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End-of-Year Reckoning: Face Your Toughest Professional Development Decisions

A woman stands at crossroads that diverge in opposite directions.

Take these careful steps before turning down that new road.

In just a few short months, the school year will be over. While many teachers use this time to prep for the next one, you might be wondering whether returning to the same job is the right move. Maybe your grade level or subject isn't a good fit. Maybe you like your job but need a new challenge. Maybe you'd like to stay in education but try a different role. Is it time for a change?

Further Reading: A Teacher Self-Evaluation Checklist: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself

Making a career change is a big deal. Here are some ideas that might help you make the right decision for your professional development.

Talk to Your Principal or Supervisor

If you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts about your job with your principal or an administrator, talking things through with them could be a good place to start. My friend Hannah, for example, got hired last year as the theater director at a local high school. She thought it was her dream job, but countless auditions and rehearsals for a stuffed slate of productions often held her at school long after the final bell rang, and she often didn't get home until after 6 p.m. Hannah's a single parent, and the long hours didn't jibe with her child's needs. She met with her principal and explained that as much as she loved working with the kids, the job was unsustainable for her.

The principal wanted Hannah to stay, so he offered to reduce the yearly theater production schedule and to try to find help for sets and lighting. Hannah agreed to stay on and give it a try the next year.

Not every conversation with a school administrator goes this smoothly. Still, if you're comfortable sharing your thoughts with your higher-ups, they may keep you in mind should new opportunities arise.

Explore Other Jobs in the School

If you want to stay in education but you've grown weary of the classroom, look around your school to see what else interests you. Some jobs—such as guidance counselor, librarian, school psychologist, or administrator—require more professional development or even another degree or certification. Most can be completed within two years, and you might be able to take classes in the evening or online. While earning another degree requires commitment, time, and money, it can be worth it if you find a new role that challenges you and makes you happy, especially if you plan to stay in education for a number of years.

If that sounds like too drastic a change, moving to a new grade level—from fifth grade to second, or from middle school to high school—might suit you better, and such a move won't require any additional professional development. My colleague Jan requests a change of grade level about every three years.

"It keeps me fresh," she says. "If it's not possible, it's OK. I'll just wait until next year."

Look Beyond Your Current School

Another option is to look at job postings at other schools. Some school districts are large enough that you could transfer to another school for a new assignment. But check out surrounding districts, too, to see what jobs are available there. It's a good idea to look for openings before you sign a contract with your current district. Many school districts have standing agreements not to hire teachers who have already committed to another district.

If you really want a change, look for jobs in education that are a little off the beaten path. I know two teachers who left the K–12 classroom to teach inmates at a nearby prison. Another teaches GED classes at a technical school; she wrote about her experience in EdWeek. One enterprising teacher formed her own tutoring business. A teacher friend left the classroom to work at a bank; she now uses her classroom skills to teach technical writing to employees. These jobs might not appeal to everyone, but some teachers find a new position to be just the change they need.

Weigh the Pros and Cons

Making a career change can be difficult. You know that there are pros and cons to every job. You may want to try something new, but you've made lots of friends and learned a lot in your current position. You may think that parents are demanding, but your principal respects and supports the teaching staff. An administrative job might mean more pay, but it also means working summers. Weighing these details can help you make a tough professional decision.

Further Reading: 3 Actions That Advance Professional Development for Teachers

Of course, only you can decide what the right step is. Teachers do their best work when they're doing a job they love. And kids do their best work with a teacher who wants to be there, day in and day out. If you're struggling to give your all in the classroom, consider other options that will allow you to make the most of your abilities and that will psych you up to go work every day. Professional development can be tough, but the end of the year provides the perfect opportunity to see if there's a better fit out there.