From School Teacher to Business Owner—In 4 Months Flat

Guest Post by  M. Shannon Hernandez

During my 11th year as a public school teacher, I met my husband, who lived in Brooklyn, and I packed my bags to accept a teaching position in New York City. I was well aware I would need to return to college and earn my master’s degree, as this is a certification requirement for NY state. I enrolled in Brooklyn College and began working towards a degree in Biology Education. I also knew that I would be losing the tenured position I had worked so hard to earn during my first ten years of teaching in North Carolina. While I wasn’t thrilled about the latter point, because it meant, once again, “proving” myself to a new school district, I accepted it. Within three years of teaching in New York City, my tenure had been granted to me once again.

It was in October of 2012, when Hurricane Sandy blew through our area, that two pivotal pieces of information were revealed to me, changing the course of my life and career. First, I had just been informed by the New York City certification department that I would lose my tenure, again, once I began teaching under my new biology certification the following fall.

I was livid. I cried. I screamed. I made phone calls. And with each person I spoke to, the news was consistent: Because I was switching from a certification in ELA to Biology, my tenure would be taken from me, and I would have to prove, once again, that I was a teacher worthy of keeping.

The second piece of information that changed the direction of my life was revealed to me in my journal during this same week. Because the public schools were being used as emergency shelters for people who had been displaced by Hurricane Sandy, the employees and students were granted a week off from our normal routine. I have always been an avid journal writer, and I was using my journal as a tool to make sense of the destruction and sadness I was witnessing in our area. Because I was still bitter and raw about the tenure situation, pieces of that were also sprinkled throughout the pages.

I woke up on the fourth day of my unexpected week off and took out my journal. I read the previous day’s entry. What emerged on that page—one tiny sentence—changed my life. I had written, “I deserve to be happy again.” As I read that statement, it lodged itself in my heart, and tears spilled down my cheeks. I was sitting at the kitchen table in my Brooklyn apartment, sobbing, tears streaking the ink on the pages. How had I not realized before now just how unhappy I was in my career?

My husband, who was working from home that day, watched all of this emotion unfurl. He knew that I was sick and tired of working in a system that didn’t appreciate me for the teacher I was, and he knew I was struggling terribly with my personal happiness. I remember walking over to his desk, embracing him in a hug, and saying between sobs, “Babe, I have to find a way out of this career. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I can’t return to the classroom next fall.” He hugged me even tighter, and said the four most powerful words that still bring tears to my eyes, “I will support you.”

The next three months were a flurry of activity and a combination of deep reflection, creative thinking, and making moves to get my exit strategy together. I decided that I would open a business in the beginning of 2013, teaching business owners how to write better content for their audiences, as well as helping them tell their own personal stories through digital storytelling. I named my company The Writing Whisperer, and brought on a team of people who were successful in various parts of business, so they could help me build my new dream and prepare for my launch in February.

This may have been one of the most stressful and sleep-deprived times in my life, but I knew I was on the right track because I was happy and excited about my future again! Most days I woke up at 3:00 in the morning and worked on graduate school projects until 6:40, when I left my house and boarded the train to Manhattan. Once I arrived in my classroom, I devoted all of my heart, energy, and focus on my students. When the final bell rang at 3:20, I packed my bags, walked out of the building, got on the train, grabbed a quick forty-minute nap, and headed to my evening college classes. When I finally arrived home at 9:00 at night, exhausted by a full day of work and graduate-level study, I devoted two hours to building my business.

When February of 2013 came around, The Writing Whisperer was ready to launch. Somehow, I had also, despite my hectic, sleep-deprived schedule, graduated with a 4.0 grade point average in my master’s program! Deep within my soul, even before I had my first client, I believed at my core I would be a successful business owner, which would allow me to chart my own course in life, and never have to prove to anyone else, ever again, that I was “good enough.” These are the thoughts that fueled me when uncertainty and fear crept into my brain.

In March, the decision was made. I told the administration that I would not be returning the following year. And in June…I turned in my resignation. I have never looked back. I am now a full-time business owner, author, and writer for The Huffington Post. But you know who else I am? I am a fantastic vegan chef, a student of yoga, a runner training for the 2015 NYC Marathon, and a fun-loving, big-ole-ball-of-energy-world-traveler. I am one happy camper once again!

About M. Shannon Hernandez:

M. Shannon Hernandez is the founder of The Writing Whisperer, and her mission is to help heart-centered entrepreneurs and heart-centered authors find their brand voices, share their unique stories, gain more visibility, establish themselves as experts, and create authentic marketing messages, all through the use of smart content strategy and engaging copywriting. The Writing Whisperer was named one of Top 100 Websites for Writers by The Write Life in both 2014 and 2015, and Shannon has been featured as a content strategy and copywriting expert on many prominent podcasts and websites. She is a leading voice in the world of authentic business writing and heart-centered education reform, and she writes regularly for The Huffington Post. Shannon’s memoir, Breaking the Silence, chronicles her exit out of public education, after 15 years, and provides readers an intimate view of her journey to business ownership, finding happiness, and reinvention.

About Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher

America’s public school system is broken and M. Shannon Hernandez knows why, firsthand. After fifteen years in the teaching profession, three gut-wrenching realizations forced her to recognize that she must leave the career she loved so dearly. She knew that if she continued to work for a failing system, she would also continue to lose a little piece of her heart and soul every day.

You are invited into Hernandez’s classroom for the final forty days of her teaching career to understand the urgent need for school reform, clearly demonstrated in each story. You’ll witness the intelligence, vulnerability, and humanity of her students, and the challenges teachers like Hernandez face as they navigate the dangerous waters between advocating for and meeting students’ needs, and disconnected education policy. 

This book is not only a love letter to her students, her fellow teachers, and to the reformed public school system she envisions, but also a heartfelt message of hope, encouragement, and self-empowerment for those who feel they are stuck in soul-sucking careers. It is an essential read for each citizen who is seeking a life comprised of more purpose and happiness, as well as parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers who know our nation’s education system is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Find Shannon online:

https://www.facebook.com/TheWritingWhisperer
https://twitter.com/writingwhisper
https://www.linkedin.com/pub/m-shannon-hernandez/61/98/731

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8 comments:

  1. Shannon, thank you for being our guest today. What an inspirational story. I know exactly what you mean about the school system. My daughter is a public school teacher in Queens, NY. The systsem desperately needs to change.

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    1. Hi Karen! Thanks so much for your kind words. The system only has a chance of changing if teachers speak up--and won't be reprimanded for doing so. My podcast is leading the way to make this happen!

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  2. Your post resonated for me, too, Shannon, as a retired elementary teacher. I never reached tenure but I did experience the frustration of having to be re-certified when my family moved to a non-retroactive state, i.e., having to go through the expense and time-consuming courses because certification doesn't transfer to every state. If the kids hadn't been so great the other difficulties--excessive testing, time restraints, ya-da, ya-da, would have made me quit much earlier than I did. I am now enjoying the benefit of knowing children well enough from teaching to write for children, or in adult-speak, doing like you did and making lemonade out of lemons. Best of luck with your business. You're off and running--it's a great idea--good for you for taking the initiative and believing in yourself enough to go out and launch your terrific idea!

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    1. Yeah, Linda, yeah! Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and comment. Teaching isn't fun anymore--for the students or the teachers--and I have a problem with that. Learning should be fun, active, and foster a life-long quest for knowledge!

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  3. Your story is empowering. It took courage and ingenuity to make a drastic career change and chart your own course. I like how you used your journal as a tool to vent your experiences and frustrations and re-affirm your beliefs and values.

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    1. Hey Debra--you got that right! Whew--there were times I was wondering if I was going crazy--or already there--but I am happy as can be now. I have charted my own course--and that journal was (and continues to be) invaluable.

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  4. Shannon, thank you for an inspiring article. I live in South Africa, and we have a totally different system, but you know what? It is so broken! So it's not just America.

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  5. Looks like we're all struggling wherever we are. I'm in the UK, Loved the story and delighted your brave decision has brought real happiness. Too debilitating to struggle day by day in a job which brings stress rather than satisfaction

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