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In other industries, when someone hates their job they think “it’s time to move on from my company.” The first thought at that point is not “I need to get out of [this career].” But for teachers, when they are unhappy with their current situations I often hear “I think it’s time for me to leave teaching.” Even more shockingly, this often comes from teachers who have never taught at another district or even school or have been at that one in particular for a number of years.Well, let me be the one to tell you - you don’t hate teaching, you hate your school. Click To Tweet
Teaching is one of those professions where we are so critical of ourselves and how we carry out our job. We get in our own head and think when kids misbehave or don’t grow as much as we wanted to, that the only possible reason is that we failed them. And when we find ourselves frustrated and alienated by our job - whether it be the long hours, never-ending duties, micro-management from the administration, behavior in the classroom that never seems to improve… we jump to the conclusion that this career as a whole is not for us. We come to believe that our challenges every day must be because we are no longer compatible with teaching whether that be because we aren’t as good as we thought, the hours don’t make sense anymore, you’re tired, you can’t seem to please everyone, whatever it may be.
But what I find is that the majority of these teachers that come to this conclusion are really good teachers. They are the ones that care endlessly, almost to a fault. At their core, they adore teaching, but the obstacles become too much to bear... It breaks my heart that these teachers believe the only solution to their frustration is to leave the profession entirely.
When I got my first teaching job, I was still student teaching. I interviewed for a position in September because I was graduating that December and couldn’t wait for a new school year. This position was open because the previous teacher left, and they desperately wanted to have a consistent teacher instead of the parade of substitutes that had been running the class all of the first quarter.
At the interview, I felt very welcomed and supported. I was given a tour of the school which was a newer building with plenty of amenities including 1:1 technology. I could really see myself teaching there and I believed as a student teacher and then first-year teacher, the administration would provide me the help I needed in that journey. They offered the job and I took it - I was obviously elated to get my own classroom so early!
But then I really struggled at this school. It was a middle school which was not the age of students I wanted to teach, I ideally wanted to be at a high school. There were a lot of extra duties and assignments at the school - weekly lesson plans that were often criticized for minor flaws, morning and afternoon duty to make sure there weren’t fights on campus, etc. I also felt like my administration was always looking over my shoulder, and while they would say things that sounded supportive, I would leave meetings of critique feeling like I was a failure. There was also little support for misbehavior so students walked all over me. I really was not happy at this school, and I struggled to finish the year there.
Now some might learn about my first experience and think - welcome to being a teacher, especially in your first year! But I refused to accept that was the only reason it was a hard year. I strongly believed that I was a professional and wanted to be treated like one even if I did have less experience than most of my peers. But more importantly, I believed that not all schools and districts were the same, and if I looked, I might find a place where I fit in.
Of course, I did interviews and found a school I loved. It was an alternative school with kids who sometimes had criminal backgrounds and there were tons of behavioral challenges. But I also saw that teachers at that school looked genuinely happy. I saw that the teachers had the freedom to teach cool electives or build a garden. I talked to the principal who told me my classroom was my world and he would never tell me how to run my world. He also told me the ways in which he supported teachers when behavior issues came up, and I was impressed. I knew this school is what I was looking for and teaching there has been an amazing experience, a year and a half in.
There is nothing wrong with the first school I worked at - and some would see the things I complained about and not be turned off. On the other hand, people may hear about the place I currently work and wonder why I would choose that environment. I think we do not stress the importance of finding the right school for teachers. Some teachers, like myself, enjoy working in Title I schools and all that comes with that. Other teachers really enjoy working in schools with robust and supported AP/IB programs with parents who are involved in their kids' education.
I want to encourage you if you are someone who has or continues to think about leaving - have you ever taught anywhere else? Have you thought about what you need in a teaching job, and went and looked for it?
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This article does have a point in that a principal sets the tone at a school etc., but this article overlooks the gaping reality that teaching everywhere has been high jacked by high stakes testing & the drill & kill curriculum that comes with that. The constant monitoring to see if you are teaching what’s on the test & aligning your lesson plans with the “data” & on & on. That is every where & why teachers are completely leaving the profession.
Samantha Hodge says
Thank you for the article. Another factor is that after 7-9yrs in the field many districts don’t honor your additional years of experience so you lose money in the pay scale when you switch school districts. This leaves many experienced teachers stuck in districts or schools that they don’t like.
LENILSON CARNEIRO DA SILVA says
I jus loved this article. It's soo relatable.
I have been a bilingual teacher since 2015 and worked in three different schools.
The first school was the best experience I ever had. People were very supportive and provided me with all resources necessary to do my job.
My current job is a well-paid one compared to the other options in town. However, I always feel like I'm never going to be good enough for the work.
I consider changing carreer and started an IT course to start the transition.
Now, after I read your text I feel sure that what my mind had been telling me for years was true "I need to restart somewhere else".
The only way to find out if I'm right is trying.
What do you fellows think I should do?
You always go back to teaching because of the large teacher shortage.
Carolyn Down says
There is a lot of truth in this article! After retiring from a school where I wasn't happy teaching under the new principal, I started subbing and it was just what I needed -- I saw so many good schools and happy teachers! I started to love teaching again and even at higher levels! And I can pick my schools! Plus, no politics or report cards!
Lori Thompson says
Thank you so much for this article. This is my first year. You described my year exactly and my feelings to a T. In fact, my principal has decided to not re-elect me without cause. I pray my next school is better.
I also work at an alternative high school. I am in my 20s and this my first year teaching. It has been nice to build my own curriculum, but some students really enjoy ridiculing and/or berating me. I’ve been called a list of expletives (with the first incident occurring two weeks into the school year) and seen changes in my mental health as a result of the bullying. These students treat me like I am less than human. Even though the “good kids” bring light into my day, the “bad” make me think about whether or not it’s worth it. It seems like only so much can be done.
It’s possible to start your OWN microschool!! I did it! Figure out WHO your ideal student and families are and build a program for them. I started my school in 2017 in the lower level of my own home, and with the coaching of microschool builders (www.microschoolbuilders.com), I moved to a stand-alone school three years later. Dr Mara helped me build the school of my dreams without sacrificing my salary or sanity!
My school is http://www.awakeningspiritschool.com If you would like to poke around the site and see the community that we’ve created. Best wishes for every teacher to find or create their own dream job! We need you. DON’T QUIT!
You bring up good points, but honestly, this is an unrealistic for teachers with like 22 years of teaching or those at the top of their pay scale. How often do you think schools are offering to hire a new teacher at the highest amount especially with advanced degrees? Also, I've been through the tenure process twice and with a family depending on you, it's usually not worth the chance that you get laid off
Tara Mentes says
My situation exactly. It’s not the school (kids, families) that I don’t love…it’s the constant string of new administrators and all that that implies. The school you loved for 20+ years can become a place you hate overnight but you are stuck until retirement