How do you know when it’s time to quit teaching?
Gone are the days of a job for life; permanency and security of the past have been replaced by temporary contracts, and career change is normal.
In teaching though, there still seems to a bit of the left-over expectation that teachers are always teachers. There are still teachers around whose career has only been teaching. I know quite a lot and even some who are close to retirement and have only taught in the same school for their entire career! I never thought it was ideal for a teacher to go from school to university and then back to a school without experiencing life and work outside of the education system.
Personally, I didn’t go straight into teaching and spent a couple of years in the public service before I realized that wasn’t for me. I also did a couple of years of Counselling within the Education system. For the rest of my career, I have been teaching but in 4 different countries and more schools, colleges, and universities than I can count. All of this taught me to be flexible and very adaptable. I was challenged and never had time to get bored.
Even today, when career change is more commonplace, there is still a lot of guilt attached to quitting teaching. All sorts of guilt. Can you relate to any of these?
guilt of abandoning the students midway through the year.
guilt at giving up what had once been your dream job.
feelings of being a failure and guilt because you can’t hack it anymore.
guilt at ‘wasting’ all the money (and time) you spent on getting qualifications to become a teacher.
But the reality is that teaching doesn’t have to be a lifelong career. Just because you have a degree in education it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything else. I recently read that only 25% of graduates work in a career related to their degree. So why should teachers be any different? With a bit of research, you will discover that your qualifications and classroom experience have prepared you for a wide range of other careers.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First of all, you need to have a good talk to yourself and work out whether leaving teaching is the right move for you.
So how do you know when it’s time to leave? Here are some of the signs:
1. You no longer feel that sense of spark/enjoyment about your work. You’ve lost your passion.
When you began teaching you were full of energy and excitement. Now that spark has gone and you are wondering if you can continue teaching for the next 10, 20, 30 years. If teaching no longer fulfils you, you might need a new challenge to re light the spark. If you have lost your passion for teaching it will be hard to hide that from students and staff and other problems will likely arise.
2. You spend most of Sunday dreading going to work on Monday.
After spending much of the weekend catching up on schoolwork you haven’t had enough time to relax and recuperate. By Sunday evening you are feeling anxious about Monday. It’s common for teachers to have problems sleeping on Sunday night as their minds are focused on what they have to do on Monday. And so, like a hamster on a wheel the process repeats itself week after week and you feel trapped and unable to get off your wheel.
3. What you are being asked to do no longer aligns to your values (a big one for me)
You likely got into teaching because you wanted to make a difference. The increasing focus on data collection, which results in more paperwork for the teacher, and isn’t what students need has changed the teaching/learning experience over recent years.
Data input takes up so much of your time that you barely have the energy to plan and create high quality educational experiences for your students. You are required to follow a program that is so jam packed you have no opportunity to be creative. You know that this approach is not what is best for your students, but you don’t have the flexibility to teach them the way you know they learn. You have lost your passion for teaching because you can’t make the difference you want to make, and you can’t do anything about it.
It is also likely that you are spending a lot of your teaching (and non teaching) time managing behaviour.
4. Your work-life balance is negatively affecting your family and social life
Unrealistic expectations and an ever-growing workload of paperwork, marking, report writing, planning and assessment actually take longer than the delivery of a lesson. Add to that all the extra work required this last year because of the pandemic and it is not surprising that teachers are under pressure.
The expectation is that when you can’t fit all the work into your working hours, you have to do it in your own time. As a result, teachers spend their evenings and weekends marking, planning and generally catching up on paperwork. This of course is unsustainable and has a negative impact on families, relationships and your social life.
5. You constantly feel stressed and burnt out
You are doing your best, but you can never keep on top of things. The constant stress and demands of students, parents, admin, are severely affecting your physical and mental health. You may be suffering from anxiety, insomnia, chronic fatigue or becoming frequently ill - all of which could be your body’s way of telling you to make some changes or get help.
6. You are working in a toxic environment which is affecting your self-esteem and sense of worth as a teacher and a person.
Education systems in many countries now place an increased emphasis on data at the expense of wellbeing. You are being pressured to meet unrealistic targets. When students don’t perform to the level deemed appropriate it becomes the teacher’s fault. You become the focus of reviews, observations etc. and are made to feel that the problem is you when of course there are many contributing factors. Even though you were confident in your teaching abilities and have a good track record, all of a sudden you are made to feel inadequate you begin to doubt yourself and your self-esteem plummets. Overtime this affects your sense of self-worth outside the classroom too.
7. You are bored, don’t feel challenged or you feel you are no longer moving forward in your career
There are no career opportunities in your school, or you are overlooked. You want to be challenged and recognized for your achievements but there are no opportunities for promotion in your school or you are overlooked for opportunities that arise or you apply for. You know you have the ability to do more, and you feel your ambitions are not going to be realized in your current situation.
If you recognize one or more of these warning signs, then it is probably time to move on
So, if you have decided that teaching is no longer for you, what’s next?
Contrary to what many people think, your teaching qualifications and classroom experience equip you for many different jobs, not just in education. The key is to identify your transferable skills and convert them to the language of the industry/profession you are applying for. You will need to do this; you can’t expect prospective employers to recognize your skills unless you express them in their language.
If you’d like to explore careers that are meaningful, align with your values and match your needs and requirements I can help.
I am currently (April 2021 when I am writing this), offering a one-to-one coaching package which is a sort of beta test/trial of my new online course at 50% of my regular coaching price. Contact me here to discuss the details or send me an email.