Untethered

“You are so brave.”      “I can’t believe you are doing this.”      “I would never be able to do this.”

The above quotes are from my friends who are not International Educators. They are not from people who are in jobs where announcing you are resigning 6 months before you actually leave, is standard practice. (And even earlier if you are an administrator.)

But I am. And I just did. (My husband did too.)

What they all want to know is “How do I feel?”

I feel like I’m floating, untethered. I am rising away from what anchored me for the past six years. It is a great, adventurous and alive feeling. That said, it is an absolutely petrifying feeling too.

But this isn’t my first rodeo. I have performed this leap before, and it has always worked out. In fact, I used to do it as a kid when my parents would resign one job, head into the job fairs and find another. My memory? It was so Vegas, baby! They were big rollers and winners, living out there on the edge. The best part? They routinely ended up on an adventure they had never considered before.

Looking back now, I’m amazed by my parents’ mindset. The whole thing was an adventure. From recruitment to getting the job, it was all about envisioning yourself doing something different in a place you’d never heard of before. My father used to say, “We wanted to pick somewhere with an interesting name!” They believed if things didn’t work out… Ha! Of course, they would!

So, fast-forward 20+ years and here I am. Duel income, one kid, college tuition on the horizon, both of us in what might be the best and most productive years of our careers, and I’m feeling… untethered.

The recruiter in me understands why we need to have contract deadlines and even why those deadlines are getting earlier and earlier.

For one thing, it’s basic competition. Because most of our schools look for candidates who have international teaching experience, our schools end up all trying to get the same, best possible people, from the same, very small pool of applicants. This pushes us to make a move earlier and earlier. (However, Last year at the NESA Leadership Conference James Strong spoke about recruitment as a means to strengthen and improve schools. Besides the fact that we are all fishing in the same pond, Mr. Strong also pointed out that the very short timeline created by the signing deadlines worldwide might compromise our real ability to find the right fit.)

Also, and let’s be honest here, we all, recruiters and candidates alike, want to avoid the fairs. Nothing is more stressful than knowing you have to find or fill a job with the competition right there next to you. So the recruiter in me understands why we want to discover, vet, and hire people before Bangkok, Boston, or Iowa. However, doing so means we need to know what we have to hire for, so we can actually offer those jobs ahead of the fairs.

Not only do we need to know who is going, we also need to consider who already within our schools might want to move into a position, thus creating another vacancy. This all takes time. And time is what none of us has come Fall. No one wants to be or act in desperation. Recruiters are rushed to find and fill spots. Candidates (who are often teaching couples with children) are in a very difficult position because they are essentially making decisions knowing in the back of their minds- we must get a job. For some, leaving a school for the right reasons might lead them to accept a job at another school for the wrong reason- time. But who can afford to be jobless or what school can afford a vacancy for long?

Now let me switch up my headgear and pop on my candidate hat.

I do believe we are unique as an international education profession. I do not know of another profession, especially teaching in our home countries, where resigning requires you to let everyone know you are leaving many months in advance of actually going. Besides the stress it causes the people quitting jobs before they have new ones, there is the interesting conundrum of letting parents and students know your news early too. (Not to mention how our own children feel announcing to friends in October- I won’t be here next year!)

Yet, it is standard practice for those of us in this business to not only know we are leaving, but to let everyone else know too. Which forces us to discuss our plans (or lack of plans) for months. Parents, students, and other teachers all weigh in, wishing you well and often lamenting your departure. But to have that conversation with so many interested parties for months, first about why you are leaving; then around where you are going and how that might be… It really does create the longest goodbye.

For candidates, there is so much to weigh, consider and plan out and yet once you send the “This is my final year” letter you lose so much control over what will happen.

Recruiting is a unique and challenging time for all of us. Though I do wonder if it doesn’t lead to a little bit of natural selection of our ranks. Being able to live untethered might actually separate those of us cut out for this work from those that aren’t. Which is important. It is who we are.

Which is why- the week following my “big news” I’m trying to feel about it as my father once did. The man was always able to look on the bright side. Instead of worry, when he too decided not to return to a job and school for the following year, he would live in that space of pure optimism. It will all work out as it should, even if what happens is the last thing in the world you thought would happen.

I can hear him now, “Leap off the cliff with a wide, bright smile on your face because you are living a life where you really do get to go for it.”

Good luck to those of you leaping this year.

Photo credit: Nat Ireland via Flickr CC

About Jen Munnerlyn

Jen Munnerlyn is the Elementary Principal at the American School of Warsaw. Her international experience began back in 1980 when her parents first started teaching overseas. Jen blogs about her own experiences as a Third Culture Kid, the adventures of being the mother of a TCK, and about elementary education in an international school setting. Her picture book The Adventure Begins, about the first day at an international school, is a favorite among adults and students abroad.
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One Response to Untethered

  1. Kimbra Power says:

    OVERJOYED with pride over that great post Jen Munnerlyn. So well written, it must have involved a lot of soul searching and thought. I love the references to your family, and to your Dad, and can imagine him saying go for it….
    I can’t wait to see where this roll of the dice takes you.
    x

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