I quit teaching a week ago…
I quit teaching a week ago, and I was surprised. There have been so many immediate changes that have had such a big impact on my life in such a short amount of time. I want these posts to serve as a journal for me as I navigate my way through this transition, chronicling any changes.
I began the school year as the music teacher, mentor teacher, and district enrichment lead. I was starting my 10th year at the school and 16th year teaching. I had, for the first time in my life, experienced true burnout during the previous school year. On Friday, April 8th, I was having coffee at a small shop in the rain. It was the Friday that began spring break, and instead of being excited I could only think of how miserable I felt. I jotted down a few notes in my gratitude journal and had a massive shift in my mindset. I would be open to something that was not teaching.
I am a teacher. At some point in the last 16 years, it transformed from my job, to my career, to my identity. To step away from it would mean stepping away from everything I had built for myself, it was such a radical transformation that it was hard to even think about it seriously – but there I was. I’ll skip to the end of the story here: after an incredibly frustrating and time-consuming job hunt, I was incredibly fortunate to successfully pivot to what has so far felt like a dream job, supporting the Arts and arts schools in my district. It was a change that really made me feel, and feel a lot, and so I wanted to work through some of those feelings and what they might be.
Abandonment & Dread
I was completely transparent with the administration at my school and when I started this school year, everything was already set in motion. I was leaving but would stay on to help train the new team, and help my replacement transition into my role. However, those six-weeks only exacerbating a very real feel of abandonment. “You’re leaving? How could you leave?” my students literally shouted at me. Co-workers and teachers talked about memories as if I was already gone. This was a community I am an integral part of, and now I was leaving it. Was I doing the right thing? Was I making the right decision? I felt a looming sense of dread, a pit in my stomach, and it made me second guess myself. It’s a normal, natural feeling though, to have such a stong attachment to not just the students, but the teachers, administrators, and even physical space when you’ve spent a literal decade of your life there. I also took note that because I knew I wasn’t returning I wasn’t remembering how I felt on Friday, April 8th – and that’s something I was grateful to not forget. There was a reason I was open to this transition in the first place.
A Fresh Start
I was never nervous, it was so strange. I had full confidence that after teaching for a decade and a half I would be able to handle whatever the future brought. I was an expert planner, but also adaptable, and could adjust what I was doing on the fly. I had developed excellent people skills, time management skills, as well as the ability to self-reflect. I will stand by the statement that any organization would be smart to hire an experienced teacher. There could be nothing harder than what I’d already experienced. For the first time in a long time I was ready to do something new, not as a leader but a learner, and the stress just melted away.
It was so refreshing to not be the sole person in charge of everything. Running a classroom is a bit like running a small business as it’s sole proprietor. It lives and dies by the work you put in and becomes ingrained in all that you do. It’s such a huge departure from the life I’ve known, that I still haven’t been able to make the shift. I find myself at home compelled to open my laptop, check my email, review my lessons and make sure that all my work is perfect and ready for the next day. Once that was my truth, there was no time to work at work but now suddenly, my job is to only do my job. There will always be work that needs to be done, but I now have time to do it at work. It’s a massive adjustment I’m still getting used to but one that has already greatly improved my quality of life. At the end of the school day, I used to just sit and stare and try to remember to breathe evenly. It’s only been a week but that feels like a lifetime ago. I cannot comprehend this shift that’s happened and how meaningful it has already been for my health (mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual). I know that there will be changes, shifts, and even times when I am incredibly busy and overwhelmed at my current position – but knowing that it will only be temporary makes it incredibly manageable. I was teaching for a decade and found that each year it only got harder. Even if I have to work summers the time that is returned to me each and every day makes it worthwhile.
It’s been a week since I’ve been a teacher but in that week it feels like years have been lifted from my shoulders.