Running, not walking, away from teaching

Running, not walking, away from teaching

When people hear that I am leaving teaching, they automatically assume it’s because I want to be a stay at home mother.

Ironically, one of the biggest reasons I considered teaching as a career was because I thought it would allow me to still work, but have more time with my family, whenever that would happen. An honest confession for you all: growing up, I never really had the desire to be a “stay at home mom”.

Don’t get me wrong, here. The prospect of staying home with little Baby Boothe, at least for now, is more exciting than I ever dreamed it could be. But, I think that there was some serious divine intervention in my life that she is coming at this time, because knowing that she would be here this summer helped make the decision to leave teaching more obvious and clear-cut.

But the true reason I’m leaving the teaching profession:

I have to leave for myself, because the system is broken.

I first wanted to be a teacher when I was in high school. I had a few teachers in particular that were truly inspirational to me, and I saw how they loved their work and their students. They were truly mentors to me, and I wish they all knew it now. In college, the decision became more clear and obvious, and I realized it was more than just a job to me; it was a calling.

I am crying a little as I type this, because there was a point in my life that I thought I would never want to do anything but be a teacher.

I loved teaching. I loved watching my students “get it”. I loved (most of) my students. I loved sharing beautiful poetry, tense short stories, and exciting novels with my kids. I loved getting to know my students and watch them grow throughout the year as better readers and writers. I especially loved this time of year where we would have conversations about what they learned about writing, and they would proudly pull out their favorite project of the year and excitedly explain to me what they learned by doing it. I loved how students would declare at the beginning of the year, “I hate reading. I never like the novels we read in class.” And before they knew it, these same students were begging to read the next chapter of The Outsiders, or they had finished The Hunger Games early and asked if it was okay to start Catching Fire on their own. (Picture me rubbing my hands together here and giving a little evil laugh). I even loved most of those crazy things they would say and do that would make me laugh out loud when I retold the stories to Jared that evening.

This year, those things I loved so much were almost completely gone.

The government and state have shown how much they value education, which is precious little. That meant that time with students went down, while number of students and classes went drastically up. I went from teaching roughly 70 students to 120 students.  90 minutes daily with these kids went down to 50. And state testing standards/expectations just got more ridiculous.

First of all, trying to give meaningful, constructive comments and criticism on 70 papers takes time. When you nearly double that number, the hours of grading go up dramatically. As any good writing teacher knows, there’s not a shortcut or mnemonic device to help you be a good writer. It a process. It takes multiple drafts, revision, editing. It takes time and effort.

I know that it’s nothing new for a lot of teachers out there. Many have dealt with shorter times and lots of students for years. But those 90 minutes were absolutely beautiful and precious to me. My district was DOING IT RIGHT, investing in their students’ future by giving them valuable extra time for math, reading, and writing.

For many of my lower students, that was the difference between feeling like they could be writers and readers, or shutting down completely. We could conference one on one, discuss particular things that they enjoyed or were worried about in their writing. I could ask them what book they were reading, would they recommend it, why, and if they wanted any suggestions for when they were done. We could sit and discuss the beauty of a poem, and how it related to the novel we were reading or world around them, because spending 15-20 minutes to let THEM share what they noticed was not taking away from “Core Curriculum Standards”.

So, so many of the exciting things I wanted to do with my students fell to the wayside because we just “didn’t have time.”

Funny, how the other day, we had an activity at my school that shortened each class period by about 5 minutes. As one of my average, normal students was leaving to go home at the end of the day, he turned to me and said, “Wait, we only lost five minutes of class? It just felt like so much more, for some reason. I wish I had more time in here today.” I nodded, and before I could decide if that comment made me want to hug him or made me want to cry, he walked out the door.

Many times this year, little things that I could brush off my shoulders quickly started to stick like a nasty case of dandruff. The millions of monotonous meetings  and tasks that took up precious planning and grading time were too much, because I was still losing hours of sleep every week trying to make it all fit at home. The emails of parents angry that “This year in LA hasn’t been like last year” stabbed me to the core. When over half my students didn’t show up with their homework assignment, (they had a week to find a poem or song they liked and bring it to class; it could have been typed or hand-written), I was crushed with disappointment. And the morning sickness and fatigue of pregnancy didn’t make it any easier, especially when you are afraid of telling people why you really do look like crap. (How many times after I DID start letting people at work know was I asked, “Oh, really? Was it planned?”  If looks could kill…)

Ever seen this go around on Facebook? It’s completely true. I have lost track over the past year that I have gone out of my way to give up my lunch time daily to get kids in to work on an assignment, or before or after school, and still haven’t “Done enough” according the the parent who emails the principal to complain while CCing me on the email as an afterthought.

Every time something happened in my school that shouldn’t have happened, every additional favor or task I was asked to do, every parent email I had to write or respond to, extra paper work that wasn’t supposed to be mine, nearly overwhelmed me.  Daily, my sweet husband told me when I needed to vent, “It’s not personal.”

Angrily, I reminded him that teaching IS personal. Almost every teacher I work with devotes hours and hours of unpaid time because THEY LOVE TEACHING STUDENTS. We even love the awkward middle school ones, who aren’t as sweet as elementary kids, and not as mature and capable as the high school kids.

It was personal, and it was making me constantly physically ill and more stressed. My immune system had been low all year because of stress, but was even more drastically affected because of the pregnancy. By mid December, I knew that I would not return to teaching middle school, and was trying to decide if hanging in there to apply to high school was even worth it. (Turns out, it wasn’t.) But I didn’t quit like I desperately wanted or needed to, because I didn’t want my students to be affected by the mess it always is when a teacher leaves mid-year.

As I said earlier, the impending birth of my daughter has been the biggest blessing in this whole ordeal. If I didn’t know that I would have her, I might try to cling just one more year to this broken system, in hopes that it would “get better.” But I’ve seen what happens when people chose between their jobs and their own families. I’ve taught those kids several times. I’m putting my family first.

Daily, something happens that reminds me why I am so glad I made this decision. I will miss some of the amazing students I have taught and the incredible people I’ve gotten to work with, but I have never felt better or more confident in a decision than I do in this one to leave teaching.

Does it mean that I won’t be working at all next year? I don’t know. I’m looking into different options right now for extra income. If those don’t work out, I will stay at home, and I will not regret the decision to leave teaching public education.

Will I ever return to this profession? I don’t know. Maybe if some of the problems get fixed, I could go back. But until then, I am running, not walking, away from teaching, and I’m not looking back.

About Elisabeth

The joyous and sometimes odd adventures of a former English teacher and her trusty sidekicks, Jared the Hottie Husband and her two Italian Greyhounds, Stinky Stevie and Bonnie Boo. Recently the adorable baby, Princess Evelyn, has joined the clan to shake things up!

10 Responses

  1. AMEN!!! When I left the profession, everyone said I just hadn’t given it enough time, that it was only my first year. But that wasn’t it. Public education has become really messed up for teachers, even on an elementary level. Too much to do for too many students with too little time. After a brief stint working at a private preschool, my faith was renewed in teaching but not public education. Basically, I know how you are feeling, agree with you 100%, and admire you for sticking with it thus far!

    • Thanks, Kaysie. I definitely could see myself working in a private or even charter school in a few years, as long as things don’t make it too difficult for those places as well!

  2. Elisabeth, I’m so sorry it’s been a tough year for you. I understand everything you talked about in your blog post. When I retired two years ago, I knew it was time for me because I couldn’t stand the stress anymore. I had two HORRIBLE, threatening incidents with parents the last two years, which essentially did me in. One was a couple of weeks after I returned to school after my son’s passing, and I was in such a fragile state emotionally, anyway. That student and her mother were heartless and cruel to me, all over an assignment that the student said I lost.
    Teachers are required to jump through so many hoops now, and all of that, to satisfy district and/or state requirements, takes time away from teaching and from students. Anyway, I’m glad I retired when I did. Ironically, I find satisfaction substituting occasionally because it allows me to interact with students and connect with my teacher self, which is a big part of who I am. But I walk away at the end of the day with no papers to grade and no parents to answer to. I substitute when I want to, maybe one day a week.
    When I see or hear from former students, my heart just swells. I loved them so much. We had good times and good experiences (mostly). It was a great career, and I, too, loved seeing the light go on in a student’s eye or listening to a thoughtful, insightful comment. And I loved students’ teenage craziness, too. They made me laugh. Like Jared putting his head down in class and sleeping, but popping his head up unexpectedly to answer a question. So he was listening after all! : )
    I wish you and Jared all good things with your new baby and your life ahead. Life has a way of unfolding in unexpected, and mostly, pleasant ways. I know it will for you.
    Rita Swenson

    • I am so sorry to hear that you had to go through all of that! Hearing it makes me so sad, since you were definitely one of the fabulous teachers that inspired me (who else could have gotten me to love “The Great Gatsby” and its crazy amount of symbolism?!). I’m definitely done with jumping through hoops; the focus is so far from getting students to know and love the subject matter now, for all the politics involved that claim to want students to be learning more!

      By the way, I let Jared know that you still remember that about him. He was a little embarrassed; I don’t think he’ll ever live it down! 🙂

  3. Hey Elisabeth. I totally understand. It is getting harder and harder to be a teacher. We know what good teaching is, but the state is making it increasingly harder to do this. Stay with your little one and enjoy these precious years. I wish I had the chance to stay home with Bree. Pray and the answer will come to you.

    Hey, I’ll be able to come to your shower! I look forward to seeing you! Love, Sarah

    • Sarah, I am so excited to see you Saturday! I am definitely excited about being able to stay home with Baby Boothe; I just wish that we could all be the teachers we know we could be if certain politics of it all would get out of the way!

  4. My husband is leaving teaching this year too, after three years for these exact reasons. The system is seriously broken.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that it’s not working out for him, either. There’s a lot of people fleeing the system this year. Does he know what he’s going to do yet?

  5. You are the most amazing person. I know you do have so much you could give to students as a teacher. You are a talented writer too. And yes, you had some incredible teachers in junior high and high school, including Mrs. Swenson. Dad and I pray you will have other opportunities open up to you as you raise your daughter and share your talents.