One morning not too long ago, I took the dogs outside for their midday bathroom break, and when I didn’t immediately melt under Texas heat, I realized that it was September. In fact, it was almost the middle of September. Since I left teaching middle school, I’ve found myself far less capable of tracking time. I thought time had no meaning during the pandemic lockdowns; I had no idea people with “regular” jobs had to work so hard to know what month it is!
This year was the first year in my entire life that I didn’t have a true summer, and I frequently forgot that it was summer until I’d walk outside of the house. Between working full time as an instructional designer and taking two intensive 10-week doctoral courses, June to August was actually the busiest couple months of my year—maybe even of my life so far.
And, honestly, that’s saying something because I have always thrived on chaos. When I was a senior in high school, I worked two restaurant jobs and took classes at Youngstown State University on top of a course load filled with AP and honors classes and two foreign languages. In college, I frequently had 20-credit-hour semesters and briefly had a second major (though, to be honest, I never finished the psychology degree). I completed my Master of Education full time while also working full time as a high school English teacher. And now, I have a full-time job as an instructional designer, a part-time job as an adjunct lecturer, and a freelance side gig, all on top of being a full-time doctoral student. All of this is without even taking into account my novel-writing and gaming hobbies or my MCU addiction! Considering my propensity to wear several hats at once, it’s no wonder I’ve found myself in the middle of an identity crisis lately.
Who Am I?
The 2021 fall semester marked the start of the second year of my doctoral program. Throughout the first year, I’ve spent a lot of time considering who I am as a researcher. After a research methods class and a statistics class, I’ve reached the point of my career in academia where I’m working on research projects outside of my coursework, and so far the topics and methods vary quite a bit. I’m still trying to narrow down my own research interests and focus, as well as my preferred methods. I have a deeply ingrained aversion to math that left me terrified of taking the statistics course over the summer. It definitely wasn’t the easiest class I’ve ever taken, but it ended up not being nearly as difficult as I expected. Now this qualitative researcher is wondering if quantitative is really all that bad. I’m at least a lot more comfortable with the idea of tackling mixed methods research.
This part of my identity is the newest. I’ve done some research that was even published thanks to an incredible mentor at the University of Houston, but I’m still at the beginning of this part of my journey. I’m still learning how to design and conduct research studies, and I’m still figuring out what I want to study and what needs to be studied.
Right now I’m working on my doctoral dossier (which will be located at www.wanetahebert.com when it’s ready to go live), which means that it’s time to figure out my own goals, focus area, and knowledge and expertise, along with how all of my academic work connects back to it all. I saw a tweet (well, a screenshot of a tweet from a year or two ago that was shared on Facebook) that basically just says that caterpillars don’t just crawl into a cocoon, pop on some wings, and become a butterfly. They dissolve into a pile of goo first. The message was that it’s okay to be a pile of goo wrapped in blankets because that’s how you become a butterfly. It’s a bit of a tired metaphor, but when it comes to my identity as a researcher, I’m still a pile of goo. That’s still a step further from the caterpillar I was a year ago.
Not a Teacher
This year is also the first school year of my career that I’m not a public school teacher. I didn’t attend back-to-school meetings and professional development. I didn’t greet 100 children at my door with a fist bump (which wouldn’t have happened anyway because, ya know, pandemic, but still). I didn’t spend a week making those 100 names stick in my brain. But I also haven’t stressed about test scores, Lexile levels, or unrealistic demands on my time, and I haven’t been forced to do any work outside of my contracted hours.
It was not easy for me to leave the classroom. As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher, but every year in the classroom wore me down just a little bit more. The stress of teaching during the pandemic while still getting berated about STAAR scores was the long walk off a short dock that led me to take the plunge into a new career trajectory.
An Instructional Designer
Starting a new career was a terrifyingly exciting decision for me. I did not know if I would actually be any good in the position, and trying to make such a huge change during a pandemic just added to my anxiety. But just like how the huge risk I took when I packed up and moved from Ohio to Texas paid off in the end, so, too, has this risk. August marked six months as an employee with Houston Community College, meaning that I’m no longer a probationary employee. I am a full-time instructional designer, and I have to say with all modesty that I’m pretty good at it. There is still a lot that I’m learning as I go, but let’s be real, that’s true of anything. I fully believe that we are all constantly learning at all ages. We haven’t failed until we stop trying to be better.
My favorite part of the job is the professional development. Instead of being the teacher in a sit-and-get professional development workshop, I get to be the one designing and delivering the professional development to faculty. I have two virtual seminars in the current rotation: one about using rubrics to improve assessments and another that is a basic overview of course design for faculty without an instructional design background. For me, these seminars represent all of the things I love about teaching (planning an exciting lesson, engaging with learners, answering questions) without all of the stressful parts (mandatory lesson plan templates, standardized testing, gotcha walkthroughs), and they bring me so much satisfaction.
Finally, the third side of my life: This semester is my seventh semester teaching CUIN 3312 Educational Technology at the University of Houston. We’re back to our original hybrid format with one two-hour class meeting most weeks and everything else online. Being back in a classroom in front of students was thrilling, and it reminded me that, just because I’ve left the K–12 classroom, it doesn’t mean I’m not a teacher anymore. I’ve always loved teaching and will always love teaching, because teaching is more than a K–12 job. I realized that I’d been afraid that I failed at teaching because I left the classroom before the end of my seventh year. I always knew I was going to be a teacher, and I’ve always thought I’d stay a teacher forever. Leaving the classroom made me wonder if I was wrong all this time.
After I helped him learn how to do something in Canvas, one of my HCC faculty said to me, “You have the heart of a teacher.” I didn’t fail as a teacher; I simply found where my passion for teaching is more needed and more appreciated.
This post is dedicated to everyone in the middle of an identity crisis, whether you’re considering a career change, going back to school, starting a family, or whatever huge change is about to knock you off your game. You got this. Take the jump, and see where you land.
Originally published on Mrs. Hebert’s Classroom.