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Leaving teaching, a career you love, is never an easy choice. Leaving a career you struggle to love is somehow, surprisingly, harder. And leaving a career in the middle of a global pandemic and time of economic uncertainty sounds insane.
So why am I leaving teaching now?
I’m so glad you asked.
Leaving teaching is best for my students
This might sound counterintuitive, but in some ways, you could say I’m leaving because that’s what’s best for my kiddos. I’ve seen teachers stick with teaching for too long. They know kids aren’t benefiting from their teaching as much anymore, but they still believe they’re better than whatever new teachers are coming down the pike. I don’t want my pride to get in the way of my students’ success. I know I’m not at my best, so I need to bow out.
When March rolled around, I suddenly had to juggle full-time teaching and full-time parenting. (I have a toddler daughter and, one week into quarantine, found out I was expecting baby #2.)
My daughter featured prominently in most staff meeting zoom calls. When she wasn’t being cute though, her naps, mealtimes, and emotional outbursts also interrupted everything from lessons to one-on-one teaching to IEP meetings. I don’t blame my toddler for being a developmentally appropriate toddler, but it was still a challenge.
If you also taught during Virtual Spring, you might have seen a huge nosedive in student engagement at some point. For me, it came with the announcement that virtual learning would continue for the rest of the school year. All of a sudden, I mostly babysat empty zoom calls with my co-teacher, delighted if a single student showed up for lessons or office hours. I taught a high school alternative education program however, so your mileage may have varied.
The guilt I felt when students stopped attending was overwhelming. They were losing so much time and would slide so far back in their studies! I beat myself up for not ‘engaging’ them more. (As if anything I could have done would have changed their minds.) I lost sleep worrying about their home lives.
At the same time, I was so relieved not to be letting them down during virtual class. I could now attend to my daughter’s needs without putting a kid on hold, since they weren’t showing up. I power worked during naptime, uploading assignments to our virtual classroom and sending personalized emails, but it never felt like enough. My kids were floundering, and part of me was…grateful?
Eventually, I knew that the only way to not feel tugged in two directions was to stop playing tug-of-war.
Leaving teaching is best for my family
I know I wasn’t the only one, but my parenting suffered during Virtual Spring.
It started each morning, which I thought would be simpler without commuting or daycare drop off. But the blurred lines between work and home meant sometimes “attending” morning staff meetings still in my pajamas with the camera covered. It also meant making breakfast over Zoom or changing a diaper with the Zoom volume blaring from the kitchen.
My daughter also met Elmo during quarantine, and since playgroups aren’t currently an option, I think Elmo is her best friend. That kills me inside. Aren’t we told to limit our children’s screen time, especially when they’re little? There has been so much screen time in this house since March, it’s not even funny.
I also noticed my patience far below normal when pulling double work/parent duty. I snapped at my daughter, my husband, and even myself with alarming frequency and severity. I usually strive to parent gently, but it was so hard when I required just FIVE MINUTES of focus for my student, and my daughter needed me- loudly.
On the other hand, being home all the time without a commute meant so much more time to spend with my husband and daughter. We started taking family walks more frequently, eating breakfast together, and just catching so many little moments. My daughter is also much happier, better rested, and healthier since leaving daycare.
All of the benefits of me being home more, combined with the difficulties of teaching, made my decision to leave teaching much easier to make.
Leaving teaching is best for me
Ok, time to be brutally honest: I haven’t always loved teaching.
There, I said it.
Especially in my alternative education program, the kids had challenging days. There never seemed to be enough parent or admin support, either. And as much as I liked the teachers in my hallway, it was hard for them to make up for everything else. All the meetings, paperwork, and red tape made me sometimes feel like I was drowning.
In addition to all that, I know at some point in the 2020-2021 school year we’ll be virtually learning again. And as much as it taxed my students and family, it took the biggest toll on me personally.
One time, I was so tired during Virtual Spring (because quarantine insomnia makes for long nights) I fell asleep on my couch during a staff meeting. I woke up to hear the Spanish teacher describing his budgetary needs to our principal in a private meeting I’d somehow entered. So embarrassing!
Leaving teaching is definitely what’s best for my own health, mental and physical. I’m pregnant and have asthma, so I have to consider my own personal risk of getting COVID-19 or suffering complications. I also spend time with loved ones who are immunocompromised or in otherwise poor health. I, personally, just can’t take those risks.
Are you thinking about leaving teaching? What comes next?
Find support & guidance at TeacherCareerCoach.com
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.