Why I Quit Teaching

A post caught my attention the other day and I'm usually not one to write response pieces, but I can't stop thinking about this.

This post is about why I quit teaching nearly two years ago, and why that was a good decision.

My Story

I was teaching in a charter school two years ago. My wife and I moved back to South Bend after living in Evansville, Ind. Moving back to South Bend was difficult because neither of us had work nor a place to live. I managed to land an interview pretty quickly at the school which was founded two years prior to provide a mix of academic and vocational training for students. We ran an alternative schedule, which modeled the "business day," so staff and students were in session from 8AM to 5PM each day. There were nine class hours, plus an advisory. I taught seven of those nine first semester.

I was working my tail off. In addition, the school was dysfunctional. We didn't have completed schedules for students until the second week of school. We ran study halls for an entire week from day one. We had staff meetings with yelling and blame games. I tried to remind myself that it was a brand new school and that things would turn around.

As we continued through the year, I became more involved in integrating tech into instruction. I led some PD on flipping and using Google apps to extend the type of work being done. I felt good about taking on some of these things because people were interested. As we went into the Christmas break, I was talking with my administrators about consolidating some of my classes (one class had eight students) and splitting my time between staff development and teaching.

I got back from Christmas break with the same class load, PD responsibilities, and students missing schedules. I was asked to support people during one of my plans and co-teach my last science class with one of the middle school teachers. My students were confused, I was stressed, and the other teacher was caught in the middle of trying to set up new procedures.

Our staff meetings also began to focus on creating vertically-aligned tests. We spent time in the departments looking at what we taught and writing up exams to make sure students were progressing. I started asking questions about the use of the tests and it eventually came out that we'd be taking three days at the beginning and end of each semester to test. The results would also be used in determining our evaluation scores and our pay.

I left on March 1st.

Teaching as Vocation

I've written at length about the unique struggle teachers go through when it comes to our work. Our community is close. Our bonds are tight. When someone leaves teaching, it's a big deal.

Unfortunately, it's too big of a deal.

I was 100% unhappy with teaching. I couldn't stand to face my administrators or my colleagues. I was unhappy at home. I was frustrated and felt like I'd had a bait-and-switch pulled on me. My students were not getting the best of who I was as a teacher.

What it came down to was that it would be better for their progress and my personal health to step out of the classroom.

Yet, I still felt like a teacher.

Therein lies the problem: if you're a teacher, that's all you can do. And if you leave, you're a bad teacher.

Posts like this where being a good teacher is based on grit and toughing it out, or that in leaving:

"[w]e teach [students] that when things get hard, and when we don't agree with something, then just quit and find something else."

It's a lie, and it's something that our culture of education perpetuates. As someone who has walked away at one point, believing this lie hindered me for months.

What ends up happening in a system where people are afraid to leave because of community pressure is you have a lot of unhappy teachers. Students see teachers going through motions - shells of what good teachers looks like.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has left for similar reasons, but I do know that I was terrified to let people know I was leaving.

Please, if you know of or hear about someone stepping out of the classroom, don't say things like, "I never thought you'd leave," or, "You're the last person I expected to quit." I know they were well meaning and it was meant to be a compliment, but I can say from experience that it doesn't come off that way. I felt like I was betraying a community, and it was difficult to maintain relationships from my point of view. Leaving was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make, but it's one - given the same situation - I'd make again.

Doorknob is creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by rachel a. k.
The desk photo is mine.

2 thoughts on “Why I Quit Teaching

  1. Jason says:

    I taught in a similarly dysfunctional school for six years, and I feel like I understand how you felt. At the end of each year I would clean out the classroom, hoping that one of my applications to, basically, anywhere else would get picked up. I put so much pressure on myself to not quit and run away like so many of my colleagues did–our one science position was filled with 12 people during my first five years. So every August I would be back in to get ready for another year. Except the last summer. I was too burned out to even get anything ready.

    Thankfully, I found a job at a district with exactly the opposite culture. People here care about each other and the students and work together to grow and get better at providing the services that we provide. Recently, a therapist asked me when was a time in my life that was very difficult. I couldn’t think of one, because I’ve loved my job for the last four years, and completely blocked access to the emotions of working at the old place. My wife answered for me–she said, “When you worked at the dysfunctional school. I felt like I lost you for those years.”

    I love teaching and I love teachers, and I lament the lack of access to good teachers that characterizes most students’ lives. But I, for one, celebrate anyone who gets out of such terrible circumstances. Congratulations! I’m sure you had an impact on the students you taught, and I’m sure you’ll have an impact with what you’re doing now.

  2. Zach C. says:

    Excellent points. I understand Todd’s point of view but at the same time if a profession is detracting from a person’s health, negatively affecting their family or relationships, or devouring a high percentage of “free time” then it’s worth giving a hard look at whether it’s worth it. There have certainly been times in my (admittedly short) career where I’ve stepped back and thought, “man I don’t know if I can handle this stress, workload, frustration, etc. for thirty years.” Thanks for your honesty and I hope your new position is working out better.

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