Please enjoy this Real Story guest post by Nicole, a former English teacher with a Master’s Degree in Social Policy who started her own fragrance and beauty supply business. And here’s your only warning: get some tissues, because her story is incredibly moving!
The short version? Nicole left teaching for health reasons and now runs her own business. Click on the image above or click here to visit her website and see what she’s got going on — you won’t be disappointed!
Hi Nicole! Please describe your teaching experience and educational background. (What degree or certificate did you earn, what level and subject did you teach, how was your overall teaching experience?)
I taught Secondary English for ten years, and fell in love. I always enjoyed the subject matter, and wrote poetry as a hobby. I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree from SUNY Cortland in K-12 Education and English concentration. I was first hired right out of college at twenty two years of age and immediately began my Master’s Degree. Teaching 8th grade English as a first year teacher was no easy feat while taking Master’s Degree Classes simultaneously, but I endured.
After five years, I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Social Policy. My long term plan was to go for my Administrative Degree and eventually become Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. I believed strongly in differentiated learning, and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory. I adopted the motto that all students can learn if you just know how to reach them where they are. I always wanted my Administrative Degree to fall back on.
I saw several teachers who were burnt out by the job after twenty years. I saw how that could be a detriment to students, and I vowed that would never be me. After finishing my Master’s Degree, I took summer work as a curriculum writer for an online educational company. I worked for that company for several years in order to establish credibility in the educational community.
When did you realize teaching was no longer right for you? Was there a specific moment or did it dawn on you slowly?
My tenth year of teaching started off great. I was teaching High School English and had written a student-driven curriculum that I was passionate about. I loved changing lesson plans and unit plans to cater to the needs of my students. However, I noticed I was starting to become ill more frequently, and began experiencing chronic pain and fatigue.
My concentration failed me, and standing or sitting for long periods began to become excruciating. As a fit individual, this was new to me.
I went to a Rheumatologist and was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I was devastated. I tried many medications to assist me, but none worked. I began to develop chronic respiratory infections and other associated medical conditions typical of someone with Fibromyalgia. I began taking sick days, and even though I had accumulated them I was “spoken to” about using them. I felt like a complete failure, and realized that my students were suffering too. I could not keep going like this, and even though I had tenure, this was not something that was going to go away.
My Doctor informed me that if I continued to work in the school system pushing my body this way would land me in the Hospital. It did. Finally at the end of the year, I retired from teaching. All of my dreams, my passions, my plans were in dust at my feet. I felt completely helpless and out of sorts. Who was I now? How would I live without doing what I love? Despite these questions, and the pain, I trusted God knew best. So I waited.
Did you apply for jobs or jump right into entrepreneurship? If you went right to entrepreneurship, did you work it as a side hustle while you were teaching or jump right in full-time?
In 2012, three years after my diagnosis, I was pregnant with twins, Eve and Christian. Eve was diagnosed in utero with a condition known as Trisomy 13. She was deemed “incompatible with life”, but we disagreed, knowing that all life is precious in God’s eyes. I carried both babies to term but had an emergency C section due to hemorrhaging. The babies and I almost lost our lives that day.
Eve was born, surprising the Doctors who predicted she would not grow past five months in utero, but passed away a day later. From there, due to the traumatic birth I developed Secondary Addison’s Disease and had to go on replacement cortisol for life. Any hopes of returning to teaching after that was gone.
Now, as the bereaved mother of Eve, a new Mommy to Christian, and a new diagnosis, I was even more prone to infections than before. With Secondary Addison’s and Fibromyalgia not to mention the loss of my daughter, I felt lost. At the same time, I began researching ways to help myself heal.
I began making my own soap, lotions, creams, dishwashing detergent, laundry detergent and more. I realized that eliminating chemicals made a difference in my pain levels. I also noticed that I had many food allergies and could not take the pain medication prescribed to me or even over the counter medication. I wondered how to control pain naturally and began researching and studying herbs and essential oils.
With God’s help I created an all natural pain rub and used it to help me sleep and deal with the chronic pain. The relief I felt was amazing. Word began to spread and I felt led to open up an Etsy shop called, Simply Eve Fragrances after my precious daughter. I began to set up a little workshop in what was supposed to be my daughter Eve’s room. It was extremely difficult at first, but then the healing began to flood over me. I realized that this business was part ministry and part mission also as a percentage of the proceeds are donated to the SOFT organization (Support Organization for Trisomy 13, 18 and Related Disorders). Each new discovery became an addition to my Etsy shop, and an opportunity to bless someone.
You can read more about the full, inspiring story behind Simply Eve on Nicole’s blog, here.
What do you miss about teaching?
When I reflect on my teaching career, I find that I miss student interaction. I didn’t choose teaching as a profession JUST because I loved to write prose and poetry, and read books. I chose teaching to show students that English isn’t JUST about reading and writing. It is a form of expression, and there are so many ways to engage with the world around you through the vehicle of literature.
I miss students sharing with me their initial trepidation of English class and how their perception completely changed because I differentiated learning. I miss the smell of the school supplies and getting to know my students collectively and as individuals. I miss watching their eyes light up the first day when telling them that “this class will be unlike any other English class you have ever taken”. I miss watching them grow as students, learners, and people.
What do you NOT miss about teaching?
While missing many things, I do not miss the blame game. New York State and their standards blaming teachers for low student scores, state initiatives without funding, Administrative pressure, and the like usually are enough to dissuade young people from entering the field of teaching [Side Note: We call that Passing the Buck!].
I don’t miss the parent phone calls blaming me for their teenager’s missing homework, when I paid for a website where students could access their grades securely, kept an online calendar, and wrote the homework on the board. I don’t miss those aspects of teaching at all, primarily because it’s like a broken record that keeps playing the same old song.
What surprises you most about life after teaching? (That is, does work outside the classroom meet the expectations you had for it after teaching, or did some of it surprise you?)
Making handmade products was never something I thought I would do. EVER. I am not crafty by nature. I love to write poetry, read books, and learn. I have always considered myself more of an academic. That is, I am more comfortable in that environment.
What is surprising to me about life after teaching is that this work I do is similar to chemistry when my background is in English. Researching the correct herbs and oils, as well as concocting recipes and finding the best sourced ingredients gives me a rush that I never anticipated. There are so many aspects to this work from creating the recipes as I mentioned, as well as the actual fashioning of the product, and then having people email you and say, “ Thank you so much, my skin never looked better” or “Your pain rub is the only thing that works and my Doctor wants to try it!”.
Teaching was constant interaction and I miss that, but there is a stillness that you learn to appreciate in creating. There is this silence as your mind yawns and stretches, embracing the impossibilities and grasping and ideas from the edges and corners of the unknown and untraveled. Like teaching, this silence is when teachers often create their best lesson plans.
Then, similarly, there is the execution. While teaching, I executed my lesson plan with my students. Now, the execution of my product is in front of my stove. Finally, there is the assessment. As a teacher, you measure and assess whether or not your execution was successful. It is the same with the products I make. I often have testers who are more than willing to receive free products in return for their summaries and input. This assessment allows me to make changes and tweak the product to ensure its maximum success. The funny thing is that I had no expectations after teaching; I was merely surviving. Now, God has made beauty from ashes.
What advice would you give to a teacher who has an idea for a business but is afraid to make the leap?
There are many brilliant teachers who define themselves by their academic prowess only. However, it is important to remember that you are more than “just a teacher,” you are an innovator.
It has been said that teachers make an average of 1500 educational decisions daily. This means you are a manager, a liaison between students and their perceptions, a creator, an author, a counselor, and a master communicator. All of these skills translate extraordinarily well outside of the classroom. It’s not really a leap that you are making but rather an alternate road you are traveling.
What advice would you give to a teacher who is afraid to leave the familiarity of the classroom for another job?
For the teacher facing this decision, I would say weigh it carefully. Many times, we mistake function for fabulous. Teaching must be a calling, and if you are called to do something else then heed that calling. Your education will not fail you. You have something solid you can always go back to, but this opportunity may be fleeting.
Also, ask yourself where this desire to move on comes from. Is it something that will pass? Is this desire to seek another job rooted in true dissatisfaction or is it a knee jerk reaction to something else? Choice is a beautiful thing and it was something I was not afforded. However, I am grateful for the direction that my life has taken, and I have a new passion and a new calling that I never imagined.
Do you think teachers are more talented than they think? Why?
Teachers are really a brilliant bunch. Who else would pay for combined seven years of education without the salary to match? Brilliant and creative people who want to make a difference, that’s who. Such people are statement makers, activists, life changers and more; when they enter a room things happen.
However, with the constant criticism from our government, administrators, parents and other stakeholders, teachers begin to question their own ability. They begin to measure themselves against policies and standards that are designed to be impossible and designed for failure. Reaching and teaching countless students all day every day takes more than academic knowledge; it takes immense skill and strategy. I think teachers need to focus on measuring their success by how many lives they changed. It can certainly be a thankless job, but it is also the most rewarding.