I loved my job as a teacher specialist in Downey Unified School District because I was part of a team that helped students and teachers better understand and love mathematics. Over time, we built relationships and created processes that played a small part in our overall improvement. Clearly not everything we did was successful, but it felt like we were making a difference.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see what could happen as many of the programs we created were discontinued by the district’s executive leadership without notice and without input. Decisions like these happened so often and with such disregard that it changed the district’s culture. Eventually I thought of a metaphor to describe how it felt.


I felt like we were building a sandcastle on a beach near the shore. A lot of love and energy went into building it, and I was proud of what we had accomplished. Certainly, an occasional wave would hit our structure, but it was strong enough to withstand it.

What I didn’t realize was that we had built our sandcastle during low tide and the tide was rising. Soon, the water was much closer and the waves pounded our sandcastle relentlessly until it was gone. Initially we responded by rebuilding our sandcastle, thinking of ways to help it withstand what was to come. Unfortunately, it also was not strong enough.

Eventually I realized that I had only two realistic choices: I could stop building sandcastles or I could build them somewhere else.

I love being a math educator and had no desire to leave the profession, but I also realized that I wanted to be in a place where the executive leadership cared about and respected their people. So, I chose to leave.


I share this metaphor because in describing it to others, they have also found it unfortunately relatable. I’m not saying that every program should continue indefinitely, but top-down decisions made without input from others make people feel unimportant and powerless. Your sandcastle is worth protecting and you deserve to be somewhere where you feel professionally valued and respected.


  1. I feel that this was just the thing I needed to hear today, and I felt it down to my soul. I feel like you put into words what I couldn’t, so I am going to share this metaphor (with full credit to you) to help describe the tone and feelings of what I am currently experiencing. Thank you!

    • Is it OK for me to be simultaneously happy and sad upon reading your comment. I know this will resonate with so many people while also wishing it wasn’t true.

    • I feel ya, J. For me, I’m mainly disappointed when I look back and think about how amazing our sandcastles could have been with the right support… or at least with protection from leaders who valued their people’s sandcastles.

    • Honestly, for me I had to create my own place. I started the company Grassroots Workshops because I was losing myself in situations I could not control. I realize that’s not a solution for everyone, but I wish you luck finding yours.

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