One year ago, I said goodbye to my high school students for the last time. I stepped out the door of the four walls I’d called home for ten years, and I never went back.
Last year, I made the decision to leave my teaching job after ten years in the high school English classroom. It wasn’t an easy decision at all. Still, it was one that, at the time, I felt was the right decision for me. I could get into all the whys of leaving teaching, but if you’re here, you probably know the whys. My guess is that many of you reading this are in the same shoes I was in last year—thinking it’s time for you to leave but scared to make the leap. (You can read my article about leaving teaching here if you want the details).
I left the classroom for a corporate job in communications. Now, one year later, I wanted to reflect on where I am, what I’ve learned, and the question I know so many of you are wondering: Do I regret leaving? Here are the things I’ve learned in the past year since leaving the classroom. I hope that if, as summer approaches, you’re wondering if you want to go back to the classroom in the fall, this article will help you make the difficult decision.
1. Change is never easy, even if you know it’s right.
I’d like to say that leaving the classroom was super easy and that I never had my doubts. In truth, I landed at a job I love and am so fortunate to have. It’s a great company with stellar values, benefits, and perks. Still, change is never, ever easy.
Foremost, it wasn’t easy “starting over.” New friends, new processes, new paperwork, new everything. I hadn’t realized that at the school, I’d fallen into a comfortable place where I really did know my job inside and out. I was the person new people came to for questions and advice. Now, ten years later, I was the person asking a million questions, being confused, and not knowing all aspects of my job. It’s humbling and scary, to be honest.
Plus, even if you are relieved to leave the classroom and know it was the right choice, I think there is a subconscious grieving period you go through. There were days this past year when I was emotional, when I cried, when I just felt frustrated. I think that if I’m being honest, a lot of that came from a place of grieving the death of my dream. I’d wanted to teach since I was five. I spent about seven of my ten years in teaching absolutely loving it. To give up that vision, that dream, wasn’t easy. I think I still grieve it a little bit.
Change is never easy, and leaving the classroom will come with a rollercoaster of emotions. Fear, stress, confusion, nostalgia. All sorts of feelings. Still, on my new desk, I have a sign that says, “Choose growth over comfort.” Because even though it’s sometimes a struggle starting over, I’ve also found that it’s enlivening. In the classroom, I had fallen into a complacent routine. Change was just what I needed to grow, to learn, and to remember what life is really about. I have a new appreciation and zest for life that I realize now I had lost in the stress of papers, toxic environments, and doing the same thing year after year.
2. I don't miss summers. Truly.
Let me be clear: I wasn’t one of those teachers who missed school during the summer or taught during the summer or took on extra jobs during break. I was a teacher who LIVED for my summer. I didn’t crack open a book or set foot in my classroom until the last minute. I literally lived it up in the summer—and when I say lived it up, I of course meant read lots of books in my hammock, drank lemonade, and went to the craft store on a random Tuesday afternoon. Still, I was terrified when I left education that I would desperately miss it, if I’m being honest.
But the truth is, one year in, I really don’t. I have only used a few of my PTO days in the past year, something I could never say during teaching. I was always using my personal days, living for the extended breaks, and basically crawling to summer. Now, I honestly can tell you that I don’t live for breaks because I have a much, much, much better work-life balance. Truly.
When you’re in the middle of teaching, this logic doesn’t really sink in. I know because I’ve been there. How could you possibly survive working all year long? How could you handle only having a few holidays off? It seems impossible. But that’s because in teaching—it is.
I don’t think I realized how burnt out, how tired, how stressed I was in education until I left. Sure, my new job is stressful on certain days. But I’m not soul-crushingly tired when I leave for the day. In fact, each evening, I actually have energy when I get home to do things (cue teacher gasps) instead of sinking into the sofa and napping. I find that I have more hobbies and go out more all year long, not just during the three summer months of freedom. I also find that because I can “shut my job off” when I leave for the day, I’m not spending every waking minute at home stressing over lesson plans or when I’m getting papers graded or when I’m going to guidance to chat about a kid. I can truly clock out and leave work at the office.
This is one I don’t think you’ll believe me about until you experience it because it’s such a foreign concept to educators. But to have a job where you don’t desperately need a break is such a life-changing thing. What’s more, the Sunday scaries are no longer a thing. Sure, I might groan that my alarm is going to go off early the next morning. But there is no longer that debilitating depression about work. Ever. And that is also life changing.
3. A toxic work environment has so many negative effects.
Since leaving my teaching job, I’ve lost about ten pounds without really trying. My skin is clearer and doesn’t break out as much. More importantly, I don’t feel like I’m physically sick all the time. In fact, I haven’t been sick at all this past year. I have less headaches and more energy. And I truly believe it’s because I have less stress.
I knew the school environment was stressful. The constant decision-making, incessant monitoring, watching for safety issues, trying to meet impossible testing standards, discipline, and the ten thousand tasks a teacher endures a day plays a toll. Still, it wasn’t until I left teaching and let my body heal that I realized how sick the stress was making me.
I have never felt better physically than I did this past year. And that’s an eye-opening experience. I realize now that for the past several years, I’ve really only been living half a life—the half of life for work. I wasn’t energetic enough to really be present in my non-working hours because of the toll the stress was taking. I feel like a weight’s been lifted now, and it shows. People say that I look happier, healthier, more vibrant—and that’s because I am.
Suddenly, I have more time, energy, and passion for my hobbies. In addition to my day job, I’m a published author. In my last year of teaching, I thought I might quit. I didn’t have any ideas for a book, and I didn’t think I ever would. In this past year, I’ve written three new novels and have so many ideas for more. My creativity has increased tenfold because I realize I now have the mental capacity to chase my passions.
In teaching, we’re taught that your work is your life. But I have a new perspective now. I’m not living to work. I’m working to live the life that fulfills me. That’s a huge mindset change and shift.
4. Working in an environment of respect lights a spark in you.
A big reason I left teaching was because of the constant lack of respect from students and parents. I didn’t want a red carpet to be rolled out for me or a banner on an airplane to fly over the school daily saying thanks. Plain and simple, I wanted basic human decency and common courtesy. More and more as the years went on, I felt like those went away.
Being called every name in the book by students and parents, being told that because you don’t have kids you can’t be a good teacher, being accused of being underqualified despite three degrees and a publishing history a mile long—these wear on you, despite your best efforts.
Moving to the corporate world opened my eyes to how much abuse teachers really do accept as part of the job. I have never been sworn at in my new job. I have never been threatened. If I make a mistake, I’m able to fix it without seven meetings, shame, and degrading comments. I am able to be my genuine self without fear of being told I’m not good enough. In fact, most days, I’m praised for my efforts, my work, and my talents. I’m appreciated. It’s sad that appreciation was never really a part of my educational career.
As teachers, we’re told that “being disrespected is part of the job.” Or we’re told “kids will be kids” or that we signed up for it. But let me set the record straight.
You are worthy of being respected. You do not have to go into a place where you are verbally abused every single day. You are more than qualified for your job, and you shouldn’t have your credentials questioned every single day.
You deserve and are worthy of respect. Period.
5. You will miss your work friends.
I think in teaching, your co-workers really do become more than just people you work with. The bonds you form are so much stronger, perhaps because you’re “in the trenches” together. Leaving teaching, I knew I would really miss my work friends. I didn’t realize how much.
My new co-workers are amazing and kind, and I really think we’ll be close as time goes on. Still, leaving your best friends, your co-teachers, the people who were there for all the good and bad, it’s tough. I miss my best friend so much. I miss our morning coffee and catch ups. I miss the funny things that sometimes happened. I miss those connections.
We still stay in touch, of course, but leaving a job always puts a strain on the relationship just because of practicality. You will miss your friends dearly. It will be hard starting over and making new friends, especially if you’re an introvert like me.
But I also know that your friends will want what’s best for you—and if you’re truly happy, your friendship will ultimately benefit.
6. You can still incorporate teaching into your life if you leave.
I was sad this past year that I closed the door on teaching. I miss being in front of a class and talking about Emerson or doing that fun MLA activity I came up with. I miss talking about literature and teaching writing. I do. I miss the connection and my content. I miss the good times in front of the classroom or lighting a spark in a student for learning.
But leaving the traditional classroom doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate teaching into your life. I recently accepted an adjunct position at a college where I’ll get to teach one night a week, enough to still allow me to pursue my passion. There are all sorts of remote tutoring positions, local tutoring programs, or even online courses where you can still live out your passion.
As teachers, we’re sometimes made to believe we can do only one thing with our degrees. That’s so not true. First of all, when you’re looking to leave the classroom, know that you have so many skills that you don’t realize will translate to corporate world or whatever other field you’re interested in. Many of our skills encompass managerial skills, human resources, and project management skills. We just don’t think of them that way.
And secondly, leaving the traditional classroom setting doesn’t mean you can’t still teach. You can still find new ways to connect with that passion and live out your dream just in a new way that allows you to have work-life balance and be happy.
Should YOU leave teaching?
Leaving teaching is a difficult decision but also, in truth, the best thing I’ve done for myself. When I think back a year, I barely recognize that tired, stressed, always ill, drained woman I was. I see the photos of myself from that time, and I see a fake smile with exhaustion and sadness behind her eyes. This past year has had its challenges and hurdles, sure. Still, for me, I know I made the best choice for myself.
Ultimately, leaving teaching is a choice you have to make for yourself. But I leave you with three pieces of advice:
Sail forth, teacher, and find your new destiny if its calling.
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