It hasn’t been a clean break for Rose, either. Though her current office job is much more stable than her past life as a high school biology teacher, she considers what’s lost by leaving education in today’s post.
Why I miss teaching:
1. I miss crafting lessons.
Everywhere I went — the supermarket, vacation, an art museum, you name it — I was always on the lookout for “treasure” – things I could use to make learning biology more exciting for my students.
While visiting the Clearwater Aquarium in Florida, for example, I was so inspired by the aquarium’s work with Winter, the injured dolphin later featured in the movie, Dolphin Tale, that I spent an hour talking with representatives there about the importance and impact of educational materials (which they didn’t have). And, even though I was on vacation, I loved thinking about all the lessons I could generate from this experience.
In addition to planning for my students, I also miss sharing my lessons with colleagues. I miss talking to people who are as passionate about teaching science as I am. I miss working with them to improve my lessons, to improve our school, and to improve the education system.
2. I miss the students (most of them).
I miss talking with the students, getting to know them, and helping them learn a subject that I love. As cheesy as it may sound, students’ “aha” moments are like shooting stars. If you aren’t looking at the right time, at the right student, you might miss them. And if you catch one, it’s like nothing else.
I miss the good, unexpected moments, too — like when the class shares a joke, students thank you for your help, or say that your teaching inspired them.
I even miss the (seemingly) off-topic discussions.
One time, we were studying types of muscles and a student, very sheepishly, asked what muscles cause “nipple-itis”. After we all laughed, I used that comment as a springboard to discuss involuntary muscles with the class.
3. I miss the “nobility” of teaching.
Even though society has mixed feelings about teachers (having tenure, pensions, and so on), most people can accept that a teacher’s life is devoted to a noble purpose.
At the end of forty years in the work force, teachers can reflect on all the students they educated. They were “in the trenches” helping to improve society.
With my cubicle job, in an abstract, roundabout kind of way, I help society too, but will I be proud of my life’s work in forty years?
Kind of…but I’m not sure “kind of” is enough. It will be a challenge to find another profession that will give me the sense of purpose that teaching did.
4. Guilt, judgment and second thoughts
I sometimes feel guilty for leaving teaching. I feel like I gave up on the future students I will never have. I gave up on the “good fight” of improving America’s education system.
When people find out that I’m a former teacher, some understand why I left. Others judge me like I’m a monster, saying, “How could you give up a life devoted to teaching children?”
Or, they just think I’m stupid for giving up all those “great benefits”.
I wonder if, one day, teaching will be a great job for me again. What if the American education system is reformed? What if society thinks that those who educate children should be treated like educated professionals and be paid a living salary? What if I have children and want to spend summers and holidays with them? What if…?
Like I said before, teaching was like a bad boyfriend: I loved it, but too many times it made me cry. After I took the stress of teaching out of my life, my physical and mental health vastly improved.
When I reflect on it, my brain tells me I made the right decision, but my heart still hurts a little. Maybe it always will.