Teachers: Feel Stuck? Find Your Happy Place!

Suzanne

Hey there! Thanks for popping into My 5 Freedoms Life. I'm your host, Suzanne Klein, an educator-turned-entrepreneur with a 5 Freedoms Life and teaching you how to have one, too!

My next guest has quite the story. She took advice from her high school English students and made the leap from educator to eco-entrepreneur. She has a winding road from the start of her Soil-To-Soap Project to being founder and formulator of Harvest; she's going to bring us along on that self-taught journey where she realized that teaching in the same four walls every day was the opposite of Location Freedom, which she now has. Tawana Weicker, a big welcome to you! Thank you for being here today.

Tawana

It's great to be here. I'm excited. Excellent, thank you.

Suzanne

Is there a basic message you want our educators to take away from our conversation today?

Tawana

It took me awhile to figure out the merits of this, but I felt a little guilty leaving the classroom. What about my students? We need teachers—was I being a quitter in the classroom? But I felt like it was time to invigorate myself, and that’s what I decided to do. If your educators take anything away today, I hope it's this: You're not being selfish.

Sometimes you can become a better teacher and circle back to the classroom after you've experienced a business, a hobby, or some other reason for changing your location.

Suzanne

That's such a powerful message, because I think as teachers we want to be sure we're doing the right thing. We have perseverance and grit to keep us going even when times are tough in the classroom. All those qualities are wonderful, but you're saying that at the same time you've got to follow your passion. You certainly had one; that's for sure.

Tawana

I taught high school and college English for 15 years. In 2011, over 10 years into it, I had a senior doing a graduation project on biofuels—taking waste vegetable oil and turning it into diesel fuel. I became obsessed with it. I met her mentor, became a student again, and after three months decided with my husband to get some blueprints and build a biofuel processor. I started making it, collecting oil from the high school and middle school cafeterias, and some local restaurants, tinkering with the fuel. We started pumping it out. My sons all got diesel cars when they turned 16. We had a diesel lawn mower and a diesel tractor. I was fueling everybody, and decided it would be a great project for the high school students to get involved in. They were so excited, and they were coming to my home; shop and chemistry classes—and some college classes—were coming.

Word of mouth grew, and then the high school started cleaning with it. Some horse farms, a veterinarian’s office. After giving away 500-600 gallons, they were offering to buy my stuff. It didn't have a name; we called it “the stuff.” Over the next five years, I developed a few more formulas—for veterinarians, a pet shampoo—and it just grew by word of mouth. And my students would say, “Mrs. Weicker, when are you going to do something with your product? Why don't you start a business with it? Quit giving it away! You're always telling us to take a risk!”

After a phone call from a large company CEO who wanted to know what my chemistry was and what was going on, I thought, “Well, maybe I've got something here.” My students were pushing me along—"Come on, Mrs. Weicker, turn it into a real business, so you can hire me when I graduate from college with my marketing degree!”

I quit listening to some family members and co-workers on the other side: “You have a steady paycheck. You're close to being tenured. You shouldn’t do this now. You should do it in five years.” I'm like, “I could be dead in five years. Opportunity is now.” I’d already set the stage—proof of concept as a hobby—and now I could take my hobby and experiment to the next level. So, I left the classroom. I've been out now for six years.

Suzanne

Amazing! What I find so powerful about your overall message is you didn't tell people you knew nothing about chemistry when you started. Right?

Tawana

When I started going to biofuels conferences with my products—Whole Foods and other places—everyone assumed I was a chemistry teacher. When they learned I taught English, they were like, “Oh my gosh, how did you do that?” And I'd say, “YouTube.” Mentors, and chemistry books, and trial and error. There was a lot of failure, but we tell students not to be afraid of failing. As an entrepreneur you have to embrace that; adults aren’t immune to failure. And really, the failure is the success; the failures are what change the direction of your business or give you a wake up call.

Suzanne

Failures are opportunities for learning, for sure. That's what I find so powerful. You didn't say, “Oh, I don't know how to do this; I can't do that.” The beauty of YouTube and the opportunities we never had before are open because of the Internet. That's what I keep telling the clients I'm coaching and the teachers out there: never in human history have we been able to so easily learn anything we want. We have so much access to learning—don't let a lack of knowledge stop you from going after your dreams.

What's it like now that you're out of the classroom, in terms of Location Freedom?

Tawana

It’s going to sound crazy. I hate air conditioning. And being in the classroom, that closed environment, those four walls, and air conditioning hitting me constantly eight hours a day... I was so excited to get out of the classroom, just in terms of the physical liberation of leaving those four walls! Becoming an eco-entrepreneur, I also did a lot of agricultural work, outdoors a lot, visited biofuel companies. As physically liberating as it was to get out of those four walls, it was also mentally liberating. I was able to leave the strict, clinical English classroom and discover what was going on outside in the world.

And leaving has allowed me to travel. For a while I chose to house my manufacturing a couple of hours away and I commuted. Then I decided to relocate it back to my hometown, which gave me even more freedom. We’ve changed our manufacturing location and our team workspace three times. But each time I gained more freedom. Which was fear-inducing but all good. I like a little fear and danger.

Suzanne

I'm the same way. But entrepreneurship needs some calculation to the risk as well. You know all about that; you've entered a complicated realm of manufacturing with a lot of moving parts and pieces to it.

So, last question: Many of our participants may be feeling what you did—they feel stuck. “I have 5 more years, 10, 15. I just need to put one foot in front of the other and do it, even if I really don't want to be here.” I think it’s even more so for those like me and you, who feel there’s something else they need to pursue. What would you say to educators who feel there’s something from their classroom needing more exploration?

Tawana

I'll refer back to my TED Talk: at the end, I say—and this is an extreme—“If you hate teaching, if you dread getting up and being with those students every day, you need to get out of the classroom.” Number one: you should get out of the classroom and invigorate yourself, so you can circle back to the classroom if that's what you choose.

Teaching is too important to bore yourself, and way too important to bore students and waste their time. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your students, to do something about it—and that's what really propelled me. I'm like, “Here's my chance.”

Number two: if you think you might ever go back to the classroom, leave on great terms. Don't let it get to the bitter “I hate my job” talk in the lunchroom or the teachers’ lounge, because word travels fast. Leave on good terms; make the exit clean and happy so the door is open if you want to go back.

Suzanne

Fantastic wisdom. None of my speakers have said anything like that, so I'm glad you did. Don't be a part of the BMW lounge club. That’s what I call it: The Bitch, Moan, & Whine Club. Don't be a part of that club in the lounge. My grandfather always said, “Don't burn bridges, because you'll be seeing those same people on the way down.”

Tawana

If I had burned bridges at my high school, I wouldn't be back in the Chemistry and Biofuels program. I wouldn't be regularly invited; they’d be saying, “She's bitter, she left, and good riddance.” I love teaching, but I love what I'm doing now. I'm learning a lot.

Suzanne

Thank you again for such wisdom and a powerful inspiring message. Tawana, you really are a gift to this world.

I'm Suzanne Klein. Remember, you can rewrite your future. Until next time. Stay savvy, my friends.



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