Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Giving up Teaching

I'm planning to leave teaching at the end of this school year (assuming I can find something else to do for a living). In all honesty, it scares the heck out of me. It feels like looking over a cliff and deciding to step off without knowing what's beneath me.

I've never not been a teacher.

I decided to be a teacher in first grade, when Mrs. Aldsorf paired me with another student who was having trouble understanding something. I helped her. She understood. I was hooked.

I've been a public school classroom teacher for eighteen years, pretty much all of my adult life. The only other jobs I've ever held were brief, and long ago. I took them because I couldn't get a teaching job and dropped them as soon as I found a classroom. I was a tutor, a secretary, a receptionist, a librarian, a teacher's aide (even in that list, two of those jobs are arguably teaching). But I was always going to be a teacher.

There are a lot of reasons to leave teaching. The hours are long. The pay is laugh-so-you-don't-cry poor. The stress is high. The work conditions are atrocious. The basic rights any worker should be able to expect are not guaranteed. I could bore you for several days with my frustrations with my field, my state, my country and my school. When I successfully talked my daughter out of becoming a teacher herself, the relief was palpable. I want better for her than this.

The reason I've always stayed is that I believe in the work. That old saw about being there to watch the lightbulb go off in some kid's mind is totally true. It's magical every time. And my work matters. I'm not manufacturing goods no one needs and trying to get people to spend money they don't have to buy them. I'm *helping.* One starfish at a time.

So, why now? Why quit work that I still love?

Because all the external stuff is getting to me. I'm hearing that burnout tone in my voice, that bitterness that I have seen in many the colleague who stayed too long over the years. So, I need to leave. I need to leave before I'm not good at it anymore, before the bitterness starts to spread to the children.

In a way, it's like breaking up with an abusive lover. I still love him, but he's not good for me. He treats me poorly, blames me unfairly for things that are out of my control, even outright beats me down at time.  I don't like who I am when I'm with him. He separates me from my friends and other things I love. He manipulates with guilt and blame to get me to do more with less. He thinks he owns me.

But that doesn't mean that it's easy to leave. Ask any woman who has had to do it. It's easy to say you'd leave if someone was abusing you, but how many of us stay? More than would like to admit it. Especially when our financial well-being is tied up with the abuser.

We stay because we are afraid. We're afraid that whatever we leave for isn't going to be better. We're afraid that we haven't given it fair shot. Some part of us hopes that it will get better if we are just patient. The devil you know vs. that hidden devil out there in the deep blue sea. We stay because we don't know where else to go.

Good bye, teaching. I know I will miss you, but I deserve better.


  1. Yes you do!!! And call me anytime and I'll share how drastically my life has improved since I left teaching.

  2. I happened upon this and was surprised to read my thoughts being expressed by one of my colleagues! I wish you luck and hope that you are able to find something that will bring your inner spirit to a happy place.

  3. You are brave and strong and honest. You will land on your feet.

  4. I tried substitute teaching years ago, to fill the holes when work was slow. It was fun for a while, the pay was incredibly bad and they kept calling me, mainly because I never sent anyone to the principal's office, I think. When I said sit down and shut up, the "kids" sat down and shut up. My size helped there, because in some of the classes, I knew much less than the kids--physics? Hey, I majored in English! Of course, I never got a chance to baby sit an English class. High school. Junior high (today's middle school) might have been more fun.