Why I left a profession that I love

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After teaching in a high school classroom for 9 years, I left. Not because I didn’t still love teaching, and not because I didn’t have a vibrant classroom where students wanted to be. Not because I still didn’t feel like there were 1 million things to try and 3 million lessons my students still had to teach me.

I left because I couldn’t figure out how to learn what I wanted to learn while shouldering the all-consuming mantle of “high school English teacher.”

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There were lots of reasons to leave. I could rattle them off, and you will recognize them because many teachers have shared their stories of leaving and many articles have been written about why teachers leave the profession. Here are some of these reasons: consistently increased expectations with consistently less time and resources provided to meet them. Lack of teacher expertise informing educational decision-making. Repeated emphasis on the importance of professional collaboration without consistent time allotted to do so. Ridiculous hours spent filling out paperwork for compliance reporting, new accountability, and increased budgeting scrutiny. So much time wasted on standardized tests and an outdated, damaging 100 point grading system. All with the paradoxical verbal message trumpeted that learning, not grades, should be the focus.

But if I’m honest, those frustrations weren’t the real catalyst for leaving. Teaching is a (mostly) awesome profession where I had the honor of leading 110 unique souls every day. I left not out of frustration with the bad, but instead to follow a passion, to pursue a dream. I left because I want to change the system. The whole thing….I know. And I didn’t know how to do that while living up to my own expectations for guiding 110 souls every day. Some teachers have figured out how to both manage a full-time teaching load and pursue systems change. But I couldn’t. I faced a choice, and decided to take my road less traveled, throwing my undivided energy at a new dream.

So, I left my classroom to seek a new kind of education.

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My current role has me neck-deep in thinking, writing, dreaming about schools, teaching, and, most importantly, learning. I work for a small nonprofit with huge, audacious goals, which is a perfect fit for me and my huge, audacious dreams. One of which is to open a school. That sounds bold, even to me. But someday I know that I will.

In this new working environment my time is no longer dictated by bells and marking periods. And without those as scapegoats, I’m learning about what truly holds me back. My own foibles and weaknesses become glaring when managing my own schedule, my own time, and often, my own work. This autonomy, as it turns out, is sometimes harder than having others manage it for you. I have to set my internal metrics of success beyond the familiar goalposts of papers graded, lessons delivered, and students engaged.

So, I left my classroom to get uncomfortable.

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Since leaving, I’ve had some time and space to reflect more deeply on the systems and cultures of schools. I’ve had the opportunity to work with people who push on these systems day in, day out–asking the hard questions, and then rolling up their sleeves to propose answers. I’ve been affirmed by colleagues and supervisors as much in the past 6 months as in the previous 6 years in the classroom. I want that not to matter so much, but it does.

I’ve also had the distinct privilege to see some of the awesome teachers and schools and states taking bold steps to create the systems we need for teachers and students. For example, there are over 90 schools in this country who have self-identified as TeacherPowered. That means that teachers are making the critical decisions about budgeting, scheduling, hiring, teaching, and learning, And that’s messy, it’s hard, it flies in the face of the hundreds of thousands of traditional schools operating all around them. However these teachers and schools shine on, and I get to be a part of sharing their stories. How freakin’ awesome.

So, I left my classroom to gain new inspiration.

It has taken me six months to write this post. I was scared to share the real reason I left. In fact, I’m still scared to put my audacious goals and aspirations out into the world. I also still grieve for the classroom I surrendered and the students I’m no longer in contact with. It’s still sometimes a tug-of-war for my heart, which I swear to you is a teacher-heart through and through.

But I left. And I’m learning and I’m uncomfortable and I’m inspired. I know that this is the right path for the right reasons. As a dear friend and mentor writes in her own story of leaving: “Let’s agree to leave our guilt at the juncture where we made our choice, where we boarded one ship instead of the other. Let’s write that guilt down on paper, roll it up tightly, bottle it, then throw that bottle out to sea. Let’s realize that our impact may look different, but each part we play in education is vital. And no matter which ship we have boarded, it is where we are supposed to be.”

Onward.

 

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12 thoughts on “Why I left a profession that I love

  1. I am so excited that you are so passionate about changing the things that are wrong with America’s education system! I am currently a college student studying education, and right now we are learning how to advocate for bigger issues within the profession of teaching. I feel so inspired after reading your blog and am so glad that there are people out there who are working so hard for what they are passionate about and to make a change for the better!

  2. Eloquent and profound. Here’s an unusual connection: Just this weekend, I attended a PCTELA session in which Kristen Buchanan from the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences in Lancaster talked about how nurses, like teachers, both feel like their voices are not heard and are not welcome—in fact, that they might be punished for telling what they’ve experienced. It always seems that the forms that teacher accountability takes are less designed to inspire aspiration than to invoke fear. So I believe that you are doing broadly important *political* work in making a case for teachers’ voices in decision making in our educational institutions. It’s time for the messy and hard work to begin in earnest. I look forward to reading more of your observations from that front.

    1. Dr. Crochunis, thanks for reading and stopping by to leave this encouragement. I too have marveled at the similarities between nurses and teachers because my younger sister is an ER nurse. The importance of unions, the emotional toll of caring for humans, the female dominance and the history of that, the leadership marginalization and political disenfranchisement…so many parallels. I’m excited to work on moving our system forward. I’m thankful to have mentors and colleagues like you in my network.

  3. Brianna, thanks so much for your honest and thoughtful post. I really needed to read this today as I am struggling in a school district that so needs system change and I don’t know if I am in the right place anymore. Your post gives me hope that perhaps I can have impact outside of the traditional classroom and still be involved in positive change.

    1. Thanks Sherrill for taking the time to leave a comment! I wish my story didn’t resonate with so many because I wish our system was evolved enough to keep its great, passionate teachers. However, I’m encouraged that we can support each other to advocate for the changes we need to make for a better system for future teachers.

  4. I love this! I am so so proud of you for taking the steps to both write it and share it. As we have discussed, your situation completely resonates with me. If you need a science teacher at your school I’m sure I could be available!

  5. I respect your choice to leave the classroom. I respect those who choose to “lead but not leave” more. Too many teachers build a platform on the backs of their students for their own glory and then jump ship when more money or convenience or platitudes are available. I’m not deciding that was your situation but it is common and then those same former-teachers lead PD for those of us who are still doing the work and preach a message that they aren’t practicing. I wish more educators would join the movements of change happening inside the walls of the schools where the students actually are even when it isn’t easy or comfortable to do it.

    1. Ms. Donnovan,
      Thanks for taking the time to read my post, and even more for the reply. I agree 100% that the most ideal situation is for teachers to have time, space, and support to lead without leaving. My best year of teaching was when I was able to do just that–teach in the afternoon and lead national work in the morning. If I could have been given time, space, and (ideally) compensation to lead without leaving I would. As we both pointed out, many still do. I work for the Center for Teaching Quality where our entire organizational mission is to help create systems where practicing (THIS IS IMPORTANT) teachers are able to lead the profession. The system in many places isn’t there yet, but I hope to help create it for other teachers. I hope to return to a classroom some day. And I hope that every teacher feels like s/he can make the decision that is best for their leadership, passions, and family.

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