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Why I Left Teaching

April 09, 2013

“Wait. So you are done with teaching? Why?”

That has become the ever so common question in my life. I know that for many people in my life the idea of ending my teaching career at the end of the third nine weeks was hard for them to wrap their head around. Logically, it might sound crazy, why leave a full-time job with health benefits in this economy? The rational side of me would even agree with those people. But what fun would life be if you just listened to the logical side of your brain?

The short answer is that I left my 7-years of working in the public school system because it was literally making me sick. It is one of the worst kept secrets that being a public school teacher is a stressful job, and in the last few years it has only gotten worse. When you add in No Child Left Behind, apathetic students with parents who want no part in disciplining their children, and a new teacher evaluation system where half of your score is based on standardized test scores, you start to understand why 50% of new teachers barely make it to year 5 in the occupation. But to really understand the how and why of my departure from public education, you have to know how the journey began.

I was hired in the fall of 2005 as a bright eyed, confused English major who figured that becoming an English teacher would qualify for post-collegiate stability. After a few short months of working as a substitute teacher I was handed a set of keys and told to teach my little heart out to middle schoolers. A month later the staff was told that they hired too many teachers and 10 of us would be reassigned to other schools. I was reassigned to arguably the toughest high school in Orlando and definitely not the place for a brand new teacher of 24. The day I arrived I was given a tour of my classroom and a puzzled look to my repeated questions of when I would be supplied textbooks for my students. It would be almost a month until I finally received assistance in getting the needed books to properly teach. The daily struggle of compiling lessons, attempting classroom management as a rookie, and generally living in the survival mode that is the life of a first year teacher often had me crying on my drives home from work. The lowest point of my first year was when a student threw a book at my head during class one day. I kept wondering why they would knowingly place first year teachers in such a tough and struggling school. I was incredibly lucky to be moved yet again, but this time to another middle school. 3 schools in a teacher’s first year. Most veteran teachers I came across would tell me that I shouldn’t have made it past November with that introduction to teaching. But I did. Actually I almost made it seven years. It was the last year that did me in.

“ Babe. I’m having trouble breathing, do you think I should call in to work?”

A rational and sane person is probably thinking what a dumb question to ask your husband. My husband (a rational and sane non-teacher) had to remind me not to feel the normal teacher guilt of calling in sick and that it is not normal to try to go to work when you are having difficulties breathing. As soon as I got off the phone with work I realized that I could no longer ignore what had been building up for the last few months. The euphoria of June when I accepted a job at my “dream school” had faded into weekly panic attacks, an unsupportive administration when it came to classroom discipline, and a growing depression when thinking about my job. I had become one of those people who started dreading the workweek on Sunday night. It was getting to the point where it took all of my daily energy to get through my 7 period long workday, like a wind-up doll. I would begrudgingly wake up every morning telling myself that things will start to get better. I would start my day off optimistically and by 6th period I would be clearly defeated. I would come home so drained of energy that I could not fight the urge to talk a nap right after work. When I started teaching I still made time for hobbies like yoga or writing, but lately my life was a constant cycle of work/nap/lesson plan/sleep. I realized it during my two week long winter break how much more relaxed I seemed when I actually had time to read the books I had long ago downloaded to my Nook and even write in my journal for the first time in ages.

As I sat in my doctor’s office still reeling from that morning’s panic attack and having my blood pressure checked, I could no longer deny the realities of my life. I hated what my profession had become and how it had changed me. I made myself a promise in the beginning of my teaching career that I never wanted to become like my senior year English teacher. Her burnout was obvious to all of her students and you got the sense that she did not enjoy her job. I didn’t want to bring the kind of energy to my students, what teacher does?  So I made a choice to walk away from a job that no longer fit me. While I still do love some aspects of teaching, I can’t teach in the public school system anymore.  To do this job at the level you are expected to perform at you have to give it all of you. You have to make it your whole life and I just refuse to do that anymore.


  1. I can relate to this post completely. After 7 years of teaching, I'm completely burnt out. I love teaching itself, but I cannot make it my whole life with all the added extras that it entails. I have always been in a private school for my 7 years of teaching, but its still the same. Unsupportive administration who feel that once they've reached their peak of administration, they no longer need to put in any effort- because it's the teachers who do all the work!!

    May I ask what you are doing now that you're not teaching anymore? I'd like to find a full time job doing something else. I love office and clerical work, and I'd hope to find something in that arena. I want my work to be that, work. I want to leave it at work and not consume the rest of my life. However, another part of me wants to make a difference in people's lives through my work. I'm just not sure teaching is that avenue for me anymore.

    Thanks for your blog!

  2. My goodness I can totally relate but I wasn't a teacher I was a claims adjuster. I know what it's like to have a job that physically makes you ill. I totally understand why you left. It's not good for your health and it's no way to live. Life is too short to cry on Sunday's because you don't want to go to work on Monday and be sent into total depression. Glad you quit. I did the same. I actually didn't even have a job lined up. It was that bad and I did it for about 7 years too. Torture!