My “Great Resignation” from Education
Why I hit pause on my teaching career.
The views expressed here are my own, based on my own experiences and those of my support system. I'm quite grateful to my employer for this opportunity to hit pause.
I don’t often get the opportunity to have conversations with new people - thanks, Covid - but when someone does ask, And what do you do?, I’m still inclined to say, I’m a teacher. It’s reflex. TEACHER has been the largest part of my identity for most of my adult life, and I think I will always feel like a teacher at heart. But the truth is, I’ve been out of the classroom for more than half a school year already with plans to take another year off. So why subtract this piece that’s so ingrained into who I am? It’s sort of a long story.
The reality of being a teacher
Teaching is an incredibly rewarding and humbling calling. We all do it for the students. Forming relationships and cultivating skills and witnessing growth and learning from them is an amazing way to spend your day. It’s also all-encompassing. Teaching requires so much of your attention, your energy, your heart; so many hours beyond the school day, not just in time but in mental and emotional capacity. The sum of all that weight equals teacher burnout. Even before the pandemic, more than 44 percent of new teachers left the profession within the first 5 years, and about 8 percent of teachers leave the profession every year.
The reality of being an English teacher
Educators of all content areas at every grade level have planning and grading and administrative duties that are time-consuming. My former roommates taught kindergarten, and while I was grading essays on weekends, they were cutting and organizing materials for their students or putting together flip charts for their classrooms. One of my best friends teaches in the Fine Arts, and she spends countless hours after school working with students, setting up for events, and attending art shows (or theater productions or concerts) in the evenings.
It’s hard to compare apples and oranges, but for everyone who has not been an English teacher, here is a break down of the time needed for grading:
140 students x 15-20 minutes per essay x 4 essays a year = 9800 minutes (163 hours).
Most of this work is completed outside of the “duty day,” which means a majority of grading has to be done during UNPAID personal time - after the school day, in the evenings, and on the weekends. And this is just the math for full-length, final draft essays. This estimate does not include in-class writings, short answer responses, essays as part of tests, journal entries… or projects… or…
The reality of being an English teacher + a mom
A new piece of my identity was born the moment my older son was born: MOTHER. Being one of the last in my circle of friends to have children, I was no stranger to what to expect when baby arrived. I knew a good night's sleep would be a thing of the past. I knew piles of dishes and laundry would infinitely grow alongside my fatigue. I knew that my heart would flood with love and my priorities would shift. I still feel like I was slapped in the face.
Before he was born, the hours I needed to complete my work (see equation above) didn’t seem as inconceivable. It never felt fair, and I definitely complained, but I was more willing to just suck it up and do it. Hey, it’s just part of the job. But once my son was in the mix, the last thing I wanted to do when I could finally spend time with him was ask somebody else to watch him so that I could work. Or give up more sleep to work. Or neglect any and all self-care to work. Now that I had to divide my attention between MOM and TEACHER, I longed for three day weekends and Spring Break and summer vacation more than I ever did before. There never seemed to be enough time to give my best energy to either role. I felt like I was always compromising and making concessions, knowing that I wasn’t necessarily the best teacher I could be, nor was I the best mom I could be. I spent a lot of time thinking about what else I could be doing rather than being present for what I was doing.
The reality of being an English teacher + a mom + a pandemic
Enter Covid, the game-changer. Daycare closed, but schools were still ‘operating.’ We had gone virtual, and teacher expectations were, admittedly, fairly reasonable under the circumstances. But I was teaching from home while taking care of a fairly new one-year-old. Just like everyone else, all our support systems faded away. My parents couldn’t come over and watch him while I worked. I didn’t arrange playdates with other moms of little ones to get a break. We spent so many hours within our property lines. Days felt monotonous, endless, stressful.
They were also filled with joy, love, and growth, so many wonderful moments that I would have missed if it weren’t for a global pandemic. I watched my little guy grow from a baby into a true toddler. His unsteady walk turned into a solid run; his vocabulary exploded, and suddenly we could have little conversations. He became this real, tiny person in front of my eyes. I didn’t miss the morning rush to get out the door or the nightly prep work to be ready to do it all again tomorrow. We often stayed in jammies all day. It’s too fresh to truly appreciate the opportunity Covid provided me - and I do recognize the extreme privilege in that statement - but I can already look back and be grateful for that time to slow down and just BE with him.
The reality of being an English teacher + a mom + a pandemic + another baby
Another change that coincided with Covid was a second pregnancy, and my younger son joined our family while we were (ARE) still in the midst of the pandemic. See everything I’ve outlined above and then multiply it by like a million.
A new reality
When my maternity leave ended, I joined my colleagues back in the physical classroom, and it was back to packing lunch every night, having the kids in the car by 6:20 am every morning (you can't be late to 1st period), very little autonomy to prioritize tasks throughout the day. While trying to teach virtually was so incredibly difficult and so incredibly dissatisfying, it did offer a flexibility and balance that I had been craving - and that I would lose with our “return to normal.” On top of that, teachers' workloads and caseloads returned to pre-pandemic status with the added expectation of providing mid-pandemic accommodations. "Covid-teaching" is truly the hardest teaching there is.
Becoming a mom for the second time, gaining some new perspective as a result of Covid, and having a few financial pieces fall into place, with my husband’s full support, I took the biggest risk I think I’ve ever taken. After 15 years in the classroom, I'm currently on child-rearing leave, which means I’ve paused my teaching career with the opportunity to come back to a job in my school system (within a certain time frame).
I’ve thought about leaving education, honestly, many times over the years. I would bet most teachers, even the ones who absolutely love their jobs, have imagined it. The expectations placed upon teachers, especially in the past few years, make the profession unsustainable if you desire a true work-life harmony.
I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe I’ll return to teaching, maybe I’ll stay in education but in another capacity, or maybe I’ll run with my writing business. What I do know is that when I added up all the demands on my time as a teacher and as a mother, it didn't allow any space for a deep and grateful breath for the life I have around me.