the context of a relationship. Emotional, mental, romantic, physical, balanced, spiritual, unrequited, professional -- all rely on the reciprocation (or lack thereof) of two or more entities. After ending or changing a relationship, we often fret about the decision we made, plotting out the path our lives might have taken if only we had chosen differently.
So, as I grappled with the future of my relationship with teaching, I consulted with the people I could count on for support. They encouraged me to keep my options open, and helped me free myself from the need to plot my life out in predictable milestones. I decided to put my love of teaching aside, completing the minor, but letting myself explore before committing to a career in education. I felt that I was keeping my future open to the opportunities I intuited would present themselves as I worked hard to establish myself as a young professional.
That decision helped me discover my current vocation; I've spent my early adulthood building a career in strategic planning and innovation. I find meaning in taking on projects that have some benefit to the world, from discovering the heartfelt values of a business school to helping a Fortune 100 brand deliver healthier food to millions of people. Each company I've worked for has recognized my promise as an innovative thinker who challenges complacency and sees the benefits of radical change.
Whether in the context of a training session at work, or coaching a friend through his next job interview, I'm frequently told that I'm great at teaching and helping others achieve success. But this praise often leaves me with an empty feeling, the ghost of a passion that I still consider and wonder, "What if?"
Take a moment to think of all the young people who, like me, are learning the skills they need to have a catalytic positive impact on their respective industries. How many of those young people are entering the education field? Most would agree that teachers play a vital role in society, but incredible talent are moving to industries with promise of greater impact.
I'm sure any teaching professional understands the systemic issue of attracting and retaining talent, and I can't feign knowledge of the solutions proposed by experts in the field. I propose a simple tactic: any professional interacting with a young person interested in teaching could benefit the industry by giving them a venue to express their ideas and challenges.
Think about your relationship with the young people who work with your organization. Do they have a chance to voice the improvements they've identified? Are you inspiring them to break the system, or is your system breaking them? Building an open, reciprocal relationship with young talent could be the key to identifying the people who will innovate to save the future of education.