Empowering Others, Empowering Myself: Transitioning from the Whiteboard to Onboarding

Posted By: Angela Jarecki AASPA Blog,

Empowering Others, Empowering Myself:

A Teacher's Story of Transitioning from the Whiteboard to Onboarding

May 2021 was a month that will forever stay with me. Unexpectedly, my career took a life-changing turn. As a special education teacher for two decades, I had found immense joy in my work. Despite the challenges and exhaustion, I had no plans of changing my career. Teaching was my passion, even though the world had drastically changed post-covid.

As a single parent, my three children had recently moved out and started their own lives. Like many parents in this situation, I found myself asking, "Who am I without my children?" and "What am I truly passionate about?" Being alone for the first time in over 27 years, I had the freedom to do anything, go anywhere, and embark on a new path in this unpredictable journey called life. So, I decided to take that leap!

I moved to a new state, started teaching at a different school, and stumbled upon an unexpected revelation that would bring more purpose to my life. From the moment I arrived, I was surrounded by a beautiful environment, amazing students, supportive colleagues, and engaged parents who deeply cared about their child's education. However, amidst all the positives, there was a glaring issue that immediately caught my attention.

The teachers were overwhelmed, often sacrificing their own planning periods to cover for others, substitutes were scarce, students seemed disengaged, and the administration seemed out of touch. The needs of these exceptional educators were being ignored, while administrators were primarily focused on school matters and resolving crises. What struck me the most was the lack of direction and attention given to the physical, social, and emotional well-being of the teachers. Despite the dedicated educators around me, they felt stretched thin and exhausted.  Those that didn’t leave early on in the year, started to consider leaving not only the school but teaching all together.

This was disheartening, especially because I was also struggling emotionally. I missed my home, friends, and family, even though I loved my students and my current role. It became clear that a change was necessary if we wanted to retain teachers and ensure their return year after year. I saw a bigger problem, and although I didn't know how at the time, I wanted to be part of the solution.

I realized that while I could continue to teach and positively impact the lives of around 30 students each year, I also wanted to reach the teachers who played a vital role in their success not just in school, but also in life after graduation. Moreover, I wanted to find a way for administration and school districts to support and remind teachers of their significance in the field of education.

Around Christmas that year, a friend recommended a book to me. I was told that "The Way of the Shepherd" by Dr. Kevin Leman and Bill Pentak could be read in less than an hour, which was a huge plus for me. One night, after a long day in the classroom where I had to sacrifice my planning period to cover a theatre class, I decided to give the book a try. From the first few chapters, I was captivated, and as I read through my tears, it felt like each word on every page was speaking directly to me.

This profound book used the metaphor of shepherding to provide invaluable insights on leadership and management. It emphasized the importance of truly knowing, guiding, nurturing, and developing the people you lead. In real-life terms, for me, this meant treating each person as an individual with unique qualities and potential. It highlighted the significance of personal care, attention, patience, understanding, and building meaningful relationships; principles that can be applied not only in organizational leadership but also in personal relationships and interactions.

For me, reading this book led to a significant shift in my outlook on life in general. It reminded me of the importance of being the change I wanted to see, and I strive to live by this motto every day. For those in the teaching profession, "The Way of the Shepherd" has the potential to be a game-changer. It can transform perspectives on how to guide students and influence their learning journey.

The book's principles, such as “truly knowing your students”, “creating a safe learning environment”, and “developing the weakest link”, can be applied to create a more conducive and nurturing atmosphere in any school. The same philosophy can be used by administrators and teachers, understanding that their role goes beyond imparting knowledge; it's about fostering growth and development. It encourages teachers to be patient, understanding, and compassionate, seeing beyond academic performance and recognizing each student's individual strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and fears.

This holistic approach to teaching could significantly improve student engagement and learning outcomes. Moreover, "The Way of the Shepherd" has the potential to inspire school administrators to embrace a more empathetic, caring, and effective leadership style in all aspects of their lives. It definitely promotes a leadership approach that values people, nurtures their potential, and guides them towards growth and success.

Personally, reading "The Way of the Shepherd" made me reassess my purpose and provided valuable ideas when I was considering transitioning from my 21-year teaching role to my current role as a public-school district, recruitment specialist. The book offered insights and principles that guided me through this new journey and new responsibilities, and it continues to be a source of inspiration for me today.  

Remember, a career transition can be challenging, but with the right mindset and application of the principles from "The Way of the Shepherd," you can navigate your own journey with empathy, resilience, and success. Keep the wellbeing and growth of yourself and others at the forefront of your actions, and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead, and you just never know what might wonderful things might be waiting ahead of you!

About the author:
Angela Jarecki is a remarkable individual with a passion for transforming lives through education. For over two decades, she served as a dedicated Special Education teacher, making a profound impact on countless students. Her unwavering commitment to creating inclusive and supportive learning environments earned her recognition and respect within the education community.

In her new position, as a recruitment specialist for Greenville County Schools, her focus extends far beyond simply filling open teaching positions. She recognizes that recruitment is about more than matching skills and experience; it is about understanding the core values, goals, and passions of each candidate and finding roles that align perfectly with the districts vision and mission of inspiring, supporting and preparing all students with only the brightest and best teachers.