Rethinking Our Language and Mentality Around Career Growth and Transition

(image courtesy of ESPN.com)

Guest Post by Dr. Jerod Phillips, Assistant Principal, Magnolia, DE

Twitter: @japhillips0722

To say that this has been a school year like no other is an understatement. Now, we are in the season of the school year where educators, regardless of the role, are deciding their next move(s) for next year. Those moves could be any of the following:

  • Retirement
  • Switching grade levels or switching grade bands (elementary, middle, or high school)
  • Transitioning to a new school or district

The intention of this post is to offer encouragement to those educators that are in the midst of any of the above career and life-changing decisions.

I encourage you to make decisions based on your goals, or desired contributions to the field of education, and passions. It’s imperative that you don’t let external influences in the form of fixed mindset, or negative advice. Many educators have found themselves in situations that have not fulfilled them due to listening to advice that was rooted in a form of one of these statements:

  • “Don’t take that job. That could be a career killer.”
  • “You should leave that place. That’s a tough population. That’s a dead end job.”

I boldly declare that we need to get the “career killer” and “dead end job” language and mentality out of our psyche. I must preface the rest of this post by saying that one must first understand their calling, along with passion, to be able to put the above statements in relation to your own situation in its proper context.

Anyone that knows me knows that I love sports, and many stories in sports about perseverance can be sources of inspiration for our profession. As these thoughts all came rushing to me at the same time, I immediately began to think about the Baylor Bears basketball team that won the NCAA national championship on April 5th of this year. Their coach, Scott Drew, has a remarkable story. From following college hoops the way I do, in addition to this year’s coverage on sports outlets in reference to Coach Drew’s journey, I’m going to summarize his path to a national championship.

Coach Scott Drew, 32 years of age at the time, knew within himself that he could be a winner at Baylor. When he took over the men’s basketball program in 2003, the program was not a desired job. The program had been handed down sanctions from the NCAA under the previous coach as a result of scandal and the events surrounding the tragic death of one of its basketball players. Those first several years of his coaching tenure at Baylor were challenging. The sanctions made recruiting difficult, and he had to utilize walk-ons. In those first 3 years, he compiled a record of 21-53. That would be enough to either make a coach want to look for another job, or the Athletic Director to consider firing the coach. Coach Drew kept that positive mindset of knowing that he could be successful. Not only did Coach Drew tough it out with Baylor, those players toughed it out with him. Fast forward to 2021, Coach Drew is now 50 years of age, and he is a national champion. According to media reports on ESPN, Fox Sports, and other sports outlets, after this year’s Elite Eight, Coach Drew sent personal letters to all of his former players, including those walk-ons from the early years of his tenure at Baylor. In those letters Coach Drew included 2 things, a “Family Legacy” Baylor t-shirt and a piece of the net from the game that clinched the Big 12 Championship. 

How does this relate to our field of education? It relates to thein the area of perseverance in making a difference. I’m sure there were people advising Coach Drew not to take the Baylor job. I’m sure he, like many of us, had people tell him, “Don’t take that job. That could be a career killer.” Or after that third year and the 21-53 record, he probably heard, “You should leave that place. That’s a dead end job.” Coach Drew stayed the course, and in doing so, he changed the trajectory of the program. In education, we can help change the trajectory of a child’s entire family. If your heart, prayer life, or whatever you do to seek meaning and purpose is guiding you to a specific purpose in a role or position, you can’t be sidetracked by someone that hinges on the role being a dead-end job or career killer. Now, there is sound advice and expertise to take into consideration, but there is also purpose to take into consideration as well. 

Let’s paint a very real and vivid picture. You may be that 25 year old teacher that has purses in that currently low academic performing school. You may be the catalyst for changing the life of a student. Imagine you at 25 being the first teacher to help a young man or woman taste academic success by believing in them. Fast forward 15 years when you are 40 years old. That students and you cross paths again after losing contact due to moves or just life. You find out from the student that you were the catalyst for them continuing to do good into high school after leaving you in 8th grade. You find out that the student was able to receive a full scholarship to college, sparing them from debt, considering that they were already coming from a low-income household.

The student proceeds to tell you that they were able to get a graduate degree and in the process encouraged their parents to go back to school. Both their parents got their GED, attended community college afterwards, and then ultimately obtained their Bachelor’s degree from a local college. The former student is now doing great in their chosen profession as well as their parents finally were able to buy a home that they all convene at during the holidays. You, no matter your role (i.e. teacher, paraprofessional, custodian, nutrition staff employee, and administrator), are the catalyst in helping change the course and mindset of a whole family.

Let us all continue to grow on this journey and rethink our language and mentality around career growth and transition. 

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