Thoughts from One Year After I Quit Teaching High School

Last year I wrote about how I felt the day after leaving my job as a High School English teacher. It’s currently one year later, it’s the first day of school, and the bell has just sounded …

A few weeks ago I found myself in Michael’s looking at the planners. The one that caught my eye read “Teaching is the profession that creates all other professions,” and for a moment I felt a pang of sadness that I was no longer in a public school. It didn’t last long. It’s been a year since I left my High School teaching job, and it was the best decision I could have possibly made. This post is for all the teachers still struggling: I don’t know what the best path for you is, but here’s how I feel now, one year after leaving. Please understand that I am now an adjunct at a community college, so I’m not out of the profession yet, just public High School.

Earlier in the summer my dad asked me how I felt about not being in the classroom anymore. I thought for a moment and said, “Well, no one’s called me a b***h in a year, so I feel great.” I wasn’t picked on when I was in High School, if anything I picked on other people (sorry, all); however, as a High School teacher you can’t really fight back that much, and the kids know it. I was called a b****h, I was called ugly regularly, I was told I had a big nose, and I felt the full force of being the less popular member of a teaching couple. My partner is the fun teacher, the cool teacher, the guitar playing teacher, the one who tells the kids he hates them and they all laugh. One girl said to me, “Why is Mr. S- with you when he’s so fun and you’re so boring?” Some of it rolls off your back, some of it cuts down to the bone, and none of it concerned the administration.

Some teachers get all AP, Honors, and IB classes. Some teachers get kids who are in abusive homes, on drugs in class, or who are in and out of prison. No teachers get support. At least, where I was at. Administration wanted referral numbers down, so if a student got a referral they would throw it out more often than not. Imagine that for a moment. A teenager gets mad at a teacher, calls that teacher a b***h, throws a desk, and walks out of the classroom. The teacher writes a referral, the front office gets that referral, and then the front office throws the referral away. Would the teenager be better behaved? Now imagine 30 of your 150-200 students are “one of those” teenagers, and you will get an idea of what it’s like.

Update: Now this is what happened to me when I was teaching, but I’ve heard the school that I was at is trying to correct it. This is, in part, because the school district is hemorrhaging new teachers, with most new teachers leaving the profession within 5 years (I lasted 3). I don’t know if these changes will work, but they needed to happen years ago.

Regardless, another issue was that there is and was no attendance requirement at my school. Of approximately 180 school days, students would regularly miss 45-90 days and they would still be promoted to the next grade level and/or graduate. Think about that. Students would miss half of the year and still graduate. Administration’s reaction? They just wanted their graduation numbers up. “Give them an alternate assignment,” we were told. An alternate assignment that covers 3 weeks of missed class time? And you’re juggling approximately 20 kids who are absent this much, all in different classes and on different absence schedules, by the way. If you don’t pass them? You have to tell the office why, including everything you did to help them, which you were required to document. Then admin would just put the student in an online class for 3 days and they’d pass anyway.

Update: I’ve also heard that the online classes at my school will only be after school now, not during school, and that kids won’t be able to make up classes the week before graduating anymore. That was such a huge problem; I’m glad it’s being addressed.

However, at the time I was teaching, all the students knew this loophole existed. All of them. All of them. 150-200 teenagers knew that there were basically no rules. Imagine your house if your 1-3 teenaged children knew that they had no rules. Now multiply that by 50. Do you know what it feels like to look up at a stage full of students in cap and gown, and as one walks to the front to receive their diploma, you have the urge to boo? Because I do. That’s such a messed up feeling, and I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. The truth is that teaching was making me into a person that I couldn’t stand. I’m glad that I left that horrid woman behind, because being her was hell.

Some people have the magic teaching touch. Funny thing is that, in my own way, I loved teaching, but maybe I loved it too much. I woke up at 4 AM to write lesson plans and worked until 4 PM grading papers. When a whole class failed a test I would beat myself up inside since, clearly, I had failed to teach them. I bought school supplies, motivational stickers, food for students who didn’t have money to eat, tissues, pencils, and books. I called DCF when kids were clearly being abused, and cried with students who didn’t know how to handle the things that hurt them. I genuinely was the ‘school mom’ of some of my students; I truly loved some of them with all my heart.

I was also so tired, so tired, tired all the time, so tried I felt like I was going to die. I need a lot of sleep, I’m one of those weird people who need 9 hours a night to not need a nap in the afternoon. At my school, teachers had to get in a 6:40 AM. That meant I had to leave my house by 6:10 AM at the latest, which meant I was waking up between 5-5:30 AM. I could never get enough sleep, and since I was up so early I ended up destroying my eating habits. Our lunch break at the school was 10:30 AM. What madness is that? So I’d eat breakfast before school, school lunch, second lunch around 2:30 PM (and I was starving by then, so it was usually fast food), and dinner. A whole extra meal! No healthy snacking (because you can’t teach while eating carrots) and no water (you cannot just go to the bathroom, you can’t leave students unmonitored in class). Then when I got home I’d nap because I didn’t have enough sleep, and I was so mentally exhausted from the day that I stopped exercising. In three years of teaching I gained a ton of weight. Plus I was sick constantly. No lie, one time I missed 3 days of school (which is way too much) because of a killer flu, so I forced myself to go in. That day I started coughing uncontrollably, and I coughed so hard that I threw up on myself and my laptop. Zero dignity left. None.

There are only three reviews of my High School teaching posted online, and one reads “I don’t think she likes teaching, and she can’t control a class.” They’re partially right. I never figured out how to control really misbehaved classes, and since I couldn’t control those classes, I never ‘earned’ the high achievement classes. It was a spiral with my heart in the center, and last year I gave up. I was never going to be the teacher that I dreamed of being, like my grandma and great-grandma were. I couldn’t hack it in the public classroom.

I’m at a community college now and it’s definitely better. Some of the old issues are still there, but they’re diminished, and if a student is really awful, I only see them 30 times vs 180 (or 90 if they don’t attend school). Occasionally, I actually feel like I’ve helped someone, which is an amazing feeling. A year after leaving teaching I’m much happier, I haven’t gotten the flu, and I’m back at the gym. That’s my story one year later; I can’t promise it will be yours, but if you want to boo students, and/or you’ve thrown up on yourself and not cared, it may be time to leave the classroom.

Image via Happy Planner

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