I took a trip to crazytown, but now I'm fine! Hire me!
May 31, 2017 3:07 AM   Subscribe

Two years ago, due to a combination of mental and physical health problems and some horrible administrators, I quit my teaching job. At the time, I thought it was all my fault for being a terrible teacher and I never wanted to go back, but now I realize neither is true. I have an opportunity to apply in a neighboring district. On paper, I am highly qualified, but how do I get through the interview process without sounding like a flake or bashing my previous principal?

Background: I taught high school at Old School for 15 years. During that time I dealt with on again/off again low level depression and anxiety. During the last two years, my mental health deteriorated due to a chronic health condition that causes malabsorption and mild malnutrition - and I also got divorced! I still came to work everyday, but I frequently dropped the ball when it came to things like keeping up with grading and the gradebook, detailed lesson planning, and answering e-mails. Despite the fact that I kept my principal informed, he and two other admins were very demeaning, dismissive, and punitive. They told me my students were the ones "suffering" and threatened me with a Teacher Improvement Plan. I was taking benzos in the morning, and vomiting in the evening. So, at the end of the school year, I handed in my resignation.

Now: For two years, I've been working in addiction services. The job has been enlightening, and my boss and co-workers are kind and accepting. I've been able to heal both mentally and physically, and I've done a lot of processing of the events of those last few school years. The problem is that the pay is stressfully low, and there's no possible way to advance. I find myself missing students and teaching. I also hate being this broke.

The problem: I look great on paper! I have a Master's degree, 15 years of experience, and am certified for four more years. I formed lasting bonds with many students and was a popular and creative teacher. So how do I explain why I quit and my current dead-end job? How do I reassure a new principal in a new district that my issues won't be a problem? Do I even mention my issues? How do I explain that my old principal is an asshole and everybody knows it? I just want to sound sane and professional.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"I had a health condition which prevented a return to $oldschool and instead required a new career, but the health issue is now resolved and I'm happy to return to teaching."

Which is true.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:26 AM on May 31, 2017 [8 favorites]

I really would not mention a health condition, physical or mental, at all. Nor would I bash your former district or administrators in any way.

I would spin this as "I left my previous post to take a sabbatical-style break from teaching to gain some new skills I thought could transfer in a meaningful way to the classroom. It's been everything I hoped it would be, and I'm very excited to use these skills to work with students to help them achieve their academic goals."

Or something along those lines.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:38 AM on May 31, 2017 [37 favorites]

"I stepped away from teaching because I felt like I needed some perspective. My time away, doing other things, helped me gain that, and it's let me see that teaching is where I want to make a difference."
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:13 AM on May 31, 2017 [22 favorites]

I would not mention health issues. I have seen people use divorces for explanation, though; I'd be tempted to spin the time away as part sabattical, part low-stress way to get through the divorce. And definitely say nothing negative about the old school, no matter how terrible they were.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:26 AM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is one where you say, "I wanted to spread my wings a little bit after 15 years at the same place. I learned so many new skills working in addiction services and I do love my job, but after putting in two years I feel like I know with certainty that I belong in teaching."
posted by juniperesque at 6:15 AM on May 31, 2017 [6 favorites]

First off, congrats for addressing a serious personal challenge and taking care of yourself and recovering! That is no small feat and demonstrates your resilience. Yay you!

In terms of interviewing for your next teaching position, the one thing I would not do is bash the old principal in order to defend yourself. I am guessing that a potential new administrator might get in touch with the old principal - are you in a position to talk to your old principal and bring them up to date and let them know that you are getting back into teaching? (My mom has been teaching for decades and I can feel her rolling her eyes across the country... But maybe it would be effective for you and might result in a personal reframing of your relationship with the former administration...) In any event, I would prepare a statement about the old principal that explains differences of opinions or approaches to learning or even be obliquely honest and say that you did not feel properly supported by the administration at old school. Come up with something that is positive and doesn't make you a martyr but conveys the idea that despite all the wonderful aspects of teaching at old school, there were challenges that ultimately prevented it from being an ideal situation.

About disclosing your mental health status: I am of the belief that this is the sort of information you share when it feels right. The examples above of statements you can make are all good - even the one that mentions a health issue. I think you should have several statements prepared and use the one that feels right at the time.

You have achieved a great deal and you pointed out stellar qualities that would make you an ideal candidate. Focus on all that goodness! Do not let old principal have any residual hold on you.

Good luck!
posted by danabanana at 6:39 AM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really think it's OK to say that after 15 years, you needed a break. A LOT of teachers get burned out, and 15 years is a long and honorable time to have taught. So you took a break, recharged and realize that you really miss teaching, and now you're back. Spin it to your advantage! You have fresh eyes and are super motivated because you know exactly what you're getting yourself into and exactly why you want to do this again. No apologies, no regrets. You know you're a great teacher - that's all you have to get across.
posted by widdershins at 8:04 AM on June 2, 2017

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