In June 2022 I handed in my letter of resignation to the school that I had taught at for the past 6 years without a clear path on what my future held. The one thing I was certain of was that I did not want to return to the classroom. I decided to step away from a career as a secondary math teacher that had shaped my identity for over a decade and was excited to see what the next step would hold.
Many people who are not educators, ask why I decided to leave. They often have the assumption that it was something to do with the students. In some conversations, I would lean in and tell horror stories of students gone rogue, especially during the tiktok challenge era that resulted in destroyed bathrooms because that was easier than going into the real reason I decided to leave. In reality, I decided to leave education because my plate was overflowing every day without rest. Even in my sleep, I dreamed of school and woke up in a panic because I was continuously behind on what I wanted to do with and for my students. This is the case with educators around the country and each one is losing more and more of themselves with each passing day.
Earlier that year, my spouse and I learned that we would not be able to conceive children naturally. We decided to take this heartbreaking news and find the silver lining. We no longer needed to save for the child that we had been trying for since before the Covid-19 Pandemic hit the United States. We had already budgeted for one of us to be a stay at home parent for the first year at minimum. We had our finances set to take on a major life change. That life change just turned out to look different than what we had imagined!
For the first semester of my freedom from public education, I cheered on my teacher friends and spouse as they began the first day with their students. I turned on my computer and wrote Geometry curriculum for an E-Learning company. I found out that writing curriculum, while interesting, was not what I wanted to do for the remainder of my career. I wanted to take this gift of time to develop a completely new skill set!
This is when I reflected on the AP Computer Science Principles class I had covered many times in the past year with interest. I also thought back on the technology conference I took my computer repair students to where people in tech gave students a chance to explore different career options. Coding had always intrigued me, but I had never given myself the permission to see myself as a software engineer. I signed up for the pro version of Codecademy for the web development career path. I could lose myself in the lessons and I found so much joy out of creating something out of nothing. As a former math teacher, I realized the skills required to debug a line of code or to process through a logical argument was a skill I used daily in the classroom. While Codecademy was a great way to test the waters, I was ready to commit to a new path as a software engineer!
As I had experienced first hand the additional hurdles that are in place for online learning, I prioritized finding an in person program that would prepare me to become a software engineer. I found FlatIron School in Denver, signed up and began the mountain of pre-work required to begin the program.
All of a sudden, the teacher became the student.
During the first week and a half of the program, I realized what it was like to be a student who doesn’t have the answer. I found myself having to face the reality that I didn’t know everything that was required of me.
This was terrifying.
I had earned a full ride scholarship for undergrad and a grant for my masters degree based on my accomplishments as a student. I was the student selected to mentor others. I was always one of the top students. Emphasis on was.
In my program at Flatiron School, I realized that I was the struggling student when we participated in a pair code activity. I needed to go home and do extra work to keep up. But also, I was the one who was too afraid to ask for help.
I now realized what my struggling students felt like when they were not able to keep up with their peers and ended up withdrawing from the group. Apart from my brief interaction with the Old English version of Beowolf in Senior year AP English, I had never been a struggling student. It took a conversation with my instructor, David, to realize that I was not going to be successful on my own and I had to take responsibility for my own learning.
I started to seek out groups of my peers working on coding labs together and asked to join in. I am trying to work up the courage to admit when I do not understand a key concept early, before it becomes too late. I am trying to add notes to my line of code as a way to deepen my understanding. Not only am I changing my career, but I am also changing my approach to taking care of my own needs.
Educators are often left to fend for themselves with only other exhausted and overworked teachers to lean on for support. I have come to realize that this has made me self sufficient, but also an island. The pandemic gave time to reflect on many aspects of life, but one lesson that stood out to me is that we are stronger together.
I strive to use my time during the remainder of the software engineer bootcamp to get out of my old habits and reach out for help early and often. For the remainder of my time as a student at Flatiron School, I am setting a daily goal to reach out to my instructor at least once each day, and to work with a peer at least once each day. Breaking habits can be hard, but not impossible!