Safe Harbor or What’s Next?


“… I look in the mirror every morning and ask myself, If today were the last day of my life, would I do what I’m about to do today? And whenever the answer has been ’no’ for too many days in a row I know I need to change something… Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason to not follow your heart.” Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement speech I have co-workers who’ve exhibited a common attitude among the teachers I’ve worked with before: a desire to find a cushy spot where one can work as long as one can without having to break too much of a sweat. Something that those not involved in the teaching profession might not know, teaching really is a hard profession that wears everyone out over a very short time. In fact, I met someone last night who was an elementary education major and after her teacher-training/mentoring experience decided to not become a teacher. Talk about scaring someone out of a profession before they even get started. So, it is understandable that the goal of many educators is to find “safe harbor” as soon as possible in order to make it all the way to retirement.

The enemy is burn-out. Pushing so hard against the negative will of students, of coworkers, of administrators day after day, year after year wears on anyone who chooses education as their profession. An alternative strategy from safe-harbor to combat burn-out is to go from project to project and never stay in one place for too long. I had a boss at the phone company tell me that he’d learned that he should go from position to position after about 18-months in any one job. He said that whatever you need to learn and whatever you need to do should be taken care of in that stretch of time and that anything beyond that usually leads to problems with either burn-out or complacency. It seemed pretty logical but when I started teaching almost all the teachers I worked with had been in their current position for a lot of years, even decades. It seemed like most teachers in the public system tended to go with the safe-harbor strategy.

I didn’t plan it this way, but I seem to average about three-years before switching positions. Three-years into teaching 6th grade I switched to creating a video-journalism program for three years. Then I switched schools and districts and ran an elementary school computer lab for four years, ending my public career with three-years teaching media/computers/journalism at the middle school level. The surprise is that my current position teaching at Full Sail for five-years is the longest I’ve been at any one teaching job. This isn’t to say that having a safe-harbor mindset is even possible with the current position. There is a need to innovate and stay on top of the technology and teaching trends without summer breaks or really any breaks between terms. The only constant seems to be change and you have to be okay with that if you’re going to survive at all in this job.

Someone asked me what I was going to do next, when I commented about the most recent changes to the program and my growing sense of having less actual say in my own course. I wasn’t quite ready for the question. I mean, five-years ago I didn’t really plan to leave California and the public ed safety net but I managed to land on my feet when I saw what Full Sail was putting together in online education. I guess the point is to stay open to the possibilities and keep my eyes open to whatever may cross my path and keep testing myself day after day about whether I’m continuing my mission or looking for safe harbor.

resources: image: Recording Graphics by Lloyd Dangle at USC Creativity & Collaboration Some rights reserved by Norman Lear Center -