There are many sides to teaching and to a teacher that the average person doesn’t see. I’ve written about teacher secrets here. To resign from a financially satisfying but energy and emotion zapping teaching job wasn’t easy, but it had to be done. Here’s a view from the inside, as well as the outside.
As a trained teacher with an honours degree and 27 years of experience, I finally threw in the tear soaked towel! I couldn’t do it anymore and knew that if I didn’t jump off the massive hamster wheel, I would have a nervous breakdown. I had all the signs pointing to the fact that a breakdown was imminent and for some time and for some reason I ignored it. Those closest to me knew something was wrong with me and some did try to say something but I denied it. Through the pursed, quivering lips I kept saying “I’m fine, just one of those days!” But those days only turned into weeks, terms and then years! I’ve often thought about why I had kept denying it and it’s only recently, with the help of a counsellor and some deep soul searching that I figured it out. I was too embarrassed to say that I probably wasn’t made of ‘teaching material’ or my ‘material’ was running out or that ‘the system’ had beaten me.
After all why couldn’t I keep up with teaching 4 hours a day? I had The Teacher’s Toolkit (and by the way I found it to be an amazing resource). That’s simple, isn’t it? Sure! Add to the 4 hours now. One hundred books to be marked daily, add formal feedback to be given, meetings which always took much longer than stated, meeting with parents at set times, but also those unplanned for, trying to do a club or activity after school (so you would feel like a worthwhile member of the school community), reading through and replying to at least a dozen emails a day (and always having to prepare some other document that was being requested), doing a duty at break time, tidying away after one lesson and preparing for another one, having a few minutes lunch break but using the time to prepare resources and checking the register while praying that a particular child was absent (and he/she won’t be!).
Surely all this is manageable, you say. Well no, as there’s always a new member of the senior management team whose sole job it seems is to get rid of whatever strategic plans and protocol implemented by his successor (and which all staff had just got used to) and implement his/her own! Add to that as well the unwelcome visits to your classroom several times a year to scrutinise, to catch you out, to hope you fail! And what of the silly expectations put on you regarding student performance? Now we all know that all animals move, but not all at the same pace, right? Yet I was expected (and teachers still are expected) to get all students to make the same sub-levels of progress! That is despite the fact that for some, attendance is poor, some have learning difficulties, some are in charge at home with absolutely no boundaries, some are the sole carer for parents who may be drug addicts and or alcoholics, some are mentally challenged and a good number don’t even want to be there!
Well you did take on the job and pledged to be the best teacher you could be, I hear you say! Right? Well yes, that’s why if two students get involved in a physical altercation in my classroom, my natural instinct is to try to separate them (by the way I was so badly shaken up once while separating two girls who had each other’s hair locked for the kill, that I couldn’t carry on teaching for at least an hour after!), if two best friends fall out I try to mediate, if a child trusts me to talk to me about a matter bothering them I will give a listening ear, if a child is tearful I don’t just say “dry your tears and get on with your work!”, and that’s why I do everything in my power to treat a child as I would want my own child to be treated at school.
But it got too difficult, in fact for me, it got impossible. Politicians didn’t make my job easier either. Each change brought people who had their own ideas and who wanted their names cemented in the history books of the future. So changes were made without regard for the people on the frontline who would have to implement the changes and bear the backlash. And that frontline did take its toll. On weekends I did feel guilty for doing anything else other than school work, preparing resources, marking, and reading ahead. At nights I found myself staring into the blackness for hours, too scared to fall asleep, as there were plans to be made, parents to be contacted, meetings to plan and to attend, books that weren’t marked, school events coming up. Sleep did come eventually, but only after making the decision that if I wanted this job I had to do everything necessary to keep it, including smiling with people even when inside ached and writhed in anger about what was being done to me.
And then one day it dawned on me! It’s as if my inner self was saying “is this what your life is really going to be like? And how long can you keep up this ‘career’ of yours?” That day I had been at school from 7:30 am, taught until 3pm, had a meeting until about 4:30pm, went back to the computer to carry on working, and finally decided when it started to get dark that I had better go home and carry on finishing all the documents I had to work on. Well on the way home, I had a flat tyre and, while waiting for assistance, I made my mind up: I wasn’t going to carry on like this. That night, I slept well. First really good, natural sleep in a very long time. I haven’t looked back since and have resolved to never get myself in that position again.
Life is worth living, I say. But I know that across the country there are thousands of others like me who have made the decision to quit, and the profession, I’m sure, is worse off for it. Others still go in everyday, secretly planning their escape route, and I really wish them all the best.
Now I work from home on my blog and as a freelance writer. I focus well, and I am motivated by my ROI. I spend my time how I choose, but wisely because my time is worth so much to me in monetary terms. My health is much better and I am out of the rat race.
I’ve been observing from the outside too! And it’s not pretty, what I’m seeing.
So when my friend called me the other morning as she was driving to school to do her best for the day, and I put on my chirpiest voice to greet her, she burst out crying, “I just can’t do this anymore, what they’re asking of me is totally impossible, I just feel like I’m doing five people’s jobs everyday and I just feel like …” I realised I had made the right decision to jump off the wheel. What would you do? I had just stepped out of the shower to get dressed for my day when she called. I won’t share the advice I gave her here (reserved for the book I’m writing) but I’m sure if she made it into school that day she is one day going to be so mad with herself about it! When I tried to suggest that she needed a break, her response was, “but those kids need me! If I’m not there, then my groups are going to fall behind the others!”
Her explosion reminded me so much of what I went through, and, needless to say I had a big pity party and crying session all over again in my room! It brings back such a flood of emotions of what I had been going through. You should have seen the state I was in!
Today my grade 4 teacher celebrates her birthday. She’s retired, looking young as ever, and so contented with life. I’d like to think that she is happy that she taught during the time she did, and I can bet you anything, she never cried even one day about her job!
Do you think I just don’t have the ambition to carry on with my teaching career? Think I was being lazy, or did I just get to the end of that tether? Was it a good decision to resign my teaching job? Let me know what you think, and be gentle with me please, lol.
UPDATE: I have gone back to a school on a part-time basis but my current love is blogging and writing books. Who knew you could make money blogging?
Check this post if you would like to start your own blog
UPDATE 2: We have both fully left teaching and think we have done our fair share. Time to live a more relaxed and stress-free life.