A year and a half ago, I received a letter from a teacher who was thinking about leaving the profession. Like many of us, she was overwhelmed by the amount of paper grading, exploding class sizes, lack of support from administration, district, and state, and many of the other typical stressors inherent in being a classroom teacher in public education. You can read an excerpt of her letter and my response here.Because this teacher loved teaching, she decided to go back into the classroom for another year and try again. But here is an excerpt of an update I received from her last month, which has been published with her permission:
Just a quick update as promised, though it’s not the inspirational movie ending one would hope for…in fact, looking back at these emails makes me sad. I was so hopeful and excited as I prepared to return to work over this past summer, but this year has brought about some bittersweet realizations. I am leaving teaching at the end of this year. Even typing it now seems weird and surreal – perhaps because I haven’t really told anyone outside of my family. I have struggled with this decision and kept waiting for something to happen to point me in the right direction – some epiphany. Instead, it’s been a slow drain leading to me to the only choice that seems realistic. I tried. I really, really tried. Part of me is heartbroken and, at times, I feel like a failure for not being able to make it work. Another part of me feels at peace with the decision knowing it’s time to move on. It’s also scary to start over at middle of my career not knowing what’s next. I have to believe that things will work out – the universe rewards those who take leaps of faith, right?. . .In the meantime, I’m continuing to try my hardest for my students.
I have spent the last few years talking about how teachers can navigate the stressors involved in teaching with the hope that I can help myself and other educators find a way to make it to retirement.
And based on the responses I’ve received, it’s working.
But this letter tells me that it’s time for me to broaden my message.
I think it’s time that we acknowledged that sometimes leaving IS the best option, both for the sake of our future, the sake of our students, and the sake of our own sanity.
I’ve decided I need to start discussing, at least in part, how teachers can make a thoughtful, graceful, and smooth transition out of the classroom, when that’s what’s called for.
My heart breaks for this teacher–Not because she’s leaving teaching. but because when she finally decided to, she had to deal with feelings of “failure for not being able to make it work.”
And I get it. Feelings of failure are common whenever something doesn’t work out the way we hope or expect–whether it’s a job, a relationship, or even something as “unimportant” as a piece of art of we’re working on as a hobby. When things don’t turn out the way we want, it’s hard.
Combine that with something that, in many cases, we see as a calling, and the sense of disappointment and failure must be brutal.
But let me state this clearly: This teacher is most definitely NOT a failure in any way. She fought the good fight, she tried, she went back in the trenches when she knew it may not work.
Not only is she not a failure, she is a hero.
Hear me now: There is no shame, no failure, no guilt, and hopefully, no regret when a teacher decides to leave the classroom. It happens, and you need to give yourself the grace and forgiveness necessary to make the decision that’s best for you and your life to get on with things in a way that makes you feel successful.
Rather than choosing to criticize this teacher for not being able to “hack it,” because that would false and inappropriate, I would much rather admire the wisdom she exhibited in knowing it was time to go and the bravery she had in making it happen.
She took a leap of faith.
She believed in what her intuition was telling her.
She looked at what seemed most beneficial and most realistic.
And she made a very, very tough choice.
I wish her the greatest success in all of her future endeavors.
Taking care of yourself so that you can make it to retirement is good and healthy and fulfilling.
So is leaving when you need to.
And in either case, just remember one thing: You are not alone.
We are here to help you.
Thanks for all you’ve done (and are doing) for your students.
You have affected the future in a bright and shining way. TZT
*You’ll be hearing more from me in the coming months on this subject.