Tuesday, January 10, 2017

the post I never wanted to write: or, why i left my teaching job.

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Deep breath. Lean in. Spread your message (it could help someone else). Here goes.

I never planned to write this post. In fact, my plan was to not write this post because writing it down in words made it really real and that was scary. But, here it is anyway, because, as with most things, it's best to face them head on. So: at the end of last school year, I made the incredibly difficult decision to leave my teaching job.

The truth is that it hadn't been right since the beginning, but I was committed to making it work because teaching has been my dream for a very long time and I devoted a significant portion of my life to making it happen. The first year was a lot of tears and late nights and a giant caseload that felt way beyond my capacity. The second year was better and the third year was a big class size and a new district and more stress than I ever could've imagined.

And my gut was telling me over and over and over to walk away, but my brain was telling me something different, and it all comes from this: in our society, it is a common practice to tie our worth to a career. And teaching was worthy. It's the kind of job that takes every little thing out of you, but you allow it to happen because you're making a difference and doing real good in the world. And that was enough to sustain me, until it wasn't. Because in the process of helping others, I had forgotten to help myself. And I had become a shell of a person, and when I really sat down and forced myself to think about that, it was terrifying.

I'm sure many people can relate to this, but I am ridiculously hard on myself. I hold myself to an impossible standard; the kind of standard that I would never expect or want a loved one to meet. And while I was throwing myself at my job, I had forgotten that in order to be an effective human being, you absolutely must take care of yourself. And you can live within the cycle of putting yourself on the back burner and putting all of your energy into only taking care of others, but that will eventually come back to bite you in an ugly way. For me, it was crippling anxiety. Living inside my head was so incredibly exhausting. It was draining and it was dark.

And when I admitted to myself that it wasn't working, even after years of trying, it was the most freeing moment. And it wasn’t freeing in the sense that I immediately felt one hundred times lighter (that came later, and still only in waves), but freeing in the sense that I found the courage to listen to my gut and that’s a good and strong feeling.

Teaching has been an incredibly important part of my life. I miss it often and feel an ache when I think about former students whose lives I had the privilege of knowing for a year or so. I think that any time you let go of something that holds meaning for you, it’ll be a battle, and while it might get easier, that battle might not ever fully disappear from your life. And that’s okay. Teaching is a thread that will likely weave its way in and out of my every day for years to come. While I am no longer a teacher as a job, I still consider a piece of my identity to be that of an educator. I studied the subject with great love and devotion throughout college. Over the course of my three years as a classroom teacher, I worked to improve my craft and hone my skills and be the best I could possibly be. While I was in it, there was never a single piece of me that gave up. And I’m really proud of that and that’s what I choose to hang onto.

As a side note, this is probably the scariest and most personal thing I’ve ever published on this blog. In writing in this space, I only have two goals: (1) to reflect on my own life, and (2) to potentially help someone else by sharing my personal experiences. Maybe there will be a message here that helps and resonates with you.

For whatever reason, this favorite and beautiful quote from You've Got Mail popped into my head while I wrote this essay. At best, it's only loosely related to anything here, but I'm sharing it anyway to remember that, for whatever reason, I found connection:

"Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life - well, valuable, but small - and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around? I don't really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void." -Kathleen Kelly, You've Got Mail


  1. Teaching is an important job and also very rewarding, but it is very stressful. Especially these days. And I have to say that I thought it was stressful 30+ years ago when I first started teaching! I am so glad that you're taking a breather and looking for a new direction. I love you so much and am so proud of you. I cannot wait to see what path you end up on!! Adventure awaits! Embrace it! And I love the Kathleen Kelly quote by the way!

  2. Thanks for posting this. I wish teachers were treated better, mentored more, and had better work support. It's really important work, but the pay is not commensurate with the investment people want teachers to make (and that most good teachers do make). It's a very time-consuming and stressful job. Thanks for teaching as long as you did, and giving as much as you did. Sounds like moving on was a healthy decision. There are MANY career possibilities, and now new opportunities for a better, more sustainable fit with your own life and goals. The reality of teaching is often different than the idealized version. You're not alone in deciding after having the real school system experience, that other avenues might be a better long-term match. Thanks for being the thoughtful, creative person you are and posting this so other people may encounter your experiences.

    1. Thank you for the kindness and encouragement, Linda!


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