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The Question:

I've been a high school teacher for three years. The first few years were so tiring and stressful that I didn't have time to think about whether I liked the actual work or not. I have found a better work-life balance, the job is less stressful and I can enjoy it more. However, being a new teacher, I find myself laid off at the end of every year and I spend the summer in agony about whether and where I will have work in the fall.

The work has its ups and downs but the job insecurity is the hardest part. I don't love it enough to put up with the system much longer. It's hard to know when I'll be hired permanently, and even then you can get bumped around if your seniority is low. I'm wondering whether I should cut my losses while I am young and go back to school and start a new career. or stick it out and find ways to cope with the job insecurity.

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The Answer:

The first few years of teaching can be about getting your feet wet; learning to apply your teacher training to real life; learning to deal with demanding workloads and more.

All this, coupled with the extra challenges of changing jobs and readjusting each year – no wonder you are feeling stressed and uncertain. But before you jump ship to start a new career, take a step back, get some perspective and reflect on some important questions.

To teach or not to teach?

Something drew you to this career path – what was it? Was it the possibility of a secure career but less about the actual teaching? Or was it truly about the prospect of being a teacher? Ask yourself which reasons still resonate.

If you were to stick it out, what makes this a meaningful choice? Make a list of everything you enjoy about your work. Consider the teaching, the students, the subjects, the working environment – and anything else.

Imagine you have a magic wand that can wave away the stress. With this gone, can you identify more good stuff to add to your list? Feelings of stress can overshadow what we actually enjoy about our work and can get in the way of performing our best. While we can't really wave away stress, we can learn to cope so we can enjoy our work more. This is important to consider before you write off teaching.

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Now look at your list. What is it telling you? This exercise should begin to clarify how much 'heart' you might still have for teaching that merits sticking it out longer. Or it might be telling you something else entirely, which would be equally important to consider.

It's also critical to take stock of your skills and personality preferences. Being laid off at the end of each year may simply be an issue of seniority, but you should seek feedback from supervisors and colleagues to consider a fuller picture.

With this feedback, reflect on whether you feel teaching is a good fit for your strengths and note the areas that you may need to shore up as part of your professional development.

Plan for success

To give yourself the best chance to secure a permanent role it's important to gain as much experience and learning as you can early on. Take stock of all you have achieved and learned.

Without knowing the particulars of your region and school system, I encourage you to seek input and advice from others who are successfully working the system. Inquire how long it typically takes for a new teacher to secure a permanent role. What do you need to do to increase your chances? You may be closer than you think. You may also benefit from finding a teaching mentor.

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Explore your options

You may decide to consider other possibilities. For example, are you willing to move to a region where you can get more experience and more sustained employment? If teaching in schools is no longer of interest, consider other avenues such as adult education or a career in training and development. Sometimes a bit of retooling with some courses or a certificate program is all that is needed to start a fresh path while building on your experience.

Developing a career takes time, and that sometimes means working through some tougher periods to get the momentum going. Persistence, hard work and thoughtful planning are essential. I encourage you to do a realistic self-assessment of where your heart is; where your skills are; and what you need to do to take your career to the next level – whichever path you pursue. You are in the early days of your career and investing in ongoing development will stand you well in any endeavour you choose.

Eileen Chadnick is a work-life and career coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto.

Have a question about careers, labour law or management? Send it to our panel of experts: Your name and address will be kept confidential.

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