Career Rebounding: Don’t ask me why I left, ask me why I couldn’t stay?

Jobs and careers are like romantic relationships, they can require a lot from you. 

Education is one of those professions that people might describe as more of a calling, than a career. You could certainly earn a lot more money doing something else!

Something that I have often struggled with is the idea that if people move around ‘too much’, or don’t stay long in one place, this is generally regarded as problematic. This judgement seems to happen a lot in education.

To use the relationship analogy, I feel that there are some things missing from this conversation based upon my personal experience. I’ll share a little of the latter first.

Prior to working internationally at my current school (now entering my fourth year here), my own CV might have read in a bit of a patchy way. After completing my PhD, followed by a post-doctoral role, I held a lecturing job for a year, I coached CrossFit for a year, I worked in an addiction rehab for a year, and I also spent a short-time at a different international school that just didn’t work out.

I remember going to an interview at another international school at the same time that I interviewed for my current school, and feeling so embarrassed about how my CV read. As it turns out, I had good reason to. The school liked me it seemed, but in the interview, when I attempted to pre-empt what I was sure would be a concern for them, the school principal looked at me sternly and said ‘ah yes, I was hoping you were going to address the elephant in the room’. It cast a shadow over the interview, and when I walked out I cried… a lot.

I remember feeling so much shame… ‘Why can’t I keep a job?’, ‘What is wrong with ME?’ I carried this with me for a long time, and just couldn’t work out what the problem was.

Now looking back, I wish they had asked me not why I left, but why I couldn’t stay.

When people leave a romantic relationship, they may take a break whilst they process and heal, or they may have ‘rebound relationships’ whilst they are picking up and putting themselves back together again (it’s a good thing that we don’t have CVs for our romantic relationships… imagine having to explain those!). And yet, when it comes to our jobs, those career breaks or rebounds are seen as a negative. Instead we are asked to rush into the next relationship as quickly as possible, each time with the added pressure that this now needs to be ‘the one’. 

Prior to entering my ‘patchy’ resume period, I had to leave a job that was harmful to my mental health. I look back at myself in photos now and all I remember is a really dark period. I couldn’t sleep, I barely ate, and I cried most days. I worked from 5am-10pm Monday to Friday plus working all day Saturday and half of Sunday just to keep up. 

So, when I moved to Thailand, it felt like I was processing a messy break-up from my previous career. It was painful, it was sad, and there was a lot of grief for the dreams that I had held.

If you had asked me why I left, I would have told you the easy version… to pursue new opportunities, to have the chance to live in a different country, to follow my wife as she began a new job. These are also true, but this version negates the deeper and more powerful reasons for why I couldn’t stay. 

Now, I enter my fourth year at my current school, a place that never even asked about this period, or why I left. They only ever saw what I could offer – something I will always be immensely thankful for. I look ahead to moving on at the end of this year having recovered not just in a professional ‘CV’ sense, but also on a personal level. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to grow my wings here, and now the time is coming to fly somewhere else, wherever that may be. 

The end of this relationship feels much different than the last. This time I prepare to leave with a sense of closure, fond memories and hope for what the future might bring. 

In closing this article, what I hope is that those of us involved in recruitment, now or in the future, can look beyond the ‘patchy’ periods we might notice on the CVs of others, and ask not why they left, but why they couldn’t stay. What was going on for them at that particular time? Not to provide opportunities for finger-pointing or blame, but to allow space and compassion for people who may be coming to you off the back of a difficult personal or professional time, but still with plenty to offer. To respect when people honoured their boundaries enough to recognise when something wasn’t working for them, and to see their ability to prioritise their wellbeing, and to walk away from relationships that were no longer working, as a strength rather than a weakness. To cast the responsibility for work-based wellbeing and job longevity not on individuals alone, but also on the schools and workplaces they inhabit. And to ask ourselves honestly, when people move on from our schools, was it (just) them, or was it (also) us?

Ask questions, be curious, stay open… career histories don’t happen in a vacuum, and how those elephants got into that room in the first place is perhaps a more fruitful discussion. 

Why I don’t message back sometimes…

I have always been an anxious person. At school I was flagged up repeatedly as a concern, and as an adult I continue to have chronic struggles with mental health.

When I have bad days I can’t leave the house, and when I have good days I probably just appear a little nervous or quiet.

Staff meetings are a huge stress for me… being in a room with lots of people makes my heart beat fast, my hands sweat, and has me planning an exit strategy in case I feel like I’m going to pass out (if you’re going to pass out at least do it in private, right?)

I still go to all my meetings but I can’t wait for them to be over… I’ll often have to re-read the notes after to make sure I understood all the information given, because I was focusing so hard on trying to remain seated on my chair and fighting the urge to dart out of the room.

One of the other things that I have struggled with over the last couple of years is avoidance… avoidance of people, of stressful social situations, and of communication – both in person, and over email and social media.

I let emails stack up and will go through periods where I don’t log on to social media accounts at all. Other times I’ll read messages but feel unable to reply… I’ll think to myself “I’ll save that for later for when I feel better”.

In between these times I’ll mute notifications or I’ll delete apps off my phone.

I don’t have to deal with things if I don’t see them, right?

Surprise, surprise… wrong!

As days go by, and unread messages pile up, I can feel my anxiety growing worse. I’ll spend hours trying to compose thoughtful replies in my mind, but also thinking about the excuse I’ll have to make for not replying sooner. Truth be told, this often depends on how long I haven’t been able to respond for… if it’s a couple of days maybe I can say that I’ve been busy with work, if it’s been a week then perhaps I can say that I’ve been away or had a deadline, and if it’s been over two weeks then I’ll have to say that it slipped through the net and say how sorry (read: ashamed) I really am.

Sometimes I have to leave messages unread and work undone because all I can face that day is lying down on the sofa with my dog. 

On good days I can multi-task, work super efficiently, and stay focused until a big task has been completed. 

But even those good days can sometimes offer little respite, and give me, and others, the impression that I can function normally, making me more critical of myself on days when I can’t.

I write this because I have mental health issues, and I always have. They’ve become such an intrinsic part of who I am, that I actually don’t know who I would be without them. 

Somedays I think to myself ‘what must it be like to be able to check your emails and respond to them normally (like a regular adult)?”

“Mental health stigma be like “it’s ok not to be ok” but make sure it’s on your time off and it doesn’t affect your productivity and you really make up for the inconvenience it created for others and…” (Tweet by Dr. Mona Masood @ShrinkRapping)

I couldn’t agree more.

I have found it so hard to forge a professional identity when I am constantly worrying about the opinions people must be forming of me when I’m having a tough time. I have to work so hard to recover from the shame and embarrassment that I feel when I’m not able to communicate with them.

Despite growing awareness, and concerted efforts to remove the stigma that surrounds it, I’m not sure we’re always equitable in our thinking and compassion towards others when it comes to mental health. When someone doesn’t respond to us, it’s easy to assume the worst – they’re too busy to deal with it, they don’t think it’s important, they’re being rude. But perhaps that shouldn’t be our first thought. Perhaps we should consider that sometimes, when someone doesn’t reply, it’s because they can’t.

I know that people who feel like this have replied a thousand times in their mind. 

There are many people who have a mental health condition that you’ll never know about, because they don’t want you to. There will be colleagues of yours that are struggling, but they will never tell you. They don’t want to be seen as less than and, especially when it comes to work, they don’t want you to think that they can’t cope.

Because most of the time they can… because they have to.

Many workplaces, including schools, wish to appear empathetic and understanding, but at the same time are demanding more output than ever. You can have a mental health problem – as long as you don’t miss deadlines or let the quality of your work be affected!

But for so many of us, the pain we feel over that unread message is real… it causes unbelievable stress, so much so that it can even manifest as physical discomfort.

Such a small thing, right?

If we really mean that it’s ok not to be ok, then we also need to be more accepting of people as they are. We need to consider when being ‘lazy’ might actually be ‘coping’, and when being ‘on holiday’ might actually be ‘struggling’.

In the meantime, please just know that I (read: we) will get back to your email when we can.

Home, I miss you.

It’s been eighteen months since the pandemic began and two years since I was home… 

Home, I miss you.

Even though my home now is where my wife is, where my job is, and where my dogs are causing havoc, my other home is where I started to build towards all of the things that I am now.

This home is where all of the people that made me are.

I miss my family (even though the annual summer holiday visits are always quite busy and intense!) I miss my friends (even though many of us have lost touch, I still think of you often), I miss the noise of being home and everyone talking over each other, I miss my Nan’s mash potato (it really must have been a long-time!), and I miss watching my siblings grow up and spending time with my parents… I see photos of you on social media and I can see that you look different, that you’ve experienced a bit more of life in all of its different forms.

I know that I too probably look different from when you last saw me. I definitely feel like I’ve changed since we were last together. 

It feels awfully quiet these days, and what I would give to have you all talking over me and not giving me a chance to chime in! Maybe I can even show you how I’ve changed if I have the chance to get a word in – which maybe, you might just let me now. 

It is undeniable that our work forms a part of who we are, but the other part is a beautiful constellation of our memories, experiences and relationships. I have been searching for you all, but I haven’t been able to find you for some time. The weather keeps changing, keeping you from my view.

We’re coming into the third academic year in which the pandemic has affected our day to day lives, and our day to day teaching.

It’s also affected our sense of control and autonomy. Are we going to go back to school or are we not? Will we be able to do activities or will we not? Will exams go ahead or will they not? Will we lose our holidays or will we not?

In a lot of ways these things feel pretty trivial, but if I was being completely honest, I think the question that people grapple with (and then squash back down) the most is; will I get to see you again, or will I not? 

Breathe.

As we come back to the start of a new school year, expectations and pressures are already mounting. It feels different this time. In the world of international schools, schools are businesses, and businesses pay our salaries… not that businesses are bad or good, they just are. But right now, the businesses that many of us have chosen to be a part of, are struggling, and teachers are under greater pressure than ever to help alleviate this. Whilst I understand all of this, I can’t help but feel what a burden it is knowing that my professional responsibility is one of the things that keeps me from you. From my home, and my family. 

Parents at schools are understandably upset, after all, international schooling in a pandemic is not what they signed their children up (or paid) for.

Schools are dealing with a lot.

But when they get squeezed, we get squeezed too… and our students get squeezed the most. Many of them also have people they love living far away, that they miss, and wonder whether they will see again.

We all miss someone.

I don’t really have much more to give right now. I will turn up and work to the best of my ability because I am a ‘professional’, and that’s what we are taught to do. I will put on a brave face and deliver because ‘we’ as a profession, always will. 

But… please be kind to us.

Please let us stop and breathe once in a while, because when I stop and breathe, I can think of that beautiful constellation and I can almost be home.

WISEducation Podcast – Episode 10 is OUT NOW!

In this episode I had the privilege of speaking with Nunana Nyomi, Associate Director of Higher Education Services, Council of International Schools. In this episode we discuss how Higher Education has had to respond to the challenges of the pandemic by finding ways to holistically assess students, and not rely on traditional mass assessment methods. We discuss the context that led to Nunana’s article on how international education perpetuates structural racism and how anti-racism is the solution, and we also talk about the context that led up to the refreshingly honest conversation between Nunana and Jane Larsson, Executive Director of CIS, that followed this. The views shared in this interview reflect Nunana’s own and are not representative of CIS. Thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast. Also, please check out WISEducationblog.com for more information about WISEducation.

Some of the resources that we discussed:

International education perpetuates structural racism and anti-racism is the solution – https://www.cois.org/about-cis/news/post/~board/perspectives-blog/post/international-education-perpetuates-structural-racism-and-anti-racism-is-the-solution

A conversation on anti-racism and international education – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlpQOBUbG8Es

Eradicating System Bias: How to Indentify and Counter International School Blind-Spots – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-xOhdlURj0&t=1662s

Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC) – http://aieloc.org

WISEducation Podcast – Episode 9 is OUT NOW!

In this episode I had the privilege of speaking with Tricia Friedman, Creative Content Director with Shifting Schools and creator of the Be A Better Ally podcast. We discuss the often unasked question of ‘what is it like to be a queer educator?’ and Tricia candidly shares some of her experiences. We also talk about the need to have ongoing difficult conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, and the ‘call for candidness’ within education. Thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast.


Some of the awesome work that Tricia is involved in:

Shifting Schools: https://www.shiftingschools.com (check out the free guide for Pride month)

AllyEd – https://allyed.org

Other helpful resources that we discussed:

‘Filling the space’, Tricia Friedman talk – https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=HxX2AT3Cpjs

‘Beware of equity traps and tropes’, Jamila Dugan article – http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar21/vol78/num06/Beware-of-Equity-Traps-and-Tropes.aspx

Gender Studies podcast with a particular shoutout to the episode on ‘the tragedy of heterosexuality’ – https://podcasts.apple.com/es/podcast/jane-ward-the-tragedy-of-heterosexuality-nyu-press-2020/id425400236?i=1000526371186

Gender-Inclusive Biology, Sam Long – https://www.genderinclusivebiology.com

WNBA Social Justice work – https://www.wnba.com/socialjustice/

WISEducation Podcast – Episode 8 is OUT NOW!

In this episode I had the privilege of speaking with Daniel Wickner, founder of Identity-Centered Learning and Elementary Teacher at Hong Kong International School. In this episode we discuss the importance of placing identity at the centre of our students’ learning, not by planting seeds for our students, but rather allowing them to plant their own seeds, and Daniel discusses ideas for how we can do this. We also talk about the vulnerability that we experience as educators in sharing parts of our identity at school. Thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast.

Putting pen to paper, or words to a Google Doc: 5 tips on getting started with blog writing

I’m definitely by no means an expert but writing blogs is something that I’ve come to really enjoy over the past year… funny the effect lockdown has on you! There are many, many different blogs out there with tips on how to write a blog (I’d probably go ahead and read them instead ha!) but I just wanted to share my thoughts as a new blog writer and what has helped me put pen to paper, or words to a Google Doc, over this past year. Here are my five top tips:

  1. Write about something that genuinely interests you. A trap that I have fallen into quite a few times is writing about something that I think other people will find interesting, and as I write I tend to hit a wall. When I’ve given myself the freedom to write about something that I feel really excited about, whether that be a book I’ve just read, a podcast I’ve just listened to, a conversation I’ve just been a part of, or an experience that I’ve just had, writing off the back of this is always more fun and enjoyable, and they always end up being better articles. 
  2. You don’t have to be an expert. A blog is not an academic paper and there is a 99.9999% chance that you won’t be paid for the article that you’ve written, and it won’t make you famous. Let that give you freedom. An article will not be perfect, the same way that a conversation that you’ve had won’t be perfect. And chances are that if you wrote the same article on a different day, it would turn out completely differently… and that’s ok. For me, the comedians that I find the funniest are the ones that can articulate the everyday stuff, the everyday stuff is what resonates with people. It’s the same with blogs. Not all blogs have to entail a worldly message, not unless you feel like it on that day that is!
  3. Jot down ideas of things that you might like to write about as they pop into your head. Writing them down on paper and then thinking about them does magical things. Much like it seems to be that clarity dawns upon us when we’re on the toilet or having a shower… weird how that happens! Ideas need room to breathe and to formulate. Sometimes you’ll have days where you can just sit and spill it all out in a Word document, and sometimes you need time to connect the dots in your mind. You can always leave an article and come back to it and not every idea will be a good article. Make mistakes with your writing and make them often, it takes away the paralysing fear of perfectionism.
  4. If you are tying yourself up in knots just to understand what you are trying to say then ask yourself ‘what is the message that I want to share’. Blogs can be how we communicate our thoughts, but also it can help us process and make sense of what we really feel about a topic. Keep bringing it back to this question when you’re getting in a muddle. Simple is better. Remember you don’t have to write every single thought that you’ve ever had in one article and chances are, if you can’t follow your train of thought then no one else will be able to either. Perhaps jot some bullet points down before you start writing so you can start to visualise what you want to say and delete anything that doesn’t quite fit.
  5. Make your opening and closing paragraph strong. The opening paragraph will determine if the reader is going to invest their time scrolling through your article, and your closing paragraph(s) is where you give your reader your take home message. Much like when you watch a movie, these parts are the attention grabbers. For me, I have found that stories are powerful (we live in a world of data but stories slow things down for a moment) and I ask myself if there is a story that I can tell that illustrates what I’m trying to say. This allows me to bring myself to the article. I’m not a robot, I’m a real person and I want to bring that to what I write.

I’m not sure if that’s helpful but I hope at least it wasn’t painful to read! Take the things that work for you and discard what doesn’t – build your own toolbox and swap out things when they get rusty!

Most of all enjoy the process – your articles will always be so much better when you do!

WISEducation Podcast – Episode 7 is OUT NOW!

In this episode I had the privilege of speaking with Matthew Savage, consultant, trainer and coach, founder of #themonalisaeffect, and former International School Principal. This was a really special conversation where Matthew shared his son Jack’s journey, and what his transgender son has taught him about inclusion. We also talk about the importance of placing identity as central to work around wellbeing, and Matthew shares his thoughts on what might be helpful for schools to think about when starting their LGBTQ+ inclusion and allyship journey. Thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast.

Call for articles for the new Wellbeing in International Schools Magazine!

I’m very excited to share the news that I have partnered with Independent Schools Management Plus and have signed an exclusive distribution arrangement which will see the WISEducation Magazine relaunched and re-branded as the ‘Wellbeing in International Schools Magazine’ by WISEducation. It is also very exciting that it will be a sister magazine to the well-renowned International School Magazine!

See announcement here – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/school-management-plus-partners-wellbeing-schools-magazine-elias/

I would like to put out a call for articles for the new Wellbeing in International Schools Magazine which will be launching towards the end of August.

It would be great to grow the conversation around wellbeing in international schools and to include more voices within this, so if you are interested in contributing an article (or if you know of anyone who may be interested) please email me at Sadie.wiseducation@gmail.com

I’m really excited about this next step and hope to connect with you as a contributor to the Wellbeing in International Schools Magazine very soon!

Sadie

WISEducation Podcast – Episode 6 is OUT NOW!

In this episode I had the privilege of speaking with Kathy Wallace, Head of IB Language and Literature at UWC, Singapore. We explore an interesting and wide range of topics, including Kathy’s research on ‘Out Of The Local And Into The Global: Parental Perspectives Of International Education In Singapore’, parentocracy and elitism in international education, the potential impact of de-regulated international school markets on local education systems, and student identity and the importance of students learning about the local context in which they are being educated in. Thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast.