Last month, essays like Randy Turner’s “A Warning to Young People,” and Christine McCartney’s Letter of Resolution, gave voice to teachers who have decided to quit the profession, and those who’ve committed to stay despite their shared frustrations, including standardized testing, merit pay, and Common Core Standards.
After four years as a high school biology teacher, Rose left her job, and the education field, in 2011. In today’s post, she reflects on the joys (yes, the joys) of leaving teaching.
Starting a new job is like starting a new relationship. In the beginning, you’re just getting to know each other, and as time goes on, you decide if you’ll go long term. Sometimes, you realize you love your partner, but the relationship just isn’t healthy.
This is what happened to me with teaching: though our relationship had wonderful moments, I became increasingly unhappy, and decided to end it.
It’s been two school years since I’ve had the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of teaching teenagers. I now work in a cubicle pushing papers and have a much more stable relationship with my job.
Why I’m glad I left teaching:
1. The simple pleasures of a desk job.
In the morning, the office and my cubicle are quiet and calm. I can ease into my day by enjoying a cup of tea while I go through emails. I use the bathroom whenever I want. I slowly eat my lunch. Full adult conversations are the norm! This goes for thoughts as well. I can think through a problem and be confident about the decision without being interrupted fifteen times by students, colleagues, or P.A. announcements.
Several health problems went away, like indigestion (from scarfing my lunch before giving a make-up test during my lunch break), foot pain (Goodbye, Dr. Scholls!), and headaches (Yes, I had chronic tension headaches). I’ve also had fewer colds and flus (I come in contact with 30 office workers in a day instead of over 100 students and faculty). I call these simple pleasures because, while they are not earth-shattering changes, they still make my day easier.
2. I got myself back.
Teaching takes a lot of physical and mental energy. I was drained when I got home. I didn’t have time for hobbies, friends, or anything else except grading at night. Now, at 5 o’clock, my workday ends when I leave my cubicle…truly. I don’t think about it until the next morning when I get to work. After work, I read a book, cook dinner, and spend time with my family. I even have time and energy to exercise and take an art class!
3. A weight was lifted from my shoulders.
I can be myself in public, in private, and at work.
As a teacher, I felt like I had to project this “perfect teacher” persona. I had to be the epitome of calm, conservative moral behavior. I felt like I could not go out to a restaurant, have an alcoholic beverage or sneak a kiss from my partner without worrying if a student or parent saw me. Society puts this tremendous pressure on teachers as if their every decision, act, and word can inspire or devastate students. If a student failed, it was the teacher’s fault. If the student succeeded, then it was the achievement of the student alone. Teachers shoulder all the responsibility, but get little recognition for their students’ achievement. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with this pressure anymore.
4. My frustration with the American education system dissipated.
I entered teaching as a typical new teacher: bright-eyed, idealistic, and ready to inspire tomorrow’s leaders. And then the reality of teaching slowly, but surely, squeezed the passion out of me. When I tried to shield my students from the problems that plague the system, it seemed useless. It became hard to face the students, parents, administrators, colleagues, and myself knowing all the problems with the education system and feeling not only powerless to solve them, but forced to contribute to them (I’m looking at you, standardized testing).
I felt like a teenager who just got a summer job at her favorite fast food restaurant. Instead of eating what I loved every day, I never ate it again after I saw how it was prepared. So when I left teaching, I stopped struggling with the gap between what I wanted teaching to be, and what it actually was. My anger towards the system has dissipated, but a small bit of frustration will always be there because I still care about students.
Former teachers, what have you gained from resigning or retiring from the classroom? How did leaving help you reflect?
What would make teaching a sustainable job for more people?
FOLLOW-UP: Read my one-year reflection on this post.