Why I Quit Teaching (and why so many other teachers want to do the same)

I've thought about this post for a while. I knew that once I officially quit teaching, I'd write a post about it. But I'll admit it's scary as I write this. I went to school for this profession, I've got a degree that has cost me some hefty debt for this profession, and though I don't foresee it happening in my wildest dreams, maybe one day I'll go back to the profession. I know writing about why I quit teaching could hinder that if I don't do it well. But as a teacher that struggled HARD for the past four years, I know I'm just one of probably thousands of others. And I know not enough people are talking about it. Surely, not enough people that aren't teachers understand how rough the profession is. We need to talk about these things.

Teaching is an important profession. 

Without good teachers, where would so many of our youth be? Teachers play so many roles...they are so much more than just an educator. Many teachers also play the role of confidant, therapist, parental figure, disciplinary, planner, detective, and the list goes on.

I am a good teacher.

I don't say that with pride or to brag. But I connect with students really well, they like me and confide in me, and I care to plan lessons that are engaging to them. I've had good results with test scores in my classroom, and things have generally run smoothly (except for my first year, but that's another story). I say this because I want to be clear that I did not quit teaching because I wasn't good at it. I quit teaching for a lot of reasons, but that wasn't one of them.

So what were the reasons? Why quit teaching, the profession I dreamed about for my entire college career? Why quit something that I worked so hard for- even moving away from family to be able to actually find a position?

There are so many reasons. Some are more about who I am as a person, and others probably apply across the board with teachers that are unhappy with their career choices.

The Real Reasons I Quit Teaching

And the reasons so many others might want to do the same.

The Stress.

I'm starting with this reason because it was the top one for me. When it came down to it, with my anxious tendencies, I honestly don't know how I could have handled the stress and stayed a healthy, sane person long term. In fact, I think I was getting past that point already.

I know, tons of jobs are stressful. But with the tests, the pressure to somehow force kids to perform well, the large class sizes and the pressure to reach every single kid with different needs, the stress of teaching gets pretty intense. Add to that the way administration sometimes expects things that aren't actually feasible in a classroom (because no matter who you are, as soon as you step outside of classroom, your view of what it looks like inside of one is totally skewed), the pressure to collaborate well, to keep track of grades (and enter them right away yet somehow find time to give detailed feedback?!), and the list goes on, it's no wonder you can find a teacher crying in their classroom, cracked under the pressure every once in a while.

The Amount of Outside Work Required.

This one really goes hand and hand with the stress. I'm a people pleaser. I wanted to do ALL the things I mentioned in the last reason really well, not only because I wanted to be a good teacher, but also because I wanted my students to like me. I wanted to do the best possible for them. And I also wanted to do exactly what everyone around me wanted me to do (colleagues, administration, etc.) because I wanted them to like me. I couldn't do all of it and do it well. I crushed under the stress and I wasn't able to be the person I wanted to be in other areas of my life (like a present wife and mom.)

It isn't just me. Across the board, the stress of teaching causes teachers to spend so much of their time outside of work on work. With lesson planning, creating  and finding resources, professional development, grading, remediation, tutoring, etc., it's not even close to possible to fit the work of a teacher into a 40-80 minute planning period (or less). Half the time, meetings take up that planning period, anyways. Basically, to be a great teacher, for many people, looks like always working. I tried to be a great teacher that was all the things for all the people without working constantly, and it just created even more stress because I was always behind. That wasn't want I wanted my life to look like. 

The Low Pay.

Nobody goes into teaching because they want to make good money. It's just not a thing. No matter how important of a job teaching is, it's clear that it isn't a valued one, simply because the pay is not there. And because the pay isn't there, teaching becomes less of a valued career because people don't take it seriously. Kind of stupid, since teachers are the ones playing a major role in educating people going into every-single-other-profession.

When the cost of child care (and the emotional cost it took to leave my baby) were held up to my salary, the teaching pay didn't make it worth it at all. This doesn't apply to everyone- many teachers pay for child care and have to continue working. But I'd venture to say that across the board, teachers who do pay for child care are finding it hard to make ends meet.

In some areas of the country, teaching does actually pay a living wage. In other areas, like Charlottesville where I taught, it paid somewhat decent, but the cost of living was so high, and it just wasn't enough comparably.

I feel like I'm kind of rambling on this, so here's the point: In a profession where you are pretty much expected to do work outside of the workday almost everyday, and where you are expected to wear so many hats and play so many roles, and in some cases, obtain a Master's degree to even get a license to teach or at least to get hired, the pay should make it so you actually want to stay in the profession. Where we lived in Virginia, that wasn't the case.

Where we live now, in Western, PA, many schools do pay well. But then it's extremely difficult to get a job because of it.

The Tests.

This reason goes hand in hand with the stress of teaching, and is probably the major reason for the stress of the job. Standardized testing has caused so much stress on me as a teacher. I worked in a school that had a history of low language arts test scores, and I was a language arts teacher that taught a grade that took a reading and a writing test. It was on me if the students didn't do well. It was my fault if a kid just didn't feel like taking the test seriously. On top of that, in Virginia, students that require special education services are expected to pass the same test at the same rate as every other student. When I learned this, I was pretty furious.

In my opinion, these tests (at least in Virginia) are wrong on so many levels. Obviously, I worked my hardest to make sure students passed, but I did it all the while cursing the tests. Tests that purposely use language to trick kids. Tests that don't offer much insight to help teachers prepare students. Tests that don't consider the serious disadvantages that some students have compared to others. I don't even have to say anything more, do I?

The Lack of Respect.

This reason applies on so many levels. I had great administration over the past couple of years, but across the board, there is often a lack of respect from leadership to teachers. There's also a lack of respect of the profession in general. But worst of all, there can be (and often is) a lack of respect from students. To be honest, I had this problem my first year, but after that, a lack of respect from students wasn't a huge issue for me. But it is an issue for so many teachers, and the general lack of respect from all angles is a huge reason many teachers want to leave the profession. Low respect with a high workload doesn't make for great job satisfaction.


As for my more personal reasons...

I didn't feel like I could be a good mom and a good teacher.

When I was pregnant with Gemma, I already knew I wanted to be home with her. When she got here, that conviction only grew. Being a mom is a consuming thing, and so is teaching. With the stress teaching put on me over the past few years, I didn't think I could be a good teacher and a good mom at the same time. Because I cared about doing both well, one had to go. And of course, I couldn't go back on being a mom! So teaching went.

I realized teaching didn't match my personality type.

I'm an introvert. I absolutely do not like being in crowds. I don't like being the center of attention, with 20 plus sets of eyes on me, expecting something from me. I started to realize I was seriously drained after every teaching day.

I'm not saying introverts can't be great teachers. I'm just saying it didn't work for me specifically. I need alone time to gain energy. I like being in small groups or one on one with people. I like quiet. Teaching provides pretty much none of those things.

I wasn't happy.

My second year of teaching was my best year. The students I had were fantastic. I miss them even now. They wanted to learn, I connected well with them. But I still wasn't entirely happy in  my job.

This year, I switched to art, a much less stressful position, and I still wasn't happy. This time, it had a lot to do with the fact that I just wanted to be home with my baby.

I've taught different grade levels and different subjects. I loved my students every year, and I cared about the subjects I taught. They say if you love your students, you'll be happy as a teacher because they are your motivation, but that just wasn't the case for me. There is more to it than loving the kids and loving your subject. The stresses of the job, and just the overall structure of my teaching day, made me unhappy in my work. Life is too short to live that way.

Plus, because I wasn't happy, my heart wasn't all in it, especially this last year, and I think the students deserve teachers that are all in.

I know this is a lengthy post, but I wanted to make sure I touched upon most of the reasons I left the profession I spent thousands of dollars becoming qualified for, and why I think so many other teachers are doing the same, or at least would like to.

I don't write this to put a negative view on the profession of teaching, on public schools, or on administration.

I am grateful for the experience I had as a teacher in a public school setting. My husband loves being a teacher and is excited to continue his career in a public school. Teaching can be a fantastic profession, and many teachers love what they do. I'll always care about the profession of teaching.

I write this because I know there are a lot of teachers out there that feel the same as I do.

I had a friend tell me once that they wish they could do what I'm doing- they wish they could quit teaching.

If you don't love teaching- if it stresses you out, makes you anxious, and if you are truly unhappy- there are other things you can do. If you quit teaching, it doesn't mean you are failing. You have plenty of talents and abilities. Teaching is not your only option. When I finally realized this fact, I felt like a weight was lifted off of me.

I also write this because the profession of teaching needs some attention.

People that aren't teachers need to know that it's a really tough job. It isn't all about summers off (my principal liked to call them "unpaid" summers, not summers off, because that's what they really are) and holiday breaks. It's a stressful job is pretty consuming. There is a lot wrong with all of the politics that go into it. A lot could use to change for the better.

It was such a hard decision to quit teaching, but it was something I needed to do. Who knows what the future holds- I believe I'll teach in some sense, whether it's homeschooling my own children or teaching art lessons, but not in the traditional sense like I have the past four years.

Here's to new adventures.

And if you are a teacher who feels unhappy in the profession- please feel free to reach out to me! desirae@simplejoyfulwell.com