About Cari Zall

Cari Zall has been a Social Sciences educator for over 12 years, in both brick & mortar and online environments. She currently works as the Curriculum and Instructional Support Manager for an online high school dropout recovery program, and is the Assignment Editor and a writer for The Educator’s Room, an online education magazine. Cari is certified in Gamification and has worked on several projects incorporating Gamification into online and traditional education environments. Her areas of expertise include Gamification and Student Resilience & Motivation; Conflict Resolution & Collaboration, and social justice education. Prior to her teaching career, Cari worked for 15 years in civil litigation and as a human rights activist in Northern Ireland and Washington, DC. She holds a BA in Conflict Analysis & Resolution, an Masters in Teaching, and an MA in Political Science. Cari is a James Madison Fellow, and is the author of the book, How to Finish the Test When Your Pencil Breaks: A Teacher Faces Layoff, Unemployment and a Career Shift. You can finder her on twitter at @teachacari.

 

To buy Cari’s book that details her sudden unemployment, “How to Finish the Test When Your Pencil Breaks” please click here

As a teacher who has been out of work for almost two years now, I find the holidays bring an interesting sense of out-of-sync timing.  I can clearly remember the visceral relief at the arrival of winter break – it’s so well deserved by the time it rolls around!  All of my teacher friends are now finally able to prepare for (and enjoy) the holidays and don’t have to go into the classroom for a few weeks.  For me, I’m away from a brick and mortar classroom all the time, so on the one hand, I’ve had a more relaxed time to prepare for the holidays, but on the other hand – I don’t have a classroom.  It’s bittersweet for sure.  Last year, I was still deeply feeling the loss of my position and so I felt a bit more down.  This year, I am starting to match the reality of the teaching job market (not that there is much of one) to the possibility I may need to be more creative in finding ways to continue following my passion as an educator.  I’m going to use this holiday to opening new pathways for myself.

The winter break can often be busy with holiday preparations, enjoying the holidays, time with family, and (for quite a few teachers) catching up on grading and planning for the inevitable return to school.  If teachers make an effort to find a few moments for themselves during the break, it’s to perhaps sleep a bit longer, catch up on personal errands, maybe finish a project or two – or maybe just watch a movie or read a book, if they‘re lucky.  Rarely do we as educators take the time to consider where we are as a person or a professional. 

Ever since the country began mandating a free, universal education for children, teaching has traditionally been a very secure career field.  Up until a few years ago, teachers could find a position where they felt they fit, where they could connect with the students, and where they could stay…sometimes for 30 years or more.  But that isn’t the case anymore.  With over 300,000 American teachers laid off or out of work since 2008, this career field is vastly changing.  Even teachers who have jobs don’t feel the same security – when charter schools can close at a moment’s notice, when states announce lower budgets & districts have to prepare for another round of layoffs, when schools are more crowded and exhausting each year.  So now may be the time for us as teachers to evaluate not only where we are right now, but what might possibly be around the corner for us – even if it isn’t in a traditional brick and mortar classroom.

The New Year is always a good time to evaluate the year past, and sometimes we even make an effort to make resolutions for the New Year.  Resolutions can be as simple as a list of books we want to read, or a new skill we’d like to learn.  Sometimes it’s a matter of thinking about how classes have gone so far this school year and making a list of some ideas you have for altering your curriculum or trying some new ideas for assessments or projects.  But rarely do teachers take the time to really think through who they are and where they want to go professionally.  We don’t usually have time for that kind of introspection!  But if we don’t take the time to imagine ourselves outside of our usual habits, plans and surroundings, we can not only be caught unawares if our professional life becomes uncertain, but we may not have a way to envision advancing ourselves in a career than can often result in staying in one place for many years – professionally and personally.

If you are one of my fellow unemployed or underemployed teachers, the following exercise could be a crucial way for you to begin to open yourself to new possibilities, or just see yourself in a bigger picture.  If you are one of my employed educator peers, this might just help give you a boost, change your perspective a little, and even add a bit of security that you are able to prepare for whatever may be down the road for you.  The following open-ended questions are just a start to creating a vision for yourself.  Perhaps take a an hour or so this winter break and sit with these questions and think about them for yourself:

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 My greatest strength as a teacher is…

My greatest strength as a friend is…

My greatest strength as a spouse/parent/single person is…

Something I consistently avoid is….

I look for _________________________ to excite me

I am passionate about…

I am saddened by…

Something that outrages me is….

I read _________________________ for comfort.

I feel empowered by…

I am most proud of myself for…

I am a person who….

I never want to…

I will always…

The things that bore me are…

I want to impact the world by….

I am touched by…

I am…

I was…

I will be…

I would like to…

I was happiest when…

I long for…

My dreams used to be…

My dreams have changed/not changed because…

My hopes for the world are…

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These aren’t easy questions.  But these aren’t easy times for educators.  As this New Year dawns, I am beginning to find that the more open I am to examining who I am as a person, the more willing I am to walk through doors that happen to open for me professionally – and the more I’m willing, the more the doors are opening.  In the last couple of months, I’ve had new opportunities present themselves, a small thing here and there, but ways to stay in touch with education in a variety of ways.  Even if I don’t make it back into a brick and mortar classroom any time soon… or ever,  I’ve begun to realize that there are infinitesimal ways I can continue to pursue my passion of teaching, learning and working with students outside of that traditional idea.  And if I do get back into a classroom, I will be ever more thankful that these moments of reflection and consideration about who I am and where I want to go will make me an even better teacher.

I wish you the happiest and most restful holiday break if you are teaching.  If you are not, and wish you were, I wish you a fresh new look at the pursuit of your dream to be an educator.  Education is changing, and we must change too.  Knowing who we are and where we want to go is the first step. 

 

To buy Cari’s book, “How to Finish the Test When Your Pencil Breaks” please click here

Unemployed Teacher

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