Today is the second day of the school year for my old comrades at the charter school I worked at last year. My final day was in January of this year, and while it took me a few months to decompress and start to feel like an ex-teacher, I genuinely love the fact that I did not have to go back to school this year.
It was hard to quit because I LOVE to teach and my students (for the most part), were precious and amazing. Even so, I could no longer justify being a teacher. Why? Okay, let me try to put it in non-teacher terms. Imagine that you had a significant other, and that person was always doing the following:
demanding all of your time
not recognizing that good mental health requires some space
taking your money
accusing you of never being good enough
placing extremely high expectations on you while expecting you to have extremely low expectations for them.
If you were dating someone like that, it would be a good idea to dump that person. Well, that’s what teaching was like for me, and now that I am living in the post-teacher world, I realize that it was never worth it. I was silly to stick around for six years! What was wrong with me!
Here are my top ten reasons why I am so happy I ended my teaching career.
1. Fighting With The Utah State Board of Education
I had to fight with the Utah State Board of Education to get a teaching license. My master’s degree in English, ten years of experience as a tutor, and four years as a substitute teacher wasn’t good enough for the Utah State Board of Education. For years, I let my passion for teaching push me to fight for my license. Looking back, I wonder what the heck inspired me to fight tooth and nail to make less than $30,000?! What was I thinking! Never again!
Utah is not alone in their constant cry for teachers. Other states have the same conundrum-they want teachers, there are a number of programs for people to obtain teaching licenses, but they want to make sure you jump through as many hoops as possible before you get the license. Keep in mind that a license in teaching is not going provide a sustainable career for most. The states that pay teachers a decent wage are slim. So why jump through all those hoops?
2. Teaching Demanded Year Round Work For Part-Time Pay
Everyone believes that teachers have the summers off. Well, the schools I worked at did not get the memo. Last summer, I sat in a classroom during summer vacation, discussing curriculum. It was the usual story. We needed a new curriculum ASAP, but the administration wasn’t interested in buying materials. That meant we were required to create this new curriculum. We would talk, create all the lessons and a curriculum map, and submit it before August. I taught at charter schools, so this was something that happened every year. Every summer we threw the curriculum we created the previous year out the window and started from scratch. If you haven’t planned an entire school year of curriculum, trust me on the fact that it takes months. So, that is what I spent every summer doing-in-between working my other job. And that brings me to the next point.
3. A Second Job Was a Must
I had a second job during my teaching career, and not just in the summer. I had ONE teaching position that paid well, but it was at a treatment center and the Utah State Board of Education decided that my temporary license made me ineligible for the job, so I had to leave that position. That’s just a very bitter side note that could probably fit under any of these headings, but I’ll leave it at that.
After leaving the job I loved, I moved in public charter schools in Utah, which meant taking a $10,000 pay cut. This pay cut required me to downsize my life, which included moving into a slummy apartment that was infested with mice. As the price of rent rose throughout the Salt Lake Valley, the pay from my full-time teaching job was able to pay for rent and utilities, but the second job paid for groceries and all my other bills. And no, I did not have the spoils like cable, super-fast Internet, or a fancy car.
There was one year that I made $38,000, and it was great, but the school would later inform me that my pay had been a mistake. They meant to pay me $19,000, but accounting isn’t a strong point for charter schools. That’s a long story, but other than that year, and the job I loved but was only able to work for three months, I made less than $30,000. So, I always worked a second job during my teaching career. Not only did I not have summers off, but I also worked a second job throughout the year.
4. More Demands Each Year
The first day of the school year for teachers is the day when the new expectations are put on the table. You head back to work two weeks before the students arrive, and you listen to how everything that you did last year was wrong, and how everything is going to be different this year. Everything. You might have to run after-school clubs, work more lunch detail, teach extra classes that you won’t be paid for, etc., etc.
Increased demands arrive on the fly throughout the school year. You will need to be adjust your schedule accordingly. The school must come first and if that means you can’t make it to family functions, or maintain decent mental health-so be it. Teachers are expected to build their lives around the school calendar.
5. Negative Vibes
Teacher angst is legendary. While you’re rushing to eat your lunch, make copies, and use the bathroom during your 30 minutes lunch break, you’re privy to all the angry teachers in the faculty lounge. Teachers are stressed and upset, but they can’t be that way in the classroom, or they’ll get complaints. So, during those brief breaks, you either lock yourself in your classroom, or you head to the faculty lounge. If you do the latter, expect to be doused in negativity. The fury of the teacher faculty lounge will wilt your spirit.
6. Teaching Careers Are Short Lived
Low pay makes teaching a career that is easy to get into and easy to leave. You meet a few different types of people in the teacher world-young bright-eyed recent graduates who are going to change the world, and older, starry-eyed older, second career seekers, who are also all set to change the world. Expect your neighbors to change frequently. Each summer, the administration will be looking for new teachers to fill the holes.
Another reason teaching careers are easy to leave, is because you can easily find a job with less stress and slightly lower pay. For example, my last teaching position paid a little more than what the average Starbucks barista makes, but the barista doesn’t have to take home 4-5 hours of work.
7. Teaching Philosophies Change Frequently
This year we’re focusing on STEM! Last year it was reading! The year after that-physical education! Ra! Ra! Ra! This is the next shiny object that is going to rocket test scores to the moon! Let’s do it!
Every couple of years, the guiding philosophy behind education in the United States changes. There will be articles about miracles at schools that implemented the new ideas, and old ideas will be labeled something new. The shiny new object will be the answer to all the problems in your school, and things will only improve after you assimilate into the new teaching philosophy.
8. Your Family Will Suffer
If I ever want to strike pure fear in my husband’s heart, all I have to do is say that I’m considering a teaching position. His eyes get wide, and he becomes anxious. He volunteers to work overtime at his job, and he asks what he can do to make sure I never return to teaching. When I told him that I was considering signing up to be a substitute teacher, he was petrified. He was so upset because he had watched me stress about the job to the point where he was worried that I was going to get sick. I was constantly working at home, heading into work at 6:00 a.m. and not getting home until 5:00 p.m. We didn’t get to spend much time together, and there were plenty of nights our plans were interrupted because I had to plan lessons, grade papers, or stay late for parent-teacher conferences.
9. Anxiety and Depression Are Coming-Just You Wait!
Every Sunday night of the school year, I would find myself anxious and sad. Why? I had to go to work the next morning, and I was dreading the stress and pressure to be the perfect teacher. There were nights that I was up until 3:00 in the morning, tossing and turning, thinking about all I had to do the next day. First, I had to get to school early. Hopefully, everything was ready to go. If not, I would print off anything I needed (if my work computer cooperated), oh and I had to remember to take my personal computer, even though I wasn’t allowed to use it to print, but just in case my antiquated work computer wouldn’t turn on. What if the principal came by to observe my class and thought I wasn’t doing a good job? Which techniques was I suppose to implement? Oh yeah, there’s a “war on boys,” according to the administration, so I have to add in some of the activities that were strongly suggested at the beginning of the year, or else I could get written up. The list just goes on and on, and by October, you’re going to be anxious and possibly depressed. In time, if you stick around long enough, that will become your normal state of being.
10. Poor Health and Weight Gain
There is a reason teachers are always dropping off glazed donuts and candy in the teachers’ lounge. The job sucks, so sugary carbs are used to satiate the urge to sob daily. While you are nursing your depression with poor food choices, your body will begin to spread, and the number on the scale will increase. I gained 30 pounds during my teaching career-25 in the last two years. Now that I am no longer teaching, I have lost 25 pounds. Coincidence? I think not. I am back to eating kale, exercising, and enjoying life. No need for the sugary treats!
Last But Not Least
Teaching was a fall-back career-just in case the writing didn’t work out. Well, I never truly gave the writing career a shot because I was scared of judgment-what if people didn’t like my writing? What if I couldn’t sell any copies? I finally came to the realization that the judgment and chance of failure were less scary than remaining in the classroom. Now that I am giving writing a proper shot, it seems that this is a career I can have. All I have to do is keep writing and putting work out into the world. If I give 110%, like I did every year I was teaching, I will be a very successful writer!
Deciding to leave teaching behind has given me a new lease on life. This year, I am NOT going back to school and I love it!