Why you’ll never leave the classroom even if you say, “I want to quit teaching”

Fear manifests itself in many different ways, but ultimately, the reason MOST teachers will never leave the classroom even if they say, “I want to quit teaching” is because they would rather stay stuck doing something familiar (even though it makes them unhappy and causes them unending stress) than step out of their comfort zone.

Obviously, we all like to be comfortable. I don’t think anyone laying on the couch with a warm blanket says to themselves, “You know what? Time to make myself uncomfortable! I should get out from under this blanket and lay down on a bed of nails. ”

To quote Sheldon Cooper, “It’s called the comfort zone for a reason.”

We all desire comfort. There is familiarity and rightness in the world when we’re comfortable. But the truth is, sometimes the familiarity of our comfort zone causes us to stay in situations that we’ve outgrown. That blanket, which used to provide warmth, is now too small, and the remote has fallen out of reach and needs new batteries.

So we have a choice; we can either stay under the tiny blanket that is no longer covering our freezing toes thinking about how much we wish we hadn’t dropped the remote, or we can get out from under it and find a new comfort zone.

You get to decide whether you will let fear of leaving your comfort zone keep you stuck in your teaching job or you will take the leap of faith required to step into something that brings you joy and fulfillment.

But the reality of doing that is so much more complicated than just saying, “Let’s do this!”

Fear is quite complex and can take many forms. In the case of most teachers there are 5 common fears that keep them stuck in their current teaching position, and if you’re struggling with leaving yourself, I guarantee you will find one of these is your justification for staying.

The Fears That Keep You Stuck Even if You Say “I Want to Quit Teaching”

1| I won’t be able to make enough money

Money makes the world go round and while I don’t think we should ever be obsessed with gaining more and more, you and I are wise to know what is required to stay in our current lifestyle. Most teachers would agree that teachers should be paid more…across the board.

Yet ironically, the idea of leaving a job they consider low-paying is still terrifying. So while teachers claim they fear leaving teaching because they won’t make enough money, they also state that they don’t make enough money. Hmmmmm…

But that’s exactly how fear works. It gets your thoughts all twisted up until you can’t see which way is forward. Maybe you…

  • have student loans that you are still paying from your time in college.
  • fear that you will have to start out making less money outside the teaching realm.
  • just worry about money in general.

Trust me, I get it. When I left the classroom the first time to be a stay at home mom, my husband and I didn’t have a plan for ways I could make money from home. My only job was to be a mom, and in case you don’t know, that job does NOT pay well.

To say me leaving the classroom made our finances tight would be the understatement of the year. At this point, I was the primary breadwinner because my husband was still in graduate school full-time and working for a stipend at the local university.

But we knew this was the right decision for our family…even though the finances made no sense.

After a couple of years, I got creative and realized there were things I could do as a work at home mom that would help offset some of the financial burden my husband was carrying. I was able to make money selling my kids’ baby clothes online, creating scrapbooks for people, selling Premier Designs jewelry, having yard sales, cleaning our church, etc.

I came to understand that if I was serious about not having to be in the classroom, I needed to be hyper-focused on how I could help supplement our income.

The same rule applies to you. If you know for a fact that you physically, mentally, or emotionally cannot continue teaching in the classroom, there are options available. If you don’t know where to start, go back to Episode 3: How to Find the Perfect Job Outside the Classroom.

I walk you through the same process I go through with potential coaching clients! 

Then check out Episode 19: How to Ensure You Can Afford to Quit Teaching where I discuss the things you didn’t even realize would no longer be financial obligations once you quit teaching in the classroom.

While the fear of losing your paycheck is a very realistic concern, there are so many other alternatives available that will provide you with a matching or even higher income…you just have to look!

2| I don’t want to leave the security of my teaching job

This is a HUGE fear for many teachers because just like we talked about earlier, there is a sense of security in the known and in our comfort zone. In fact, many people feel confident in choosing teaching as a career because they know there will always be a need for teachers.

When we look back at earlier generations, stability was highly desired in a career. Therefore, it was common for individuals to start working at 20 and stay in the same job for 30-40 years. But the world has changed and in our technologically-advanced, highly-connected, and mobile society, this is no longer the norm.

Based on a study released in September 2021 by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of January 2020, “The median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was 4.1 years.”  This equates to many individuals having held between 12-13 jobs by their 65th birthday.

In the teaching profession at large, there has always been a consistent turnover rate for teachers. I personally believe this has a lot to do with the fact that the profession has always been predominantly female with many of those women being teachers during the child-bearing years.

Thus, many leave the profession to become stay at home moms or work at home moms for a period of time before returning to the classroom.

Maybe you never thought much about the security of your job until an older family member or friend asked why you would want to leave the security of your job to pursue something else. Then your fear immediately jumps into overdrive making you wonder why on Earth you would even consider such a ridiculous thought!

You see, while these individuals mean well, their own fears have come out to play. Because they found security in a traditional 9-5 job, their “advice” for you to “stay put” as a teacher is due to the fact that THEY would never leave a “secure” job.

But what about the flipside?

The jobs that we have determined are totally secure can quickly be lost. Think about it; there are a variety of things that could make your teaching position become nonexistent…

  • Your school has lost funding for your specific position
  • You’re not tenured
  • Your evaluation scores aren’t acceptable
  • Your students’ standardized test scores aren’t high enough
  • You have missed too many days
  • Your administration changes

This list is literally endless, yet we stay because we feel like our job is immovable. Unfortunately, the reality is not quite as guaranteed.

Administration need only decide you need to be dismissed or furloughed and that job “security blanket” is nowhere to be found. The sad truth is we give everything to our jobs, but we are easily replaceable. There is a long line of folks who are readily available to take your place and will probably cost the district less than what they are currently paying you.

Understanding that fact will make your decision to leave or stay much more clear.

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3| What if I can’t find fulfillment outside of the classroom?

Another genuine concern for many teachers who want to leave the classroom is the loss of fulfillment in a different job. As a teacher, you may thrive on the relationships with your students, and the opportunity to help your students succeed.

But what if you leave the classroom and you no longer feel useful? What if you never find the same kind of fulfillment you felt while in the classroom?

I get it! These are completely valid questions.

The truth is, every single person on this planet desires to find contentment. And it’s hard to wrap our brains around the fact that we can love some aspects of our job so much while utterly hating other parts.

When we experience true fulfillment in certain facets of our position, the exhaustion and dissatisfaction of the other areas becomes even more obvious.

Therefore, we struggle internally, trying to weigh the pros and cons, in order to make a decision about whether the negative parts of our job are bad enough to outweigh the good parts. 

Ultimately, teachers just like you, stay stuck because on the one hand you love your students and teaching in general, but your mind keeps repeating the same message…I want to quit teaching.

So the question I’d like to pose to you is this…what is fulfilling you as a teacher right now? What aspects of teaching do you truly love and know without a doubt you will miss-even a bit desperately-if you leave?

These are not questions you should pass over trivially or give a quick blanket answer. These are questions you need to dig into in order to find the real answers because this will be the biggest indicator as to whether or not you are truly ready to leave the classroom.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be able to seek out jobs that embody those deepest desires of your heart and allow you to thrive in an environment that values your strengths.

I promise you, there are jobs like that out in the big wide world, but to find them you have to be honest with yourself first!

4| I don’t want others to think I’m a quitter or that I’m crazy

If you’re a people pleaser, then this is most likely the biggest reason you cling to your position as a teacher even though you’re mentally shouting…I want to quit teaching!

You’re desperately seeking the approval of others, and this may come in the form of parental, friend, or random Internet follower approval. The expectations of others has become your ultimate burden, and therefore, your greatest concern for leaving the classroom is what others will think.

You mentally ask yourself these questions…

  • What will they say if I quit teaching?
  • Will they think I’m crazy to leave my job?
  • Will they still like me?
  • What if they disagree with my decision?

If you do mention the idea and it gets negative reviews from these people, you immediately drop the notion, buying into their line of thinking as opposed to the best decision for you.

Truth be told, their answers to these questions are rooted in their own deep-seated fears. But once uttered, the responses send you back to the safety of your comfort zone and current teaching position.

Now I’m not suggesting you make the decision to leave the classroom lightly.

You should absolutely ask those you trust for their thoughts in order to weigh all of the options. In my case, when I was thinking of leaving the second time, I spent a lot of time in prayer asking the Lord to give me and my husband unity about the decision.

I was not willing to create strife with my husband in order to leave, so we prayed for many months (and had a multitude of conversations) about all of the different elements before we both had peace about the decision.

Seeking approval is fearing others’ responses if you go outside of what “they” think is right for you, while seeking counsel is asking an objective person to provide their insight in order to see all of the facts.

The greatest difference between these two mindsets is who makes the final decision. Approval-seekers go along to get along by following the path their audience wants…similar to a “Choose your Adventure” story while those who seek counsel are merely looking to weigh all of their options before making their own decision.

5| What else can I do? I’ve only ever been a teacher!

This last fear is one that should not be discounted because while you might be repeating the phrase, “I want to quit teaching. I want to quit teaching. I want to quit teaching.” The truth is you genuinely don’t even know where to begin to find another career path.

You went to school for 4-8 years, depending on your educational background, and you fear you wasted your education by leaving the teaching field.

Maybe you have questions bouncing around in your mind that sound like this…

  • Who am I to try to do something different?
  • I’ve only ever been a teacher…what else could I do?
  • How can I change midstream?
  • What skills do I have that are any more desirable or applicable than anyone else?

These questions stem from a malady that runs rampant in our world. Imposter syndrome, as it has been coined, is defined as feeling like you’re a fake or a phony, or an imposter (as the name implies).

It makes you feel like a fraud and has you questioning your abilities. But here is the important thing to note, this feeling is based on fear. Fear that…

  • you won’t be good at anything else.
  • you will fail.
  • if you do get another job someone will discover that you aren’t capable.

But the truth is you have experience as a teacher, and in life, that has prepared you to do whatever you want to do. You have passions, ambitions, and goals that reach far outside of the classroom.

If you are hearing the sentence, “I want to quit teaching,” constantly echoing through your mind, then it’s time for you to acknowledge those aspirations and do something about it.

Don’t allow fear to dictate your decisions. You can do ANYTHING! You just have to be willing to take a leap of faith.