Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Why I’m Returning to the Classroom

May 4, 2021

Lacy Rivera self portrait May 2021

by Lacy Rivera (NM ’19)

Three years ago, a trusted mentor and dear friend encouraged me to apply to become an instructional coach.

“Nope. Thanks anyway,” I replied, reminding myself that I had found my sweet spot. I loved the grade level and content I was teaching, I truly vibed with my collaborative team, and my students made me smile every single day. For me, the classroom provided a space of opportunity where I could witness transformation firsthand.

And yet, after a few more conversations with colleagues, admired leaders in my life, and strangers I met at conferences, I decided to take the leap. I was convinced that leaving the classroom for a larger stage would help me to influence a greater number of students and support the colleagues I so deeply respected. In fact, the last three years have helped me grow as an educator, supporting collaborative teams and individual teachers in strengthening their own reflective practice and using student learning outcomes to drive systems change schoolwide.

And yet, I have missed teaching every single day.

Every day, I read about talented, passionate, and driven educators who are leaving the profession—a vocation rooted in hopefulness, as author bell hooks reminds us. And yet, as someone who left the classroom years ago, I am being called to return.

In truth, the classroom that I left three years ago no longer exists. Since then, our district has gone one-to-one with digital devices, and nationally, we have reckoned with teaching through crisis, remote digital teaching and learning shifts, and some combination of hybrid, blended, or concurrent learning models. While I have supported my colleagues and district in these transitions, I have not taught my own class of students. For me, that seems overwhelming in both the challenge it presents and the opportunity to make connections and build relationships that can sustain the heart-work of teaching and learning.

“I need to cultivate change”

Just as the classroom I left in 2018 no longer exists, neither does the educator I once was. These past three years as a coach have changed who I am, strengthened my convictions, and on some days, shattered my confidence. And yet, I know schools remain spaces of potential transformation. Rather than leave this profession that is simultaneously heartbreaking and life-giving, today I realize that I need to cultivate change—in myself and in the lives of students. In students, I see our greatest hope. In learning, I embrace our collective struggle. And in continuing to serve as an educator—in whatever role each year brings—I know I’ll inevitably find that sweet spot again.

At the end of this school year, I will leave a school that has been my home for over a decade to teach in a new school, in a completely new grade. When I share with my high school colleagues that I am going to teach at an elementary school, they look at me like I’m a bit crazy. And perhaps they are right. I am crazy about learning, crazy about justice, and crazy about the importance of the power of positive relationships. This leap of faith may be a bit crazy, but I am trusting the journey, with my core values guiding each step of the way.

No matter the role you currently play in education—support staff, teacher, coach, leader, administrator, consultant—it is important to remember that you have agency. There is no one “path” in this profession. Ours is very human, very personal work. You get to choose how you best serve, where to serve, and when to serve. We are called to make a difference in whatever capacity we can, and that calling is ours to heed or ignore depending on the season of our lives.

I am not certain that I will end my career as a classroom teacher, but for this next chapter in my life, the classroom will be a space of healing, rebuilding, and joy. Returning to the classroom will give me an opportunity to reconnect with students, build a caring classroom community, develop a new understanding of content and pedagogy, and learn side-by-side with a collaborative team. After all, we are not in this alone. Educators are stronger together. I am reminded of that every single day.


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