Teachers have important jobs and when COVID-19 struck, the world realized just how crucial teachers are. Through virtual classrooms, Zoom meetings, phone calls, and communication with parents and students, teachers have shined through the pandemic. Many professionals, such as nurses, physicians, and therapists have long used social media to shine a light on their professions and support one another.
Teacher turned new-teacher Coach, Sydney Lafrenz of @learningwithlafrenz uses Instagram to empower new teachers through the hashtag #collegedidntteachmethis and informative content. She has developed a ton of resources for new teachers and teachers looking to advance their careers. Check out her resources here!
We caught up with Sydney and she tells us how continuing her education and utilizing social media have helped manifest the career of her dreams!
PW: What inspired you to become a teacher? How long have you been teaching?
SL: I have been in education for eight years now. Like many teachers, I had a very influential teacher growing up that left that lasting impact on me and whom I can attribute my desire to be a teacher. There is something so special about knowing you’re playing a small but mighty part in the future lives of children.
PW: Let’s get specific about your education path and why you chose that path. What colleges or universities did you attend?
SL: I attended the University of Northern Iowa for my undergrad bachelor’s degree. They used to be strictly a Teacher’s College and are very well-known for their program and on-campus lab school.
After a few years in the classroom, I decided to attend Drake University for my Master of Science in Educational Leadership and obtained a principal license. This university, as well, was very well-known for preparing principals and leaders in education, so it was a no-brainer for me to further my education there.
During my years teaching in the classroom, I had many opportunities to mentor first-year and student teachers. I also dove headfirst into:
- Curriculum teams
- Interview teams
- Experiences my district offered
These avenues opened my eyes to a love of impacting children by supporting the educators who work directly with them. I never realized I would enjoy working with adults, but frankly, I’m obsessed with leading and working directly with teachers. They’re passionate, brilliant, and devoted.
PW: What specific degrees/certificates do you hold?
- Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with minors in Math K-6 and Reading K-6.
- My Master’s Degree is in Educational Leadership with a K-12 Principal License.
I felt those minors supported my work in an elementary setting best and found that most districts preferred a reading endorsement of sorts.
PW: What were the substantial benefits of getting your master’s degree? Looking back now, was it worth it?
SL: There has been an incredible amount of value in continuing my education as a teacher. It was totally worth it. Some I expected, and some have been unexpected!
- Increased salary: First, it’s no secret earning a master’s increases your pay in education. Someone once told me it is worth it to pay for a master’s program if you get it done by your 30’s. It will essentially pay itself off and extra with the raise in salary. That’s definitely motivating to go after it sooner if you’re able.
- Powerful networking opportunities: But more than financial gains, I met some incredible educators that I spent two full years of weekends within class at Drake University. During those two years:
- I learned from their experiences, their values, and their knowledge.
- We talked through scenarios and how we can be leaders in schools and districts.
The two years working on my master’s, while very time-consuming, were so meaningful. This program and degree connected me with other leaders around the state. They guided my desire to step into an instructional coaching role in the future.
PW: What are your future goals?
SL: Gosh, if I’ve learned anything since entering education, completing my masters, and becoming a mom, it’s that goals and priorities are constantly shifting, evolving, and changing. My goals three years ago are drastically different than my goals now.
Professionally, after completing my master’s, I was ready to transition into an instructional coach position. Unfortunately, there weren’t any opportunities for that role those years after, so I continued to immerse myself in experiences provided by the district, such as student-teacher mentorship, curriculum teams, etc.
I had my second daughter in May of 2020, right at the start of the pandemic. With the uncertainties of what the school year would look like, I decided to take the year off to reevaluate my goals professionally. I also wanted to be home with my two-year-old and new baby.
This year off has been the greatest blessing for my family, personally, but professionally, as well. I took a course called CEO Teacher Academy by Kayse Morris. It opened my eyes to the possibility of utilizing and expanding upon my passion and experience in supporting student teachers and new teachers, in particular.
Through this, I began setting up programs and focusing my time helping student teachers write resumes, apply for, interview, and land jobs. This summer, I’m co-hosting a virtual College to Classroom Success Summit for new(er) teachers, and I am so incredibly excited for this potential!
PW: Why did you start your popular Instagram account?
SL: I always had an account during teaching that families would follow for updates. I took a LONG break from it and kind of hopped back in during this year off. I quickly realized how many absolutely brilliant and passionate educators were on there sharing secrets, successes, tips/tricks, and ideas to help each other around the world. It’s basically like one huge professional development. It’s amazing to see those in education meet and collaborate.
I knew my niche and area of expertise was with interviews and supporting new teachers. So I dove in headfirst and wanted to play a role in helping fellow teachers be successful! It has been the sweetest little blessing. I’ve met, talked with, zoom called, and messaged SO MANY teachers. I just love it!
PW: Has your social media presence helped or hurt your career?
SL: It has, no doubt, helped my career. Not only do I learn from so many others, but I’ve been able to use this platform to pass along my wealth of knowledge of interviews and support new teachers. It’s been amazing. I’ve been able to connect with so many people from around the world.
PW: How do you manage being a social media influencer and work?
SL: I definitely spend way more time than I would like managing social media. I’m not proud of it, and it is something I have to work on. Since it’s been a newer addition to my work/personal life balance, it is taking some time to find what works best. But I can’t ever let one message go unread or not responded to. I know teachers count on this advice and are so grateful for it. It definitely helps that it brings a smile to my face to know I’m supporting future and current educators. How can you not want to constantly be checking on it! I try to find little pockets of my day to knock out messages and content.
PW: What does it mean to be a “Teacher Coach?”
SL: Well, it’s been a dream of mine since I realized that is exactly what I was meant to do beyond being directly in the classroom with students.
My goal is to:
- Provide teachers the support they need to accomplish their individual and district-driven goal
- Challenge them, encourage them, and help them in any way I can
- Support them to continue to be the best teacher for their students
I’m still, in a way, making a difference in the lives of children. I’m just doing so by being the support their teachers need.
PW: What advice do you have for people who are considering a career as a teacher? What about those who want to teach in your specialty?
SL: Teaching can be one of the most rewarding jobs on this Earth, but you can’t take care of the youth if you aren’t taking care of yourself, too.
- Find a great support system. Whether that be family, colleagues, teacher coaches, Instagram teaching friends, or all of the above. It’s so important.
- Discover what you’re passionate about in education and constantly want to learn and grow to keep that fire alive.
I can’t speak for every profession, but I know teachers are absolutely incredible people. They deserve all the respect for their work to help prepare future generations.
Follow @learningwithlafrenz on Instagram for more!