Wednesday, March 11, 2020

How I Decided To Quit My Teaching Job

When I do actually remember to check my Instagram DMs (I could definitely be better about it), I’m always bound to come across a message from someone regarding how I quit teaching. Since I’m usually in a hurry or between tasks when checking DMs, I never feel like I can give a full-picture response to the question, which makes this blog post a long-overdue solution. I feel like I’ve mentioned bits and pieces of how I ultimately decided not to teach after finishing my first year in bits and pieces in posts over the years. Still, it’s time to consolidate it and put it in one place as a comprehensive resource for any of you out there currently struggling. 

I am going to go ahead and apologize if I sound like a broken record with some of these answers or if this post jumps all over the place since there is a lot to include, and I’m not sure how best to organize my thoughts. I have linked related blog posts I’ve done on the topic below for you in case you’re looking for details beyond what I’ve included here. 

For starters, I think it is worth noting that ultimately deciding to quit my job without another one lined up was made easier thanks to the fact that I saved (what felt like to me) a substantial amount of money to hold me over for a while and set myself up for a couple of months of rent during my first year teaching. Having done this, I felt a little less terrified about the prospect of not having a traditional income for a short period of time. Additionally, and probably more importantly, I am so fortunate that I did not leave college and grad school with any debt. My parents placing such a strong value on my brother and my education and providing us with the opportunity to enter into the real world with this advantage is probably the best gift I could receive and one that I didn’t realize I should have been thanking them for at the time. I think I would have been a lot more hesitant quitting my job knowing that I had monthly student loan payments that needed to be covered and no consistent source of income to cover it. I am fully aware that this is a blessing, and I’ve since thanked my parents time and time again for prioritizing this. Knowing it gave me the opportunity to quit a profession I was unhappy in to pursue one I love has me that much more motivated to hopefully provide my own children with that same opportunity (assuming I have kids). 

In the second semester of my junior year of college, I started questioning whether or not I chose the right major. I’m not sure my parents even know that that is when I truly started questioning my decision. Growing up, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I adored the teachers I had, was a good and hardworking student, and I was dead set on the plan I had. My friends all claimed that I would be the one friend that graduated in the same major that I entered college with. While I may have proved them right, there were plenty of times I questioned myself. These thoughts came at a time when I was more stressed than ever juggling college classes, student teaching, presidency of my sorority, and trying desperately to keep up with my blog. If you look back at blog posts in the Spring Semester of my Junior Year (2016), you’ll see that posts are few and far between. News flash: you can’t do it all. Trust me, I learned this the hard way. I was consistently getting four hours of sleep and was more stressed than I’ve ever been in my life (resulting in a not so cute stress rash that eventually extended to my legs and would wake me up at night). Again, these are things you definitely didn’t see me talking about on my blog when I did finally upload a post that semester. I do have to note that the second semester of my junior year was also one of the most fun semesters of college I had while simultaneously being stressful. I did some research about other majors at Furman discovering that the Communications major only required eight courses which could’ve been done entirely in my senior year, but I didn’t pursue it since I didn’t want to just be a communications major and I definitely didn’t want the education department, my friends, or my family to think I was a quitter.  Ultimately, I brushed off the feeling that I was in the wrong major as me just feeling overwhelmed with all that I was trying to do. 

Senior year was a little bit better when it came to how I felt about my major and I think that has to do with the fact that I made it more of a priority to get blog posts live as it became more apparent that Prep In Your Step wasn’t only a creative outlet but also a stress-relieving lifeline that allowed me to escape reality for the amount of time it took to work on posts. I also began my student teaching practicum that year and loved the teacher I was paired with and overall, enjoyed my time teaching those students. It also helped that I was only taking one education course in the fall and had the opportunity to take two elective classes in which I naturally chose a communication and graphic design course, two of my favorite classes that I took during my time at Furman. Connecting the dots with where my interests lay should’ve happened sooner, but I’m stubborn and was determined to tough it out and maybe attempt to enjoy teaching as much as I had imagined I would when I was younger. Putting myself into the box that I had always pictured for my life wasn’t the best idea since it caused me to ignore any doubts I had and question their validity. 

So, I toughed it out, job hunted for a teaching position, and planned to start my master’s degree in Early Childhood Education the following June. That’s a lot of education for someone hesitant that education was the right fit. I had a month off after graduating in May of 2017 and headed home to Fairhope, Alabama, to soak up my short summer and work nonstop on my blog until kicking off my grad program in July. We were all pretty whiney when it came to having classes from 9-4 all summer, so I continued to brush off the idea that I should have done something different. Fast forward to the beginning of the school year when my fourth-grade classroom was set up, I had met my students, and I was starting to feel slightly more optimistic for the year to come.

Leaving school for the last time feeling so relieved.
I finished up my first week without a voice and downright exhausted as I adjusted to this new experience. That could describe all of my friends who had just started teaching. We spent that entire first weekend neglecting the need for fun and working instead on lesson plans and things we realized we forgot for our classroom. The second week there was still some excitement but also some very unexpected behavior problems in my classroom that left me in tears wondering how on Earth I would survive the school year. I can’t tell you the number of times I questioned whether or not I would make it through the year. I had a lot of support from my supervisor, Furman mentor, and mentor at my school, but they were equally as challenged by the situation I was in with my class as I was. 

I’m sure y’all have heard the saying “do one thing every day that scares you,” but that embodied how I felt going to school most days in the fall. I would feel panicked on Sunday nights and wake up with a knot in my stomach on Monday mornings. The teaching part came easy to me, and I really liked lesson planning, but the classroom dynamic I was placed in and desperately tried to change made the past year downright challenging. I’m not one to normally stray from a challenge, but I learned that year that there is a difference in feeling challenged and trying to face that challenge and continuously wind up defeated. Things got better at times, but overall it became more and more apparent that if I were to stick this out, there would be no doubt that my personal sanity and mental health would suffer. My parents received more phone calls crying than I care to admit, and there was a time around Christmas when if I could’ve quit without leaving my kiddos confused I would have. I felt as though I was teaching because that’s what I was “supposed” to do and not because it was what I really want to do. The decision was far from a rash one, and about as soon as I told my family I wasn’t planning to teach again, I felt a sense of relief.

Celebrating surviving our first year as teachers.
I think it’s important to point out that while a lot of my experience was tainted with stress and absolute overwhelm, I’m confident that this was not solely because I was starting my first job and trying to balance out how to be an adult with how to be a graduate student. I am aware that the first year of just about any experience or job can be challenging. In my situation, it moved beyond that, and I started to discover that teaching felt as though it was getting in the way of what I was truly passionate about, including blogging. I needed that creative outlet more than ever, even if it did seem as though I was adding more work to my plate by keeping it up. 

It was probably around March or April that I verbalized to my family that I wouldn’t be re-signing my contract to teach the following year. I know that came as no surprise to them, given how my year had gone and was probably a huge relief despite the question marks that would come with what I’d do in the future. I remember some of the harder conversations I had when deciding not to teach were the ones I had with my mentor teacher at the school who was on the 4th-grade team with me and was my co-teacher during student teaching, my Furman mentor and professor supervising me that year, and of course, my principal and vice-principal. I knew I had made the right decision when my mentor teacher said that if she were in my shoes, feeling the way I was feeling, and in the situation, I had been in she would be doing the exact same thing as me if she had even made it through her first year. This made me feel a little better about it, but as a perfectionist, I still felt like I would look like a quitter and be letting other people down. This was one of those important learning moments in life to remind me to quit caring so much about what other people thought and to do what I knew was best for me finally. It resulted in being one of the decisions I’ve made in life that I am most proud of as wild as that sounds. When people told me they were proud of me for quitting, it seemed wrong. I now know what they mean since I am so proud of myself for it too. 

Q: What made you finally decide to take the leap?
Feeling unhappy and realizing that there was no way I could handle another year of that. 

Q: Do you feel like burnout happens eventually in teaching?
For some, yes. There’s a reason teachers get summers off, and I can’t imagine how many more would be burnt-out if they didn’t. While I know that some teachers truly discover the profession to be their calling, it’s hard, and they need to be supported more than anyone on those days given how taxing the job can be. But, after summer breaks, it’s not uncommon to see a rediscovered enthusiasm and love for the job. I guess it’s true that sometimes distance makes the heart grow fonder. 

Q: How did you get out of teaching? I’ve had the HARDEST year and don’t know how to get out! 
As unhelpful as this might sound, tell yourself you’re going to do it and just do it. Make that commitment to yourself, knowing it is what is best for you and don’t wimp out. I realize it’s easier said than done, but I’ve been there and can say the outcome is so much better than feeling uncomfortable at the moment when you finally tell your administrators you’re not coming back. 

Q: How did you have that conversation with your administrators?
I wimped out about this for a while. We got the form about stating our intent regarding our contracts probably before Christmas, and I had a mentor tell me that no matter what, go ahead and check yes. I don’t know if that was what everyone would have told me, but that’s what I did, and I don’t regret it. Then, when our actual contracts came, we had about a month and a half to choose to sign or not sign them before they were due to our administrators. At that point, I had already told my mentor teacher that I wouldn’t be signing it, and she kind of walked me through the process and was a sound support system to have. I knew that I had to write a letter (not sure if that’s the best word for it), stating that I would not be coming back, and I went ahead and did that and attached it to my unsigned contract. I think I turned it in 3 or 4 days before it was technically due. I probably could have just placed it in our principal or vice principal’s mailbox, but I felt like that was cowardly, and instead, hand-delivered it to our vice principal since I felt as though I had a closer relationship with her than our principal. I won’t lie to you, it was hard. I had a knot in my stomach all day before delivering it, and when she started crying, there was no helping that I did too. Ultimately, however, she could tell that I was doing what was best for me and was supportive. I was lucky that no one treated me any differently, and I felt the biggest wave of relief once that contract was out of my hands. 

Q: How did you calculate how much to have in your savings account before taking the leap? 
My roommates and I had already decided not to resign our lease, so no matter what, I knew that in August, I would be moving. Because of that, I figured (and my parents invited me to) that I would move home to Fairhope if I didn’t have a job or general prospects of one lined up somewhere. At the beginning of the school year, I opted to be paid for a full year instead of the nine months of actual work, meaning that my last paycheck came right before July. It was nice to have that slight buffer, but throughout the rest of the year, I had been consciously saving, knowing that I wanted to move somewhere other than home. I saved what I would’ve guessed to have been about five months of living expenses (aka what I typically spent in a month including everything from rent and utilities to meals out with friends and miscellaneous purchases times 5) during that year of teaching. I realize that’s not all that doable in most cases since I was lucky to have incredibly inexpensive rent and a hobby (blogging) that serves as additional income. When I came across jobs in Birmingham that I wanted to apply to, a roommate I was excited to live with, and a house we wanted to live in, I decided to take a risk and move there without a job offer in place, thanks to the money I had saved. My backup plan with this move if I weren’t to get a job right away was to potentially substitute teach, find some part-time jobs, or possibly nanny while searching for something full time. Luckily, my final interview at the company I work at now was the Monday after I moved, and I was given the job about a week and a half later. 

Q: What do you miss about teaching? 
The kids and some of my coworkers. Also, summer breaks but I never had a year of teaching when I actually had summer breaks because of grad school, so I really only miss the idea of them 

Q: What made you decide to get a Masters?
Convenience and, in a way, manipulation. Y’all know I LOVE Furman and rave about it often, however, the way they promote their Masters of Education program isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. In a sense, you are forced to get your masters because otherwise, you don’t technically end up with your teaching certificate until halfway through your first year. I’m not going to get into all of the details since it’s likely not all that interesting to y’all but the price of the program, fact that I had already received some credits during my undergrad time, and knowing that people were going to be in my classroom one way or another for the first semester made it seem like the best choice. Additionally, it gives you a pay raise once you finish, so that’s nice, too, although I never taught after completing my degree. 

Q: What careers did you look into before quitting?
I had a long list on my phone of different careers that interested me in Birmingham before I actually quit. At that point, I had pretty much narrowed down that I wanted to be closer to home and had my sights set on Bham. The list ranged from communication firms, interior design, wedding planning, and more, and anytime I saw a company or listing I was interested in, I put it on the list. I know I probably have an advantage compared to some thanks to my blog exposing me to a field aside from education and it’s also how I figured out I wanted to do something more creative, so it makes sense that these careers were the ones I was looking into as opposed to ones that better aligned to the field of education.  

Q: What did you do to make yourself marketable going into a new industry?
I revamped my resume, worked on a cover letter, updated my LinkedIn, and created an online portfolio to showcase myself as a candidate in fields I clearly didn’t have the educational background in. Did it take forever? Yes. Did I do it during my master’s capstone class? Also, yes. But in my defense, I still ended with an A!

Q: Would you ever go back to it later in life?
I’m never going to say never, but for the time being, I am much happier in a more creative field. 

Five single-spaced word document pages later, and you’ve made it through this novel of a post. Hopefully, it did the job of being comprehensive and encouraging for any of you who may feel the same way I did while teaching. Again, I don’t want to be the one telling you to quit, but I do want to encourage you to know it’s a possibility no matter how stuck you may feel! 


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