Life After Teaching, Part Seven: Five (More) Things I Learned in Year Two

Last time, I wrote about how teaching is still woven into who I am, two years after quitting. Like it or not, my teacher side shows in my thinking, the clothes I wear, and, it turns out, my accessories.

Since the last post, I remembered that I’d also been carrying one of my teacher bags to work. It’s a black canvas number roomy enough for several sets of papers.

Though I’ve switched to a smaller bag that better fits my essay-free life, I’m still thinking about what I’ve learned after leaving the classroom. Here are a few more items I’m adding to the list:

1. Not teaching has helped me make healthier choices, but there’s a catch.

I start most days with fruit and yogurt, instead of the sad cereal bars or bagel, egg and cheese bombs I used to eat when I had time for breakfast at school.

a much healthier way to fuel the day

a much healthier way to fuel the day

My lunch break also gives me ample time to eat a complete meal and take a long walk around the block.

The downside? On an average day, I consume a lot more calories than I used to. What’s more, my cushy office job is actually too cushy: I spend more than six hours a day sitting! (Cue the tiniest of violins.)

But seriously: I went from never worrying about sitting too much at work, to knowing every day at the office is boosting my risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

I like to think that my lowered levels of everyday stress still put me ahead, but sometimes I’m not so sure.

2. Teaching has had a lasting negative impact on my confidence.

Even though I’ve written about being proud of what you’ve gained from teaching, it’s been a challenge to follow my own advice. Years of answering to hundreds of people  — be they students, parents, or administrators — often made me question my judgment. In fact, the longer I taught, the less confident I felt in what I was doing. As my old colleague used to say, “Teaching makes me feel bad about myself every day.”

I wish I could tell you I’ve left all that negativity behind, but it still gets to me. I continue to doubt myself in small moments and major ones. And despite knowing better, I sometimes think about how I wasn’t “good enough” to last as a teacher. In two more years, I hope to be more comfortable in my choices, including my choice to quit teaching.

3. At the same time, teaching made me feel powerful.

When I think back to those seven years in the classroom, I wonder, how did I do that? How did I stand in front of those students each day? How did I grade hundreds of papers each year? How did I get up for work all those times when I dreaded it? Part of my self-doubt now is feeling that I’m no longer strong enough to teach.

4. Making up for lost time isn’t easy.

The calls avoided because I was too drained to talk to anyone; the visits cut short because I was anxious to catch up on grading; the times I was impatient, cranky and generally not fun to be with — I see how they added up over the years. Knowing that I let my personal relationships suffer because of teaching makes me sad. I’m trying to be a better wife, daughter and friend by calling, initiating plans and showing up more — but it’s going to take a lot more work to close that seven-year gap.

5. The most surprising thing I’ve learned? I’m not content with “just” an office job.

When I first quit teaching, I thought a quiet cubicle job was all I’d ever need. I was wrong, of course. I’ve attempted to fill the intellectual, physical and emotional space that teaching used to occupy with cooking classes, an improv class, several seasons of league volleyball, mentoring and signing up for Skillshare.

I’ve also been thinking about my old teacher bag:

a second life for the old teacher bag

The bag was a gift from a fellow English teacher. She had designed a senior project that asked students to take positive social action in the world, and invited me to use the assignment with my own seniors. I remember enjoying the experience of helping my students develop their action projects and present them to the school.

Toting the bag as a non-teacher, I felt its white-hot letters prodding me with questions like: What are you doing now to be socially responsible? and How can you make an impact beyond the classroom? 

Two years in, I’m still figuring out Life After Teaching. Though I’m not planning to return to teaching, I know it’s the most significant public service I’ve done. This year I learned that I don’t want it to be the last.

Related

Life After Teaching, Part Six: Five Things I Learned in Year Two

As I got dressed for work one recent morning, my husband glanced at me. “That’s a teacher outfit,” he said. I was skeptical at first: The black cardigan and blue silk dress was an ensemble I’d worn many times to school, but what was so special about it? When I looked in the mirror, though, my clothes did read “English teacher” somehow.

the outfit that gave me away...

The outfit that gave me away

Two years out of the classroom, my closet is still full of “teacher outfits”: sensible sweaters, knee-length skirts and flats. As another school year has ended, I’ve wondered: how much does the teacher in me still show — and how much of the “old me” has been boxed up for good?

Here’s what I’ve discovered in my second year after teaching:

1. I miss being around kids.

There were many days when my students’ teenage attitudes and behavior — and my responsibility for their actions — wore me down. When I started my office job, I rejoiced in my newly calm, predictable work environment. In the past few months, though, I’ve been missing interacting with young people. At their best, teenagers are sweet, silly and spontaneous in a way that puts water cooler conversation to shame.

2. I miss being a mentor.

I also miss the exciting exchange of ideas that could happen in a stellar class, and the satisfaction of helping a student. It’s why I applied to be a mentor for my local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters last fall. Since March, I’ve been meeting with my Little Sister twice a month. Anna is 12 years old and loves to climb, run and play basketball. I enjoy talking with her about what’s going on at school, helping her with her homework and encouraging her to be assertive and considerate of others.

3. My memories of teaching are fading, for better and for worse.

I remember being up all night thinking about some disaster at school — like a failed lesson or uncomfortable conversation — and how I should have handled it differently. Now I’ve forgotten most of the names of the students involved and many of the details of what made me so upset.

Not surprisingly, I’ve also been getting much fewer school anxiety dreams. I still got them regularly last year, but now they pop up once every few months.

On the other hand, I’ve also forgotten a lot of what and how I taught. When a co-teacher I’d worked with told me she still uses the modified essay assignment we’d created for our ninth graders, I didn’t remember it at all. Worse still, I’m forgetting key lines, names and other important parts of stories I used to teach three times a day. I can still recite the Prologue from Romeo and Juliet, but even that may be gone soon, too.

4. I still think of lesson ideas and how I could’ve been a better teacher overall…

This New York Times story about an English teacher who used rapper Kendrick Lamar’s music to help his students appreciate The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison made me feel all tingly inside — and wish for another chance to do Morrison’s Song of Solomon or Kindred by Octavia Butler justice.

I also continue to think about what I could’ve done to reach more students and make teaching more enjoyable. This post I wrote about work-life balance, for instance, helped me understand how cultivating positive relationships with more students — and bringing more of my personal interests to the classroom — would’ve helped relieve the stress I felt.

5. …But I’m glad that grading is gone from my life.

Despite what I’ve lost by quitting teaching, I continue to be grateful that take-home work is no longer part of my job. Last summer, I wrote about the joy of having no more papers to grade, ever. This summer, I still love the lightness of my work bag: just my phone, keys, wallet, food, and a book to read during my lunch break. This, to me, is one of the main reasons why leaving teaching is still worth it.

Next time, I’ll talk more about how my life after teaching has developed — and how I’m still figuring it out.

Related

Life After Teaching, Part Seven: Five (More) Things I Learned in Year Two

Life After Teaching, Part Five: Why I Don’t Need Summers Off Anymore

Life After Teaching, Part Four: Five Little Things I Look Forward to at My Desk Job

Life After Teaching, Part Three: Yup, I Joined the Club.

Life After Teaching, Part Two: Four Reasons Why I Miss Teaching

Life After Teaching, Part One: Four Reasons Why I’m Better Off

Why I’m Returning to the Classroom After Leaving for One Year: A Reader Reflects

Though many of my posts have been about the rewards of leaving teaching, I’m interested in multiple perspectives on this career shift. It’s why I asked Rose, the former teacher behind my most popular post, to share how she’s better off after leaving education and what she misses about it. And it’s why I’m sharing this follow-up post from another former teacher, Melanie.

The first part of Melanie’s story goes likes this: after teaching fifth grade at a high-needs school in Florida for seven years, and considering a store manager position at CVS, she was thrilled to finally land an office job.

One year later, however, she’s decided to head back to the classroom. Here’s the latest on Melanie’s story, in her own words.


I left the classroom last year after years of feeling like I wasn’t good enough, years of never being able to please the parents and countless hours of grading papers that my students didn’t even care about. I was so fed up with the way things were going in education that I couldn’t take it anymore — or so I thought.

After one year of sitting in a cubicle, I realize how much I miss being a teacher. The things I miss the most are:

The students

When I had a rough morning as a teacher, it lasted only until my students entered the classroom. Then it wasn’t about me or my rough morning anymore — it was about them. They made me forget my worries by demanding 100% of my energy. I would laugh, cry and yell, all in one day — but that day flew by because my students wouldn’t let it drag. Here in my cube, though, I’m left with my own thoughts. As I work on my tasks, my day doesn’t change much. I never thought I would miss the emotional roller coaster of teaching, but I do.

Sharing

Even though I enjoy the work I’m doing, I don’t work on a team. So there’s no one for me to teach what I’ve learned. It makes me miss my professional learning community. I even tried to start one up at my new job, but it didn’t stick. I miss working with my colleagues on special projects, including the process of reflecting and then revising. I miss finding a great lesson plan and running over to my coworkers’ classrooms to show them. I miss being part of a unit with a common purpose.

The time off

This past Christmas, I didn’t have time to cook and decorate beforehand, and I didn’t have time to take the decorations down afterward. I barely had time to finish my Christmas shopping because I had to work on Christmas Eve. Then I was back at work the day after Christmas. Sure, I have vacation time now — four full weeks of it. But it isn’t what I had as a teacher. I have no Spring Break, and no reason to look forward to summer. Right now, all my close friends are making summer plans and getting excited. I wish I could join them.

What have I learned overall? The grass is NOT greener.

In fact, I think it’s made of plastic. I may not have parent conferences or administrators berating me, but I don’t have a purpose, either. In the classroom, at least I knew I was giving my all to contribute to society. At least I knew that even if the kids didn’t show it, deep down, they did care and were impacted by me.

The industry I work in now is changing people’s job descriptions and telling them they no longer fit the description so they have to leave the job. I’m learning that is a common thing outside of the public school system. I will take new standards and evaluations over that any day. At least then I can feel a real sense of accomplishment and improvement.

I realize now that I didn’t need a career change. What I really needed was to change schools. My administration was bringing me down and I let them get the best of me. Before making this major shift, I should have tried a smaller one first. At least I had one year of making decent money — but I’ve learned that my well-being and sense of purpose in life is much more important to me.

Next fall, I’ll be back in the classroom greeting a new set of students. I can’t wait to meet them.


If you’ve gone back to teaching after trying another career, what was behind your decision? Can you relate to Melanie’s story?

Related

Life After Teaching, Part Two: Four Reasons Why I Miss Teaching

Teacher Who Left: Why I Am Returning to School (The Answer Sheet)