Thinking about quitting teaching

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  • #1
haushofer
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Dear all,

after my PhD (fundamental physics) I started teaching. First math at a university, and after that physics at a high school (14-18 yrs, pre-university college). I love to teach and to communicate science in general, but I feel that an aversion towards education is growing since the last year. Somehow there is always doubt about my career choice. This has to do with some factors, like Corona (the effect on pupils), the fact that I have been plagued with burn-out symptoms for a few times and especially right now, the many side issues like mentoring, the big emphasis on pedagogy (especially during "study days") and scores, and the lack of challenge. I guess I don't have a clear question right now apart from recognition, and I'm just looking for some comments of people having been in a similar situation, or people who've made the switch from education to something else (industry, ICT, ...). Any comment is welcome. Thanks for reading!
 

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  • #2
berkeman
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Do you have anything like a Physics Club or Math Club at your school? It seems like leading such clubs would be an enjoyable and rewarding experience that could help to stave off some of the burnout from having to perform more mundane daily teaching tasks...
 
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  • #3
vela
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When's the last time you had extended time off?
 
  • #4
Steve4Physics
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Hi @haushofer. I can empathise. If you’ll indulge me, here’s what I experienced.

Starting quite late in life, I taught physics in a UK Comprehensive school in inner London for several years.

A huge amount of time was taken dealing with discipline/class-management, especially with large classes and a significant number of students having difficulties such as ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome.

Mentoring/PSE/welfare for my tutor-group took a great deal of time and energy.

Target-setting and maintaining detailed performance records for the (200+ different) students I taught during each year was a major task.

The physics had to take 2nd (or lower) place. Being conscientious, evenings, weekends and holidays got eaten-up with marking, and preparation.

I was going-under. But then I escaped!

The wife and I moved out of London and I took as job as Head of Physics at a FE (Further Education) college. This meant teaching only smaller classes of post-16 students (mainly A-level and IB) – who were there out of choice!

It meant a drop in salary and was still hard work. But it was enjoyable and manageable. I worked there till I retired.

We don’t know what country you are in. But if your education system has the equivalent of ‘FE Colleges’ (see above) you might consider them.

Good luck!
 
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  • #5
phinds
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We don’t know what country you are in.
You can just left-click the avatar and it will tell you. Holland in his case, England in yours.
 
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  • #6
ohwilleke
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Before making the leap, consider strongly the pros of teaching as well as the cons. The for profit business world has its own myriad miseries and the grass always seems greener on the other side.
 
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  • #7
erobz
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Speaking to the growing aversion toward education...I had a math professor that loved to teach, but the bureaucracy had apparently beaten him down to the point of basically handing out passing grades to engineering students taking a final (mandatory) course in Differential Equations. He actually became upset with me during exams when he saw I wasn't using my notes and old exams from years past! So as long as he got to present a lecture, he seemed to be happy (I doubt that is how he felt inside). Is that where you are heading if you stay in the profession? Have you tried fighting the system?
 
  • #8
Andy Resnick
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Dear all,

after my PhD (fundamental physics) I started teaching. First math at a university, and after that physics at a high school (14-18 yrs, pre-university college). I love to teach and to communicate science in general, but I feel that an aversion towards education is growing since the last year. Somehow there is always doubt about my career choice. This has to do with some factors, like Corona (the effect on pupils), the fact that I have been plagued with burn-out symptoms for a few times and especially right now, the many side issues like mentoring, the big emphasis on pedagogy (especially during "study days") and scores, and the lack of challenge. I guess I don't have a clear question right now apart from recognition, and I'm just looking for some comments of people having been in a similar situation, or people who've made the switch from education to something else (industry, ICT, ...). Any comment is welcome. Thanks for reading!
I empathize, I've struggled with burnout the past few years and am slowly digging myself back out.

Are you teaching the same course over and over and over? Do you have the ability/option to vary the class or course you are teaching? I've found that helps a lot- teaching Intro physics I and II semester after semester is a drag (IMO).

Also, I found that being able to keep work distinct from not-work is essential- something that was difficult to do during lockdown but something I have now prioritized.

Having come from pseudo-industry to academia, I'm not sure you will find what you are looking for in industry- see, for example, work/life balance. As in your boss saying "yes, we value work-life balance, as long as you are choosing work!"

Good luck!
 
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  • #9
Frabjous
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see, for example, work/life balance. As in your boss saying "yes, we value work-life balance, as long as you are choosing work!"
Work-life balance is very employer/job description dependent and is not necessarily worse in industry. I spent a couple of years working as part of a group of research scientists for a tenured prof. We used to joke that the research scientists had a higher hourly pay rate than the prof.
 
  • #10
haushofer
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Thanks for the replies! I'll answer them later (little kids demanding attention... ;) )
 
  • #11
haushofer
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When's the last time you had extended time off?
Just before the summer, when I was on paternity leave for 6 weeks. After that, I started a new job. I wasn't satisfied with my old school because of a fusion, which was rather chaotic and placed us on a campus with 4000 pupils. So I hoped to get the spirit back at my new job, but now I'm only working for 30% because of my burn out symptoms.
 
  • #12
haushofer
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Do you have anything like a Physics Club or Math Club at your school? It seems like leading such clubs would be an enjoyable and rewarding experience that could help to stave off some of the burnout from having to perform more mundane daily teaching tasks...
No, but that's actually a very good idea. We have something like a club for "gifted pupils", but indeed, what I miss is the nerding. Most kids don't seem to be that interested in the subject of physics, even though I try hard to communicate my fascination and put a lot of emphasis on the "how do you do/learn physics"-part.
 
  • #13
haushofer
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Before making the leap, consider strongly the pros of teaching as well as the cons. The for profit business world has its own myriad miseries and the grass always seems greener on the other side.
Yes, I'm aware of that. And maybe if I would switch I'd come back to my decision again. The positive side is that there is a huge shortage of physics/math teachers where I live (Holland), so no shortage on jobs. So if I'd switch and return, that wouldn't be a problem.

It would be quite a shame to quit, because I developed and just finished my own method/book for the last three years of pre-university college. But right now I'm just missing the fun I had when I started. But thanks for the advice; I'll make my list of pro's and cons as Darwin did for the marriage. That worked out fine for him in the end :P ;)
 
  • #14
haushofer
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Speaking to the growing aversion toward education...I had a math professor that loved to teach, but the bureaucracy had apparently beaten him down to the point of basically handing out passing grades to engineering students taking a final (mandatory) course in Differential Equations. He actually became upset with me during exams when he saw I wasn't using my notes and old exams from years past! So as long as he got to present a lecture, he seemed to be happy (I doubt that is how he felt inside). Is that where you are heading if you stay in the profession? Have you tried fighting the system?
Well, I'm not sure, but I do worry that I'll end up being frustrated and sour. What do you mean with "fighting the system"? One thing I really dislike is the big emphasis on marks. Pupils are bombarded with tests, so their main motivation is passing tests. It seems like this emphasis has beaten out their natural curiosity. In my new job I'm trying to change this. In the end as a teacher you'd like to spark their inner motivation somehow.
 
  • #15
haushofer
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I empathize, I've struggled with burnout the past few years and am slowly digging myself back out.

Are you teaching the same course over and over and over? Do you have the ability/option to vary the class or course you are teaching? I've found that helps a lot- teaching Intro physics I and II semester after semester is a drag (IMO).

Also, I found that being able to keep work distinct from not-work is essential- something that was difficult to do during lockdown but something I have now prioritized.

Having come from pseudo-industry to academia, I'm not sure you will find what you are looking for in industry- see, for example, work/life balance. As in your boss saying "yes, we value work-life balance, as long as you are choosing work!"

Good luck!
I teach several years at two different levels (education has two different "university"-layers in Holland; applied and more academic, so high school has two "pre-university levels"). It's not that I'm bored by the same subjects, but the level is quite low and most of the mathematics has been taken out of it.

I'm also reluctant to switch to "die-hard industry", but was thinking about something governmental or educational writing; I really like to develop my own material, and this summer my second book on physics is published. But going all the way for writing somehow feels scary; in my head, that's not "a proper job".
 
  • #16
TeethWhitener
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Just before the summer, when I was on paternity leave for 6 weeks. After that, I started a new job. I wasn't satisfied with my old school because of a fusion, which was rather chaotic and placed us on a campus with 4000 pupils. So I hoped to get the spirit back at my new job, but now I'm only working for 30% because of my burn out symptoms.
Parental leave can hardly be considered time off. I can assure you that a decent chunk of your burnout is coming from juggling work and taking care of young kids. Depending on the attitude of your employer, trying to manage a career while raising a family can range from merely stressful, to hazardous for your mental (and physical) health. That will be true independent of the actual nature of the work that you do. It’s something to keep in mind: young parents seem universally to go through a period where work sucks regardless of what they do.
 
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  • #17
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@haushofer, what you wrote seems somewhat odd to me. In your first post you said that you had a PhD and taught for some time at a university, but later switched to teaching at the high school level. In the U.S. very few high school teachers have PhDs, particularly PhDs in the "hard sciences" or mathematics.
My experience is somewhat unusual in that I taught mathematics full-time for 20 years, with the first two years at a very small rural high school and 18 years at an urban community college (the first two years of college). During my time at the college I also branched out into teaching intro computer programming courses. I much preferred teaching at the college level as students more-or-less choose to be there, unlike in high school. Unlike many teachers, I worked every summer while I was at the college, so I didn't have the summers off that many teachers enjoy.
In 1997, a summer class that I had taught for a number of years didn't get enough students signed up, so the class was cancelled. I was counting on the money from that class, and thought I would need to go into debt in order to pay mortgage, etc. Instead, I looked into an opportunity to switch careers and took a temporary job in the software industry, with a job title of programmer writer; i.e., writing documentation and code samples geared towards software developers.
After my temp job ended, in a year and a half, I decided that I wanted to pursue a full-time position. l landed a position and I worked there for another 13+ years, retiring at the end of that time, in 2013.
After my retirement, I got back into teaching, but very part-time, almost exclusively classes in programming. At one college I taught one class per year, and at a subsequent college that was closer to where I live, I taught two classes per year. The arrival of Covid drastically reduced the enrollment at my final college, so a class I had taught many times wound up being given to a full-timer so that she could have a full load of classes. If the enrollment at that college ever returns to its pre-Covid state, I might consider teaching for them again, but that doesn't seem to be happening thus far. In any case, I'm not hurting for money, and I have enough other activities that I keep pretty busy.
 
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  • #18
TeethWhitener
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In the U.S. very few high school teachers have PhDs, particularly PhDs in the "hard sciences" or mathematics.
My high school physics teacher had a PhD, and I went to a public school 25 years ago. At least a few of my colleagues from grad school got PhD’s and went to teach high school (mostly at pricey private schools). It’s pretty common for AP/IB teachers in the US to have advanced degrees now. I can imagine the situation is similar in Europe.
 
  • #19
WWGD
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One thing that has helped me through such states of malaise is to radically, to the extent possible, shifting my daily routine. It shocks me out of my present mode and helps me pull out of my looping behavior.
 
  • #20
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At least a few of my colleagues from grad school got PhD’s and went to teach high school (mostly at pricey private schools).
My point was about public high schools. I would still maintain that very few physics teachers at the high school level have PhDs in physics, likely on the order of 1% or so. In fact, as someone wrote in another thread recently (I don't remember which thread it was), a significant number of high school teachers in STEM fields don't even have an undergraduate degree in the area they're teaching in.
 
  • #21
Vanadium 50
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very few high school teachers have PhDs, particularly PhDs in the "hard sciences" or mathematics.
Maybe more than you think. The high school nearest to me has 3, chemistry, physics and classics. The next nearest one has one, mathematics. The next to next nearest one I don't think has any, but I think has an Ed.D. as ab administrator.

These are all reasonably large schools - out in farm country, things are surely different.
 
  • #22
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Maybe more than you think.
OK, I'll double my bid to 2%. I don't have any stats to draw from, but I'd be interested in some hard numbers if someone could find them, about overall figures in STEM courses in U.S. high schools and what sorts of degrees the teachers in these courses have.
The high school nearest to me has 3, chemistry, physics and classics. The next nearest one has one, mathematics.
I'll count the first high school you listed as having two PhDs in STEM fields.
 
  • #23
Vanadium 50
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I think you will find a huge variation - some places have PhDs and others have people who have a K-12 certificate but who haven't had a physics class in their lives.
 
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  • #25
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Regardless, I don’t see what teacher educational attainment demographics has to do with @haushofer ’s OP. Maybe @Mark44 could clarify that with regard to his post #17?
That post of mine was in response to post #1 in which he said that after receiving his PhD, he taught for a couple of years in a university, and then later switched to high school teaching.

According to the link you gave, as of 2009, 7% of physics teachers at the high school level had PhDs (but it doesn't say what the PhD was in), and 25% had a physics degree (not including physics education).
 
  • #26
haushofer
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Parental leave can hardly be considered time off. I can assure you that a decent chunk of your burnout is coming from juggling work and taking care of young kids. Depending on the attitude of your employer, trying to manage a career while raising a family can range from merely stressful, to hazardous for your mental (and physical) health. That will be true independent of the actual nature of the work that you do. It’s something to keep in mind: young parents seem universally to go through a period where work sucks regardless of what they do.
Yes, you're right. I find it quite challenging to combine work with having 2 children (9 months and 2,5 years). Luckily we have some decent social services concerning paternal leaves here in Holland, but then again: your post made me realize for a first time that this period wasn't really "time off". So I guess I should thank you, how silly this may sound.
 
  • #27
haushofer
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@haushofer, what you wrote seems somewhat odd to me. In your first post you said that you had a PhD and taught for some time at a university, but later switched to teaching at the high school level. In the U.S. very few high school teachers have PhDs, particularly PhDs in the "hard sciences" or mathematics.
My experience is somewhat unusual in that I taught mathematics full-time for 20 years, with the first two years at a very small rural high school and 18 years at an urban community college (the first two years of college). During my time at the college I also branched out into teaching intro computer programming courses. I much preferred teaching at the college level as students more-or-less choose to be there, unlike in high school. Unlike many teachers, I worked every summer while I was at the college, so I didn't have the summers off that many teachers enjoy.
In 1997, a summer class that I had taught for a number of years didn't get enough students signed up, so the class was cancelled. I was counting on the money from that class, and thought I would need to go into debt in order to pay mortgage, etc. Instead, I looked into an opportunity to switch careers and took a temporary job in the software industry, with a job title of programmer writer; i.e., writing documentation and code samples geared towards software developers.
After my temp job ended, in a year and a half, I decided that I wanted to pursue a full-time position. l landed a position and I worked there for another 13+ years, retiring at the end of that time, in 2013.
After my retirement, I got back into teaching, but very part-time, almost exclusively classes in programming. At one college I taught one class per year, and at a subsequent college that was closer to where I live, I taught two classes per year. The arrival of Covid drastically reduced the enrollment at my final college, so a class I had taught many times wound up being given to a full-timer so that she could have a full load of classes. If the enrollment at that college ever returns to its pre-Covid state, I might consider teaching for them again, but that doesn't seem to be happening thus far. In any case, I'm not hurting for money, and I have enough other activities that I keep pretty busy.
Yes. It is rather exceptional here to have a PhD and teach at a high school, but I know a few other people who are doing this, so I'm not unique in that sense.

The reason why I switched was because I didn't like the organization of big universities, where in my experience you were treated as a number and workload was high. But contentwise it was really nice, because the level was of course much higher, and students were a bit more motivated and had their own responsibility.

Luckily, we don't have financial stress; our mortgage is like a third of the average mortgage and both my wife and I are not big spenders ;) From a financial perspective I could even stop working, and I thought about trying to start writing full-time to see if that could lift off, but the lack of daily structure and social contacts hold me back. And then again, I really like teaching. It's just a lot of the side-issues which become more and more of a deal breaker. So I guess perhaps I should find a way to deal with thos side-issues if I want to give it a last chance...

Thanks for sharing your experience, that's always nice to read.
 
  • #28
haushofer
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One thing that has helped me through such states of malaise is to radically, to the extent possible, shifting my daily routine. It shocks me out of my present mode and helps me pull out of my looping behavior.
Could you elaborate a bit? :)
 
  • #29
hutchphd
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I'm also reluctant to switch to "die-hard industry", but was thinking about something governmental or educational writing
I would be a little more sanguine about "die-hard industry". There are many different niches and I made the transition after not getting tenured (partially because of general burn-out....long long story). I had really varied and quite wonderful experiences in the "real world" doing physics. Sometimes it was educational (and the pay was better too). If you have a Physics PhD and demand high salary this gives you "standing" almost anywhere! This was in the US.
 
  • #30
malawi_glenn
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what you wrote seems somewhat odd to me. In your first post you said that you had a PhD and taught for some time at a university, but later switched to teaching at the high school level. In the U.S. very few high school teachers have PhDs, particularly PhDs in the "hard sciences" or mathematics
Same in Sweden, but hey I am one of them
 
  • #31
haushofer
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Same in Sweden, but hey I am one of them
And call me idealistic, but I think it's important that students see teachers who actually have experience in the field of research. In Holland, more and more "first grade teachers" (who are allowed to teach the upper years of pre-university college) are second grade teachers who get their first grade, but without going through the full bachelor program at a university. I've had a collegue who taught senior students quantum mechanics, but had to admit that she didn't understand anything of it by herself due to a lack of mathematical knowledge. I find that rather painful.
 
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  • #32
malawi_glenn
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And call me idealistic, but I think it's important that students see teachers who actually have experience in the field of research. In Holland, more and more "first grade teachers" (who are allowed to teach the upper years of pre-university college) are second grade teachers who get their first grade, but without going through the full bachelor program at a university. I've had a collegue who taught senior students quantum mechanics, but had to admit that she didn't understand anything of it by herself due to a lack of mathematical knowledge. I find that rather painful.
I totally agree.
 
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  • #33
haushofer
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Anyhow, I have 4 more weeks to decide if I want to stay at my current school; due to the shortage of teachers my school wants to know quickly if I want to continue or not, because otherwise they're afraind they can't find anyone else. Stay tuned :P
 
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  • #34
vanhees71
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And call me idealistic, but I think it's important that students see teachers who actually have experience in the field of research. In Holland, more and more "first grade teachers" (who are allowed to teach the upper years of pre-university college) are second grade teachers who get their first grade, but without going through the full bachelor program at a university. I've had a collegue who taught senior students quantum mechanics, but had to admit that she didn't understand anything of it by herself due to a lack of mathematical knowledge. I find that rather painful.
In Germany it's even worse. There's such a lack of teachers that nowadays anybody is taken as a teacher. Since I'm involved in teaching the real teachers (in theoretical physics) I hear a lot of devastating stories. I just met a professor in physics didactics, because we have to rearrange our module plans due to new ideas of the state (bringing the teacher students earlier into the schools in form of a practice semester, where they teach together with a mentor, which of course is a good thing), and he told me two stories, which make me very worry about the ever more declining quality of the STEM education in our public (high-)schools:

(a) many of our teacher students are no longer interested to get teaching-assistant jobs at the university, because they can get easily a job at a high school to teach, and that's possible even for students in the 1st semester, i.e., they know (at best) what they learnt for the "Abitur". They have no clue about didactics nor a deeper understanding of the subject, and it's not that they get an introduction to teaching by an experienced teacher at the school, but they start from day 1 just as a usual teacher with the full responsibility for the entire teaching of a class.

(b) The professor examined a student, who already studied for getting a teacher for 48 (sic!) semesters. He just wanted finally get its final certificate ("Staatsexamen"). His performance was so bad that he couldn't even answer questions at the level of 7th grade middle school (in optics, mechanics, and other subjects usually taught at this level). So the professor had to tell him that he had not passed the exam. The student was far from being disappointed, because as he told, the entire exercise of getting his final exam done was, because the head master of the school where he already "teaches" for years, promised him to make him an official ("Beamter") with a lot of advantages and better salary, but he also promised him that, if he doesn't pass the exam, he can still continue to work as an employed teacher as before. So this guy is still teaching physics without understanding even the very basic qualitative facts about the subjects, maybe for years and years to come.

In another state (Brandenburg) they now hire any BSc absolvent in a STEM subject without much additional training at the official rank as a teacher.

I think one can go on and on with such stories. The prospect for the really important future STEM people is thus very bad, and indeed already now the freshmen numbers in the STEM subjects at German universities decreases faster than the overall student numbers (which decrease is natural due to demoscopic effects), i.e., of those being able to get the highest education level more and more get attracted to other than STEM subjects, but who should then provide the expertise needed?
 
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