Last year I took the enormous decision to leave my job as a classroom teacher. But, in the famed words of Elizabeth Bennett – ‘I should not consider myself to be quitting that sphere’.
‘Quit’ is one of the weightiest verbs bandied about when discussing teachers leaving the profession. While the dictionary definition is ‘to leave’, I find it used more and more as a word with negative connotations. Quitting implies you couldn’t handle it, or denotes leaving others to carry a mantle which is heavier the less people that bear it.
The mantle of teaching is heavy, yet hugely rewarding. The marking, planning and expectations are tempered with the moments of ‘getting it’, achievements of the children, and a lesson thoroughly engaged with. The sense of success to know you have delivered that moment, and been instrumental in the learning process leaves you feeling positive and life-changing. You go into teaching in order to better the lives and learning of children – it is not an easy choice to relinquish that. However the most effective teachers will be those who enjoy the job and the difference they make, more than they dislike the long hours. When the reverse is true, are we in the job through guilt and a sense of duty rather than being passionate practitioners any longer?
However, if we who are teachers suggest that those who leave teaching are quitters, are we not guilty of the very thing we often complain of? Are we diminishing the value of the jobs then taken by these former teachers? We are all too familiar with those who disregard our profession because it’s 9-3, 39 weeks a year; what entitles us to suggest moving to a different role is less worthy? I would defend the value and work of teachers to anyone who will listen; I will also defend my decision to leave the vocation.
And vocation it is. For me, the decision wasn’t so much to ‘quit’, as to choose what I wanted from life. I love teaching children; I love the moments when they explore and understand something new. I didn’t love the constant guilt, pressure, and sense of impending failure, even though I’d never failed anything in my 5 years of teaching. Will I miss the summer holidays? Most definitely. But staying in a job because of the holiday package, and counting the days until the next one, is not a recipe for career happiness and success in my mind. I chose to live my life – and in leaving teaching, that’s what I’ve been able to do. Evenings and weekends are my own (as are the less frequent holidays), I read, I clean my house (occasionally), I even accept midweek invitations!
I don’t feel that leaving after the famed first five years, as such a high proportion do, means I’ve given in. It means I’ve tasted, seen, and didn’t find it to be good for me personally. I rejoice that talented colleagues and compatriots thrive on it! Do I consider myself less of a talented teacher? No. In fact, my resignation meant I heard more than I ever had how effective I was, and how much of a difference I made to the children in my classes; I doubt it will surprise many that it was only subsequent to my resignation that I heard these positives with such regularity.
Sharing my decision to leave (without a job to go to) was considered by some – even in teaching – to be financial madness and a possible early-life crisis. To my mind it was a heady mix of relief, risk and anticipation. I am fortunate to now work in learning outside the classroom, and still be a teacher and educator, albeit without the day to day pressures of the classroom. I hope as a society we will be one day able to acknowledge with graciousness, the hard work and dedication teachers exhibit, both within the profession and when the choice is made to leave.
As a former-teacher, I vow to defend your commitment and working hours to the general public for the rest of my days. But I’ll also defend my decision to leave, and to know I am not a failure or a quitter, despite what it often felt like.
To conclude in my own rephrasing of Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett…
“You are teachers; we are former-teachers; let us consider ourselves equal.”