Why leaving teaching is bittersweet
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by Chloe Green @SharedBucketList
There are several reasons why I decided to leave teaching (within a school setting) after six years - one of the main ones was to get the ball rolling with our travel adventure. In this post, I explain why, although right, it hasn't been easy to leave the profession I once adored...
So, that’s that. I am no longer a teacher. How does it feel? A concoction of different emotions, really. My final day went far too quickly for me to process it all and I don’t think I even acknowledged the weight of leaving the profession until much later in the evening. I was far too absorbed in farewells from the school I had worked at, specifically, and wishing the best of luck to others remaining or moving on to pastures new. The hard-hitting stuff seemed to slap me across the face when I got home.
‘But what is so difficult about leaving teaching?’, I hear you ask. Many things, if I’m being honest. Some things I had anticipated; others I hadn’t even considered, but here are the three most significant ones:
1) Teaching is all-consuming. Bizarrely, this is what I simultaneously love and hate about teaching. The job requires you to be ‘on’ 24/7. There is not only an expectation to be fully prepped, alert and adaptable at all times – it’s a necessity for survival in the profession. The fast-paced and spontaneous nature of education is energetically exhausting and stimulatingly relentless. An oxymoron, if you will indulge my urge to default to subject-specific terminology. It is why I fell in love with teaching in the first place – it is a fantastic distraction from any of life’s hardships and a nurturer of anyone who begins, passionate about making a difference. If you are sincere about teaching to ‘shape lives’ and inspire future generations, you will be inundated with beautiful moments that will stay with you for the rest of your days. However, in the meantime, there is no room for anything else. It becomes your life and engulfs you fully in the process, which is precisely why I grew to resent it in the long-run. Priorities soon change and I eventually realised I was always dismissing the fact I was putting myself last. My relationships, my health, my fitness, my other hobbies and my social life had all been neglected to some degree over the course of my employment within the education sector. It was time for teaching to take a back seat for once and for me not to feel guilty about it. (Spoiler alert: Even with this mindset, it has been one day since leaving the classroom and I’m already feeling guilty about it)
2) A school is a community. Most schools have a collective ethos, centered around core values such as collaboration, love and building a sense of community. I’ve always known this and, although we are reminded of it daily and constantly strive to instill it in our students, it only really resonates on the last day of term when students leave and departing members of staff are given their send-off. Kind words are spoken and memories which all colleagues can relate to are shared and cherished. It is remarkably special to be a part of that.
Your irrelevance outside of the school building can be a difficult concept to come to terms with.
Although, when you take a step back, you soon realise that a school is a microcosm. There’s no denying it is a powerfully charged, fully functioning and harmoniously brilliant one, but it is a microcosm nonetheless. Outside of the school community, everybody who makes the school tick over during the day must find their place in the world – a place they aren’t necessarily known, admired or respected to the same extent. Your irrelevance outside of the school building can be a difficult concept to come to terms with.
3) A ‘teacher’ isn’t just a noun – it’s an adjective.
Existing English teachers and former colleagues of mine may be reluctant to accept that one because it isn’t grammatically sound but hear me out… when I used to meet people for the first time in social settings and they asked what I did, I would never hesitate to tell them I was a teacher. Besides often serving as an excellent ice-breaker for conversation (people outside of teaching seem to be fascinated with what really goes on in the staffroom and whether you actually do have a ‘class favourite’), the term, ‘teacher’, seems to be synonymous with a string of societally-approvable traits: ‘respectable’, ‘diligent’, ‘caring’, ‘responsible’, ‘underpaid’, ‘overworked’. Of course, these may vary, depending on the individual a teacher is introduced to but, whatever their opinion, many subconsciously resort back to their own experience as a student and associate their new acquaintance with a (usually) positive first impression. Failing that, they can, at the very least, appreciate how difficult it is, with many admitting they could ‘never teach’ – especially secondary school children. For those less concerned about other people’s opinions or interpretations of their job title (I applaud you), the label, ‘teacher’, is incredibly wholesome for one’s own sense of validation. I’m sure those who have taught for many years will be able to relate to the humble pride you feel whenever you reflect on all the selfless work you have poured into your career – a lot of which was not for your own benefit but for the thousands of students who have crossed your path.
Therefore, no longer holding the ‘teacher’ title is incredibly daunting as, for a long time, it has been just as much a part of your identity as it has been your professional status.
I could certainly go on – it is actually proving quite cathartic to write down how I am feeling as more and more emotions begin to surface – but I will spare you all the emotional essay. I hope these words have provided some comfort for anybody who has decided to leave or take a break from teaching and finds themselves a similar position to me, starting to navigate their way through what I can only describe as a ‘grieving process’. In the same way as grief, I expect each experience will be unique to the individual but will inevitably take time to come to terms with. Please be gentle on yourself and remember that it is not an irreversible choice; you can always return to the profession if you decide to later – education recruitment agencies are crying out for teachers as more and more are tragically leaving each year. Also, there are many other areas in which you can lend your expertise if you wish to return in a slightly different capacity to the classroom. However, if it is a choice you do later recognise to be right for you, please do not feel that you have let anyone down. The impact you will have had on so many is a legacy few others in this world will ever get to leave behind. Treasure the memories, allow yourself to make time for new priorities, discover your identity outside of the microcosm, harness all your extraordinary teacher traits, and take care. Chloe x