By Sarah Beattie
I’ve always prided myself on my work ethic, on doing whatever it takes to be the best. No one was surprised when I accepted a high-pressure job at one of the top global talent agencies right out of college. As far as I was concerned I was on the fast track. That was, until, a couple years later when I found myself completely burned out and unfulfilled. I needed a change. So I traded my coveted (albeit miserable) 20-something job for a graduate program in education.
Armed with a Masters in Education and saddled with a mountain of student loan debt, I set out in the Spring of 2014 on a mission to teach history like no one’s ever taught history before. But no one told me that while the world needs teachers, they’re mostly referring to science and math teachers, subjects I wouldn’t call my ‘wheelhouse’.
Summer came and went without any job offers.
"Most teachers have months to prepare for the school year, and here I was, my first time out of the gate, ripe with heart-wrenching grief, with mere hours’ notice."
Then, the night before the 2014-2015 school year started, just 3 weeks after the very unexpected death of my father, I got a phone call from my old high school. A long-term sub position had just opened up, and they wanted to know if I could start the next morning. That first day felt as if I had been thrown into the lion’s den. Most teachers have months to prepare for the school year, and here I was, my first time out of the gate, ripe with heart-wrenching grief, with mere hours’ notice. Miraculously, I found my footing. That long-term sub gig lasted the entire year. Even better, it turned into a full-time teaching position for the following year.
"If I was honest with myself, the main reason I became a teacher was not to escape the high-stress environment of Hollywood, but to positively influence the lives of young people."
Several days into the next school year my principal asked if I would step in as the Head Coach of Girls Basketball. Again, no one was surprised. I often acted as a ‘player-coach’ during my high school career, and my teammates would tell me I was destined to lead a program some day. There would be added pressure, that’s for sure. But if I was honest with myself, the main reason I became a teacher was not to escape the high-stress environment of Hollywood, but to positively influence the lives of young people. Now I had the opportunity to make that positive impact on the court as well as in the classroom.
"I can deeply empathize with the pressure my girls feel to succeed (and be perfect) on and off the basketball court. Stressful doesn’t quite capture it."
I set out to teach these girls not only the game of basketball, but also how to be kind, caring, hard-working people — young women of good character and mindfulness. The town I grew up in and now teach and coach in is one where high-achievement, excellence, and perfection are ingrained in you from an early age. I can deeply empathize with the pressure my girls feel to succeed (and be perfect) on and off the basketball court. Stressful doesn’t quite capture it. That’s why I constantly remind them that we are all in this together. At the end of the day, win or lose, I am proud of them and their parents are proud of them.
My players tell me they look at me as an older sister. I really love that. We practice open communication, as a family that lifts each other up, realizing each one of us needs others to succeed. They have given me a place to be vulnerable, and I ask the kids to be vulnerable with me in return. They know my door is always open and they can talk to me about anything. In return, they constantly remind me to have fun, take chances, and step outside of my comfort zone. I love that we impact each other beyond the court. I think that’s been a blessing for them. I know it’s been a blessing for me.
This year has given me a new appreciation for how difficult a job being a teacher-coach truly is. Balancing teaching and coaching is one thing. Keeping your emotions in check, so as not to let that influence your coaching, is another. With that in mind, balance has become the name of our game. Healthy eating, sleep, yoga, meditation, hill runs, weights, and intense practices have become a big part of our lives. Equally, so have days where we blast our favorite music during practice and have all the fun we can. Try to win at all costs, and you’ll burn out. Been there. Done that. No thank you.
"Try to win at all costs, and you’ll burn out. Been there. Done that. No thank you."
This year, I have watched my girls become the winningest team in school history with humility, class, and an unbreakable team spirit. We went undefeated in league. We reached the CIF Finals and the California State regional finals. We finished the season a perfect 16-0 at home. As proud as I am of our accomplishments, I can only say with confidence it’s been a job well done because they worked hard and played together. Do that, and the winning takes care of itself. How’s that for new perspective?
Sarah Beattie is a high school Government and Economics teacher and Girls Varsity Basketball coach at La Canada High School, in La Canada, California. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism, and obtained her Teaching Credential and Masters in Education from Azusa Pacific University. She spends her limited free time with her friends, family, and her golden retriever, Brodie. She can currently be found cheering on the Wisconsin Badgers Men’s basketball team during this year’s March Madness NCAA Basketball Tournament.