Monday, July 31, 2017

How McDonald's and A New Friend Can Change Your Life

Let's get something straight... McDonald's itself didn't change anything, but the restaurant provided a space for a now good friend and I to lay our stresses and goals on the line and start making progress that has changed both of our lives. I can't speak for my friend, when it comes to her feelings about that night, but I can tell you, I come back to it often.

With the beginning of a new school year starting soon, I have been thinking a lot about goals. So much, in fact, that I thought I would tell you the story of what happened that put me on the track of getting my shit together and deciding what I wanted for myself.

We had talked for weeks about getting together to talk about our goals and make some plans and, like most things, it got pushed back and pushed back. It finally happened on a really snowy late-January night and I almost didn't go, because I was at a low of lows. I thought that talking over hot chocolate and making empty goals at that cliche' time of year was going to be a waste of sleep for both of us. But, I wanted to get to know this person better and I figured, "What the heck, if nothing else, I'll help her." I did genuinely want to help.

We had decided, before we met, that we would come with a notebook and a list of things that we wanted for ourselves, either personally or professionally. I could have written a freaking book of a list of all of the things that I wanted to change for myself. I was so unhappy with my career. (This was January of 2016, so after I had gone back into teaching after quitting, a year before, to work at a non-profit, which failed six months later.) I wanted to do something other than teach and I felt all alone, like I was the only person who was struggling with burnout and that I couldn't talk about it. Ever. But, I made my list. It turned out, I had other things on that list that added up to my unhappiness at work. There were a lot of things that I needed to work out, including acknowledging that it was up to ME to do something!

My goals/planning notebook. I take it everywhere with me and it now contains all of the progress I have made as I have decided what I want for myself professionally. It's messy, not fancy, and all mine. 

I'll share with you my list in a minute, but the reason I am posting this has more to do with the fact that I had to decide. I had to make the decision to become my own hero. No one was going to save me from the misery that I had chosen to wallow in. I was a self-pity machine. The universe was against me. It was everyone else's fault that I was so sad and couldn't quit crying. Or so I thought.

Teachers, administrators, (insert your title here), we have to stop living for everyone else's goals. We are constantly pushed and pulled in all directions. Pushed to do things we don't want to do, because they are a waste of our time, and pulled back whenever we find something that we are really passionate about and told, "No, wait. You can't do that right now." There will NEVER be a perfect time to make a change. Ever. If you're comfortable, you have to make a change. That's the only way to grow. I had become comfortable in my discomfort. It was easier for me to cry and wallow than to take charge for a long time. WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!

-We Made SMART Goals-

So, here is my list. While my friend and I talked, she insisted that we make these SMART Goals.

-My Goals Were Simple and Multi-Dimensional All At the Same Time-

Obviously you can tell what goals were really important to me. 
I am happy to report that I have reached five of these goals. A few of them were reached, but have evolved, so I am still working to reach the new goals that have been born from my first ones. 

This was the first time that I had ever sat down and planned goals for my life. It makes me curious of how many other teachers haven't taken those steps. Ahead of the game, I was ready to make the changes I needed to make. They involved calling doctors, putting a house on the market, moving, getting out of my comfort zone, trying new things, FAILING, trying again, and I am such a happier person for that cup of hot chocolate and the conversation that we enjoyed that night. 

-The Blue Sky Brain Dump- The Next Step In Goal Setting-

Now, if you look carefully, you will see that part of the "Decide what I want to do! (Career) is that maybe start my own business? My friends, meet the infancy of Burned-In Teacher. From that night until April, I knew what I wanted to do, yet, couldn't find my niche. That all changed, of course when I went to GAfE the following April. 

Entrepreneurship is something that I have been learning a lot about in the last couple of years. I am part of an amazing community called Fizzle and can excitedly say that I am part of the Google Innovator Tribe. If you are interested in hearing about "The Blue Sky Brain Dump" that took me to the next level of goal setting, go to or check out their podcast.. I thought I would share it with you. It, of course, is geared toward business planning, however, that doesn't invalidate it for planning your career and personal goals. I promise.  I am learning that no matter what advice you get, you can always apply it to any part of your life. 

This link will take you to the podcast page of Fizzle and there are worksheets and a summary of the podcast below it. It was such an AWESOME eye-opener for me. Listen to it. You won't regret it.

After following Stephanie's advice, I have a whole list of very ambitious goals that I am working hard to reach. I am so excited to see how far I have come in one year, as I continue to check back in with these goals! I hope you have the same positive experience as I have had. 

What I want for you from this post is to ask yourself this question, "What goals do I have for myself?" If you are really unhappy with the way things are, you need to take a serious inventory of how often you have thought about your growth. You are in control. Become your own hero and take the steps necessary to make yourself happy in your career and in life!

Burn on!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Burned-In Teacher's First Guest Post: This BiT Wants You to Ride Out the Storm

Scuba, Flowers, and a Reception Hall

written by: Joantha Smith – 5th grade teacher – July 17, 2017

It was mid-year of the 2000-2001 school year when three of us sat around the teacher’s lounge lunch table considering pursuing second careers – all three of us. We had only been teaching for about 5 or 6 years and we had already hit a formidable wall. Teaching wasn’t supposed to be this difficult – admin expecting more from us to the point we wanted out - and FAST! Our conversation revealed secret passions containing a common thread which we discussed at length that day at the lunch table.
One of us talked about beginning a business being a scuba diving guide for newlyweds in exotic honeymoon locations. Being a certified scuba instructor/diver was his passion and hobby (still is). He was working long hours at school away from his wife and kids doing unfulfilling work. He wasn’t going to stay in education if this was going to be the day-to-day grind.
The other colleague shared wanting to manage a reception hall. How hard was that? It wouldn’t be long hours away from home almost every night. She wouldn’t have to submit lesson plans by 8am every Monday morning. And would certainly take her out of the daily grind we called teaching. Helping people celebrate life’s special moments sounded better than teaching – heck, anything sounded better than teaching. Finally, the fascination I have for flower arrangements prompted me to share that I would love to pursue being a florist at a local flower shop. There’s just something about a nicely balanced, fragrant, embellished bouquet of flowers. Flowers bring smiles, and that’s exactly what I wanted to feel – like smiling.

Do you see the theme here? The common thread? We weren’t smiling. We weren’t content. We weren’t present. What we DID have was the makings of a reception venue where folks could order flowers and plan their honeymoon all in one place! Making people happy and doing what we loved together – because we certainly weren’t in love with what we were doing. Grand plans were created around the table that day. We were geeking out about being happy. Does this sound familiar?

Situations changed. People changed. Administrators changed. We changed. The storm had passed.

When someone says, “When one door closes – another one opens.” Believe it, but sometimes you have to wait for it. A year or two later, a science position opened up for my friend to teach at another school. He was thrilled to be closer to home and would even have his daughter in class. Another elementary position opened for the other colleague that needed a change of principal and scenery – I miss her every day. And me? I stayed put.

I love my school and my school family. I always have. Families have their ups and downs like the stock market, and folks tell you to ride it out and that’s what I did. I relied on my coworkers, students, our new principal, and my personal family to renew my confidence that I had chosen the right path. I WAS supposed to be a teacher. And I was the captain of this ship. I was finally given an opportunity to be me.

If or when your thoughts begin to stray, and you begin visualizing an alternate career, take a personal inventory. Are you confident enough to wait out the storm? Or should you change your course? Don’t wallow in self-pity. YOU are the only one to decide your path and find true happiness.

Want to write a guest blog post and tell your story? Email it to me at

Want to tell your story, but want to remain anonymous? Email me and we will set up an interview. 

Burn on! 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Burned-INterview #5: This BiT is Burned-Out by Lack of Growth and Respect: Something She Found Easily within Another Company

BiT Interviews are completely anonymous and are conducted to get to know what burned-out teachers or current teachers are feeling and going through before they have either left or leave the education profession. 

AH: (Me!) Amber Harper   BiT: Interviewee

AH: How many years have you been teaching?
BiT: 16 years, most years at the same school, same building, same grade, even the same classroom.

AH: What do you feel is the best part of your job?
BiT: The kids and the relationships. Nothing else really is intriguing or important about teaching, in my opinion.

AH: Can you give me an example of a relationship that you have established?
BiT: Two students come to mind. This is the first year that I have been recognized for a relationship that I have build with a student at Junior Honor Society. One student still comes down to talk to me on a regular basis. After being recognized by a now senior this year, I was like, "Oh! Wow! It really does matter what we do!" You know, we go years and years without being recognized and all of the sudden, you have graduates reach out and tell you that you made an impact on them and you're like, "Whoa, really?"

AH: What is the worst, for you, about teaching?
BiT: Personally, this year has been hard for me because I am recently divorced and you know what teaching is like. You give and give and give all day and then you come home and you have nothing left to give. Well, before, I had my husband who could kind of help a little bit with our daughter, but now, I come home and I look at her and I think, I am so tired I can't even be a mom that you need. So this year has been hard because I feel like all of my most important energy should be poured into her and by the time I get home, I don't have anything left to give her. At this point, I only have 50% of her life and I keep thinking that either I'm going to be a really great teacher and pour it all into my kids at school, or am I going to be a really great mom and pour all of that energy into my daughter. I think part of it is too, that I want to be able to pour into her.
And, with this job, I don't know if I can give for her what I want to financially. When I retire, I won't have much there, you know? Part of it, also, is that I want to be able to provide for her. If I keep teaching, I don’t know that I can give her what I want to give her in the future, monetarily. I got my first raise this year in eight years and it didn’t even cover the hike in our insurance expenses. So, I’m like, what am I saving for? I’m not going to have much to retire on. So, I'm thinking, "Is all of this worth it... I mean, I FEEL SO HORRIBLE SAYING THIS!

AH: (I interrupt the teacher…) Every time that I have a conversation with teachers, they feel, at first, that they can’t be honest. But, THAT’S WHY I’M DOING THESE INTERVIEWS! We have GOT to start having these conversations and addressing these things. We can’t keep feeling bad about talking about our feelings! I have felt in the past, the same way. I have felt that if I say what I’m really feeling, then I’m a terrible person and I’m a terrible teacher. But, this is our job and this is our LIFE! If we can’t be honest, and we go to work and keep all of these things inside, we can’t be our best for our kids, because they ARE our kids! I’ve heard a lot, and I want you to be open and honest. This is totally anonymous and you are safe to be real with me.

BiT: That brings me to my next stressor. I feel like when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, there is NOTHING to support you. For example, we are now considered a “B” school, but now the stress to perform well has gotten so high. But, the kids that I have this year are not the same kids that I’ll have next year. I keep hearing, “We have to get a B, we have to get a B, we have a B!” But I don’t feel that it’s in the best interest of the teachers or the kids. I don’t feel that we should have to feel so stressed about it. I mean, I’m shoving stuff down these kids throat for three weeks, they are barely retaining it past the three weeks and what’s it for? Is it for the kids or for you? And, who’s going to take credit for it? (You being administration.) Or is it me who’s doing the work for you? I feel like our admin is all about claiming the success, but the teachers, ultimately, are the ones putting all of these things in place. They are only looking at how my kids are performing. It was just recorded, not acknowledged. I had a rough year, admittedly, but I don’t feel that I was supported when it was tough for me.

AH: So, how would you like to be supported?
BiT:  So this is a little strange, but I recently started selling beauty products. I know this is weird, but it actually brought back some of my passion for teaching, because of the team aspect of this company. I mean, at school, I am constantly pitted against other teachers all the time. We test the kids and then our results are slapped up on a board against the other teachers and then I am judged based on how well or how poorly my students performed against yours. So this teacher is giving a study guide, and this teacher is keeping kids after school. So, I’m thinking, what am I supposed to do? Is this supposed to be authentic? Because if it is, then I teach it and then I post test it.  I feel like the teamwork is completely gone. I feel like we used to collaborate together and now it is,“Who is teaching it best?’ When we get into that room and your percentages are the best and everyone is like, “WOW! You must be a rockstar at teaching that. How did you do it?” And, I feel like, yes, you might be a rockstar, BUT what if the kids already knew it or they just got it really fast. I mean, there are so many other factors. I felt judged for things that I believe are ultimately out of my control. I feel like usually my kids perform pretty high, because I teach High Ability, but this year they haven’t. They are weaker in math especially, and now I feel judged instead of supported. Administration is sitting in the meetings and I was approached like, “Are you worried about ISTEP?” And of course I am, but what am I supposed to do? That’s just where they’re at. I don’t know what to do with what you are saying to me!

AH: I’ve always been so confused about that. Like, how can you REALLY compare my students’ scores from this year to my students’ scores from last year? I don’t have the same kids, at all! How can you compare brains like that?
BiT: That’s where I feel like that school score is a joke. When our kids move to  high school, the makeup of our school changes by the kids that are coming in. It seems ridiculous to me that you can compare last year to this year.

That whole way of looking at my success has really burned me out. I know that you want me to get these kids to perform, but you aren’t telling what to do other that teach them what you are telling me to teach them and then giving them these tests and then hoping that they retain it. The energy level of my daughter and the lack of teamwork has really burned me out. Between teachers and between administrations. Even three to four years ago it was like, how can we get through this together? What can we do about this? And now it is just full-bore, full steam ahead without support from other teachers and administrators when you are having a hard time.

AH: I want to back up a minute and talk more about the beauty products that you are selling. You said that it helped you spark something. Can you tell me more about that?
BiT: It is really team oriented. It is so great because everyone is helping each other and they tell you what to do and you do it and it works! And I’m like, “Well, that was easy!”

AH: Did that help you feel better about school? Having that separate entity that was going really well?
BiT: It did! I just started in May and I’m already ‘leveling up!’ I have already been growing and climbing the ladder!

AH: That is so interesting to me that you get to grow so quickly, because you have been teaching in the same classroom and the same school for so long and have seen no professional growth, and you’re seeing growth in this company so quickly. That has to help you feel better about life, right?
BiT: Yeah, and you have all of these people around you, supporting you and wanting you to level up and grow quickly. It’s mostly women and it’s really empowering!

AH: This makes so much sense to me and I am so inspired by this! I have had conversations with so many other teachers and they all have the same  struggles: lack of support from administrators, other teachers,  and parents, poor student behavior.  I’m hearing you talk about how this other entity, seperately from school, is making you feel empowered, helping you to have a more positive outlook on your professional life. That’s so huge to me! I am so happy for you!

AH: Besides the beauty products, which sounds like its own sort-of therapy, have you sought out any help?
BiT: I’ve done some reading, but there isn’t a solution. I’ve even sought out jobs that I can do with an education degree.

AH: I hear you! I think we have all searched for things we can do that could make us feel more empowered, more respected, and make us more money.
BiT: I know! I mean, I am an educated person and I am struggling to pay my heating bill in the winter! I feel like that’s ridiculous! So, that in addition to all of the other stressors really makes it hard for me to stay in education.

AH: So with the extra money that you are bringing in with the beauty product sales, are you hoping to continue teaching?
BiT: Yes, I would like to.

AH: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you need to stay?
BiT: I think to become a team again. I don’t know how to do that, but I feel like we aren’t anymore.  I think to be able to be real. I feel like everyone has this fake, school persona that they walk in everyday and ‘everything’s great!’ And I don’t know what your population is like, but with our kids, things aren’t great at home and you have to be the positive thing in their life and you can’t crack.

I started looking for different jobs the second that I felt like I couldn’t trust the people that I worked with.They don’t see me as a human. If they see me as only a producer of goods, then why am I here? Yes, I love these kids and I love that I can be someone that they can look up to. But, if I can’t be a WHOLE me, then I can’t be anyone that they can look up to. I mean, when I was having a really rough time, I was pulled into the office and told that I need to change my attitude. I wasn’t even asked what the problem was, and you know what? If I would have been honest, IF they would have asked me, I would have been accused of being negative.

I feel like, “Just replace me.” Really, you are giving me a written curriculum, no creative power, do the pre/post test, and move on. And we also have the computer tests and I’m just done! The kids are done. It’s just too much pressure.

Take Aways and Tips


This interview was really powerful. We had a really deep conversation about the power of true teamwork, the need to trust, and be honest. What I also took away from this interview, more than the need for teamwork, was the need for growth and the need for encouragement from those around you when you need help.

There have been so many times, in my 11 years of teaching, where I have had a rough go of things, whether it was my class or personal obstacles that were effecting my attitude at work. Rather than being asked what was wrong, I have also been pulled into my administrator’s office and told that I need to quit being disrespectful and fix it. No questions. No worry about my well-being. Just fix it. Respect us. Complete apathy for my situation. It’s really hurtful to know that I don’t really matter to those that I work with.

Now, on the flip-side, I have also had coworkers listen, relate to, and cry with me because they understand what I’m going through. THAT is the kind of empathy that needs to be in our schools for our teachers. Am I saying that our principals should cry for us? NO! But at least ask questions instead of making assumptions.

I am completely intrigued by the outside business that this teacher has gotten involved in too. The fact that passion is being brought back into her teaching because of an outside entity is so exciting and further deepens my opinion that teachers, just like students, need encouragement and growth opportunities where they struggle.

A couple of tips from this interview:

  1. Find a place, whether its within your school or not, where you can grow and go for it! What are your passions in school? What are your passions outside of school? I guarantee you, you find that something and see growth, your life will change! I have experienced it!
  2. I’ve said it before. Not all grade levels, buildings, or corporations are created or run equally. Think of your personality type. Are you someone who loves change and you just realized that you have been teaching in the same grade level and classroom for 15 years? Maybe what you need is a big change in grade level, building, or… dare I say? Career.
  3. Respect yourself. What I love about this teacher is that she is not willing to live her life being someone else’s pawn. She knows what she needs to be her true self and love life and she is going for it. She knows what is important to her and she is respecting those truths. You should too.

BiTs, we have to be our own heroes. No one else is going to save us. We have to demand control of our lives.

Tony Gaskins, Jr. says- “If you don’t build your own dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs.”

This could be translated to : “If you don’t build your own beliefs about yourself as a teacher and human, someone else will build them for you; whether or not you give them consent or believe them yourself.”

That’s no way to teach, work, or live. So, I leave you with this call to action:

Let’s have a conversation.