Should you leave teaching?
It’s been four and a half months since I put in my resignation and left my teaching job for a Communications position in the corporate world. Of course, it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to my teaching dream, a dream I’d had since a little girl and thought would be my forever. Still, I knew it was time to leave education for a variety of reasons which I wrote about in my article about quitting teaching.
Over the past few months, I’ve had so many teachers reach out to me about my experience. I think like many in the education field, they’re ready for a change but terrified to leave. It’s hard to leave any job you invested so much time and effort into. However, with teaching, there’s a whole other level of guilt and stigma. People assume you’re a bad person for not wanting to fight the good fight anymore. I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true.
Perhaps more worrisome for those thinking of exiting education is the propaganda we are told as teachers—that we have the best jobs because of the time we have off and our pensions. We worry that it would be a fool’s errand to try to find something better. We’re made to believe that the struggle in our job is normal, to the point that we sacrifice our mental health and physical well-being sometimes.
Four and a half months into my new job and I can tell you I don’t regret leaving for one minute. Are there moments when I’m like, “Holy shit! I left!”? Yes. All the time. Are there moments where imposter syndrome kicks in and I wonder if I can actually do something different with my career? You bet. Are there times I miss my friends from the school I taught at for ten years? All the time.
Leaving teaching hasn’t been a walk in the park in the sense it has taken a lot of courage. Change is never easy. However, I can also tell you that when former co-workers see me around town now, they inevitably say the same thing: “You look so happy.”
And I am. I am happy in ways I didn’t realize were possible. I am calm and collected in ways I haven’t ever known in my adult working career. I am a different person in ways that make me so thankful I found the guts to leave.
I’m here to tell you the truth about leaving teaching, the truth that perhaps don’t want you to hear. I’m here to warn you about what it might feel like if you do make that choice, good and bad. Mostly, I hope I’m here to inspire change—if you feel the need to leave, I hope you can find the strength to do it here.
It won’t be easy—but from where I’m standing, I wish more teachers knew how worth it the change would be.
Here are the seven major things I’ve learned since leaving teaching.
Now, in my new job, I walk into the building and feel energized. Truly. Physically, my health is so much better, probably partially from the fact I’m not walking around stressed every second of the day. Most of all, I actually feel like I enjoy my evenings again because I’m not sleeping every spare moment I have. I come home and have energy to exercise, to run errands, and even to pursue different hobbies I’d abandoned.
It's easy when you’re in the middle of it all to think that how you feel—sapped of energy, half sick all the time, and just run-down—is normal. I’m here to tell you that it’s not. Sure, there are days I’m tired or days I wish I could just stay home all day. But I don’t feel that same kind of illness I felt from being burnt out in the education field.
2. Your weekends should be just that …weekends.
During my ten years of teaching, I thought I enjoyed my weekends. I’ve now realized I didn’t. I understand now how free I feel when I clock out on Fridays. I don’t think about my job again until Monday morning. I don’t stress about the upcoming week or replay all the scenarios that happened in my head all weekend. I simply step away from work and enjoy my time off.
More than that, I enjoy my Sundays now, too. I no longer wake up on Sunday morning fretting about the return to work. I truly enjoy every moment I’m away from work because there is a distinct, clear boundary between my personal life and my work life like there never was during teaching. In fact, in education, it’s often seen as selfish and shameful when you put up that boundary. Ignoring student and parent emails all weekend? But what if they need help with something? Not preparing your lessons for the next week? That’s unacceptable. And what about that stack of papers you didn’t have time to grade? The students need that feedback.
Having weekends off again, really having them off, has reminded me that work life balance can exist, truly. And it’s been a freeing feeling to enjoy them once more.
3. It can be lonely starting over.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that starting over is a walk in the park. There will be moments of self-doubt, moments when you wonder if you can really pull it off. For me, teaching in the same district for ten years meant I had really close friends and knew everyone in the school really well. Going somewhere knew wasn’t easy—it’s never fun being the new girl. Having to build new relationships and friendships at work has been difficult. I went from knowing everyone to really knowing no one, and that’s been lonely at times.
Still, I keep pushing on. I know in the long-run, those relationships will be built. I remind myself that my relationships at the school didn’t happen in a few months. It’s really about managing your expectations and understanding that starting over isn’t a bad thing. Scary? Sometimes. Still, starting over, especially in the right place, can lead you to even better relationships that stem from a healthier place. Plus, I still stay in touch with my closest friends from the school. A new job doesn’t mean you have to abandon your past relationships. It just takes a little more effort to keep them strong.
4. You don’t need summers off when you have a job that energizes you.
This is perhaps the biggest question I get about leaving teaching: Don’t you miss summers off? I started my new job at the beginning of August and got a taste of what it was like to work during the summer. The thing is, it’s hard to explain to those in the education field. We live for our summers, don’t we? Even though we certainly aren’t lounging all summer long—some of us have other jobs, curriculum writing, classrooms to design, etc. Still, having those few months off are essential to our well-being. By summer, I would be dragging myself out of bed in the morning and barely getting by. Summer was the only way I could power through.
Now, though, because I am enjoying my evenings and weekends in ways I never did before, I can honestly say I don’t miss all of my breaks I had. I have worked almost five straight months without taking a vacation day—and I don’t feel the need to. When you are working at a job with reasonable expectations and work life balance, those long vacations aren’t necessary. Plus, my schedule has been way more flexible than the school. If I need to go to the dentist, I can switch my hours around to make that happen without taking a sick day like I used to have to do.
5. It’s not normal to be treated like anything less than a professional.
In my new job, I’m treated like a professional, plain and simple. No one swears at me daily or throws things. No one threatens me or questions my professional opinions. No one is out to get me every single day or looking for ways I could potentially mess up.
I’m trusted to do the work I was hired to do. I don’t have to prove my worth every single day. I don’t have to defend my worth, either. I am treated with respect and appreciation.
This has been the biggest lesson learned since leaving the classroom. I think so many of us are taught to just accept being sworn at, degraded, lied to and about, and put on the defensive. I liken teaching to being in the courtroom—you always had to be ready to prove your innocence and defend your value. I didn’t realize what a mental toll that was taking on me until I left.
You are worthy. You are skilled. You deserve to be treated with respect. When I think about all of the comments students made to me and about me without consequence, it makes me frustrated. Excuses like “they’re just kids” or “well, you need to be the adult and not provoke those comments,” are told to us as means of defending behavior that just isn’t acceptable. What’s really worrying to me is that many of the teachers I saw verbally abused were females; it’s sending a message to our youth that females in charge don’t have to be respected, which is a terrifying premise in my opinion.
Kids aren’t perfect, certainly. We all know that going into the job. But the fact that in many classrooms, kids saying inappropriate things has turned into daily verbal abuse that has little consequence is more than worrisome. It’s wrong. You don’t deserve to be berated daily. You deserve to be treated with respect and professionally—by students, by administrators, and by parents. Don’t let anyone make you believe otherwise.
6. Making your job your life is not a badge of honor. It’s a warning sign.
I realize now that I’m gone how much it is encouraged to live and breath your job in teaching. You leave at 3 p.m.? You must not be committed. You don’t get the papers back in a day? You aren’t taking enough work home. You don’t volunteer after school? You must not really like kids.
There are so many lies told to educators. We’re told that nothing matters more than the students. I’m here to say something controversial—you also matter. Your mental health, well-being, family, and personal life matters, too. You should not be a human sacrifice for your job. You should not be guilt-tripped into working 70 and 80 hours for no extra pay. You deserve to be compensated for your time.
Outside of education, I have found a position that promised work life balance—and it delivers. I am not expected to work for free off the clock. I am not expected to work 24/7. I am not expected to have no life outside of work.
7. It takes courage to leave …but it also is how you grow.
Saying goodbye to a career always will be difficult, but leaving teaching seems like an extra heavy burden sometimes. It feels like a very public decision. Sometimes, the fear of judgement weighs heavily. Other times, it’s the terror around making the big decision to leave because we’re told we have the best jobs.
Maybe for you, staying put in teaching is what you feel is right. But, if like me, you’re starting to see that most days, you are unhappy, maybe it’s time to find the courage to take a step in a new direction.
I think as teachers, we’re made to believe we get one career choice and that’s it. I’m here to tell you that’s a lie. It’s a big, wide world out there. You have more skills than you even realize. Companies would be thrilled to have your organization, communication skills, presentation skills, technology skills, and multi-tasking skills. Truly. And maybe you won’t get it right the first try. Maybe you’ll start in a job that doesn’t feel like the best fit. You know what? That’s okay.
Because after leaving teaching, I now understand that change is growth. It’s okay to change your mind, and it’s okay to explore. It’s okay to do some searching for what makes you happy.
You might fall down a few times. You might struggle. And that’s okay. You’ll be okay.
The only thing that isn’t okay? Spending your life going to a job that doesn’t fulfill you, a job that makes you sick, and a job that just isn’t your passion anymore. Life is way too short to stay in a job that isn’t right for you.
I hope teacher or not, you find the courage to soul-search for what you really want and, if that’s leaving teaching, I hope you find the bravery to do just that.
L.A. Detwiler is a former high school English teacher of ten years and a USA Today Bestselling thriller author. Her novel The Widow Next Door was published with HarperCollins UK and is an international bestseller. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines and websites, including Huffpost, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Thought Catalog. Follow her writing journey on Instagram or Facebook.
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USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door, The Diary of a Serial Killer's Daughter, and other creepy thriller books