On the Comeback Tour

When Jake Barry quit teaching three years ago, he was on the verge of burnout, he was missing out on time with his wife and two boys and was willing to leave his profession for a job in the private sector.

And that was after just one year in the profession.

“I was spending all my time in the classroom,” said Barry. “I was doing a lot of extra stuff and I felt like I didn’t have nearly enough family time.”

The overwhelmed Barry left his job teaching seventh grade English and found work in tech support for a telecommunications company. It was a different experience, and he regularly came across methods and techniques he could use in the classroom.

“I realized as I was going through those experiences that everything I was taking in I wanted to bring back into the classroom,” he said.

That was what he calls his “indicator” that the classroom was still his true calling. One year in the private sector was enough, and today Barry is in his second year back in the classroom for the Elkhorn Public Schools. 

“I ended up finding my place, finding my mindset and coming back to the classroom,” he said.

‘That Isolation You Feel’

Since his return to teaching, Barry has made changes that allow him more time for his growing family, now at four boys under age 6. He’s using lists, he’s prioritizing tasks, and he’s spending less time on television and social media. He also credits his wife, Liz.

“It’s also a lot of my wife balancing things. She’s super awesome, she’s superb,” said Barry.

There has also been assistance from NSEA. Barry is quite enthused by a program NSEA introduced a year ago to assist teachers in the early stages of their career. In fact, Barry now has time to help grow and promote the program.

The New Generation of Educators in Nebraska – NGEN for short, and pronounced “engine” – provides just-starting-out educators with contacts, resources and engagement in their local and state education associations. 

“I got involved with NGEN because I had the experience of that burnout for the early career educator piece,” he said.

He also became involved because of his passion for the issue. In his first year back in the classroom last year, Barry was an Elkhorn Education Association delegate at NSEA’s 2018 Delegate Assembly. There, one of the NGEN organizers stood before the nearly 300 delegates to tout the program.

“I was like ‘Yes, we need something like this to help early career educators out because I’ve been there,” he said.

Barry quickly stood at a microphone to urge delegates to support NGEN. It’s been a whirlwind since. NSEA President Jenni Benson recruited Barry to serve on a committee of young educators to direct NGEN. In June, committee members traveled to Ohio to meet and confer with representatives of similar programs in 32 other states. Now, that committee is working to expand NGEN in Nebraska.

“What we’re really looking for with NGEN is to build it on a state level because we know that burnout for early career educators, that isolation you feel in the classroom once in a while, really hits home throughout the state, especially in the rural communities,” he said.

Resources Now Available

Many new teachers don’t know about helpful resources or don’t take advantage of those resources until it is too late.

While Elkhorn Public Schools offers professional development “that is super helpful,” Barry understood that feeling of isolation. 

“I knew there were resources out there, but I didn’t know how to access them,” he said.

He did not know at the time that additional help from NSEA was just a phone call away. Now, NGEN will provide and promote new resources for new teachers.

Already last fall, NGEN offered a Degrees Not Debt session to Elkhorn educators. Degrees Not Debt is a seminar that assists educators in dealing with student loan debt issues. It is a product of the National Education Association.

“We had pretty good attendance, and asked for some feedback,” he said.

The result was a second session for Elkhorn Public Schools teachers called Know Your Paystub. The district human resources director and the Elkhorn Education Association head negotiator attended and spoke about reading paystubs and about benefits.

“We’re trying to build a core district piece first,” he said. “Once we have that core group, the (six) NSEA districts will get involved.”

That will begin to spread NGEN’s message and assistance across the state, he said.

Focused Reflection

That said, Barry and Rae Carbaugh, a fourth-year teacher at Niobrara and vice president of NSEA’s Elkhorn District Board of Directors, have already addressed a broader audience. In January they hosted a webinar on work-life balance.

Barry’s involvement on the work-life balance session provided him with focused reflection on that piece, which caused further tweaks to his time management methods. 

Another session by Carbaugh, Omaha Education Association’s Tatiana Eskridge and Syracuse-Avoca-Dunbar’s Megan Pitrat led a Zoom that tackled student behavior just as the winter holiday break was approaching — perfect timing for those with students getting edgy about the pending break.

Jordan Koch, Papillion-LaVista, is organizing around the importance of political awareness and activity, with a focus on mentoring. Koch has also been actively working with NSEA on mentoring legislation, and  traveled to Lincoln to testify in favor of LB241.

NGEN is also gaining a national reputation. At NEA’s request, Barry and Eskridge will travel to Denver in March to present at NEA’s annual Leadership Summit.

‘My Family Knows Me’

Barry is in a good place on his “comeback tour.”

“My wife has told me time and time again ‘Wow, it’s way better than it was before, with you spending all your time in the classroom,’” said Barry. “Now we feel like my family knows me.”

He understands the importance of supporting young teachers, not just from personal experience, but from the experience of others. During his undergrad years at Wayne State College, Barry said he worked with a tight-knit, core group of six or so education majors. Aside from his wife who substitutes on occasion, and who hopes to return to the classroom someday, Barry is the only one of that core group actively teaching. One left the profession because of discipline issues and difficulties paying off student loans on an educator’s salary.

Others found passion in other professional endeavors. Another is a missionary’s wife and the last is raising a family

NGEN will help keep teachers in the classroom. NSEA’s role is vital in that regard.

“If we don’t have that support, that encouragement we have from NSEA, there is no way we can do this,” said Barry.