We’re going to address one of the biggest questions teachers who are thinking about leaving the classroom currently face and that is “Should I quit teaching or will leaving the classroom make me a quitter?”
I hear from teachers constantly who feel stuck in their current teaching job, but are too fearful to step into another career because of what others will think about that decision.
Maybe that’s you.
Maybe you’ve seen the heated arguments on social media or listened to the hushed whispers in the hallways at school about teachers who want to leave being “sell outs.” Those conversations keep playing like a broken record through your mind making you question your motives and your decision.
But let me be the voice of reason.
Whether you choose to quit teaching or stay in the classroom until you retire, you have the ability to make your own decision.
Should you quit teaching?
The truth is…everyone has an opinion and unfortunately, opinionated people get very brave on social media and type things they would never say to another person’s face. In fact, it’s really easy to call someone names or make them feel inferior from behind a screen.
And although those hurtful words are painful to hear, they have no power or control over you until you choose to allow the negativity to dictate your decisions.
So whether this negative talk is originating online, in the real world, or just in your own mind, this episode is for you. We are going to unpack the real mindset issues we need to discuss, acknowledge the reality of your situation, and face the truth.
Let’s take an objective look at what your world looks like right now.
Are you concerned about whether others will approve of your choice to quit teaching?
If your first thought after asking yourself whether or not you should I leave the classroom is “I wonder what ___ will think?” then you’re on the fast track to discontentment, burnout, and depression.
How do I know? Well, because that was me.
You see, my story is different from many others because the school environment I was working in was not toxic at all. In fact, it was amazingly supportive, but every day it was becoming more and more evident that this was not the path the Lord had for me moving forward.
My typical day consisted of getting up at 5:30 am, rushing my kids through the morning and our the door so we could arrive at school by 7:00 am. I would give them a quick hug and kiss as I pushed them out of my room.
I would teach all day and then when my boys came back to my room in the afternoon, I would rush them through homework and then continue working to prepare for the next day.
Most days, we would stay at school until 6 or 7 pm just so I could keep my head above the rising tide of requirements. We would get home just in time for everyone to eat whatever take out meal or random junk I could sling out to them quickly before bathing and getting ready for bed.
It took every ounce of my energy and focus to give my family a few minutes of my ultra-distracted time before I would fall into my laundry covered bed utterly exhausted with only one thought on my mind…I have to do this again tomorrow.
It had gotten to the point where I realized I was never making any forward progress. I was on the “hamster wheel” of life simply running as hard as I could in the same place. In my heart, I knew I couldn’t keep doing this.
I was so concerned about looking like the teacher who had it all together. The one with the “Pinterest perfect” classroom and the “Instagram-worthy” lessons. I had completely misplaced my priorities and I was beyond running on empty.
Does my story sound a lot like what you’re living in right now? Are you so concerned about what others will think that you’re willing to continue at this break-neck speed toward burnout?
But I want to bring this thought home by asking you two very probing questions.
How are your family relationships right now?
For many people, a major factor in choosing teaching as a career was having a coordinating schedule with their kids; summers and holidays off meant more time to spend together.
Was that a factor in your decision? It definitely was for me!
But have you noticed that lately you have very little time for your kids? Do you find yourself working later and later each day just to keep up with the requirements of your job? Is your patience completely gone once you get home? Does everything seem to make you angry or upset?
Are your family relationships suffering as a result of your job?
If you answered yes to any of these questions I want to point something out to you. One of the very reasons you became a teacher in the first place is now the one thing that’s in jeopardy because of your job.
What are your kids seeing?
As teachers, we teach children; that’s a given. But we have a greater impact on the children who live in our homes than those we teach in our classroom.
Our children see us live out our beliefs and our convictions on a daily basis. Yet if we are overwhelmed, impatient, and miserable, what are we teaching our kids?
We are essentially saying that these feelings and attitudes are what you can expect from your job one day. In other words, these feelings are just part of being an adult.
While we all need jobs, these careers shouldn’t be earmarked as negative, frustrating, and totally overwhelming all the time.
Sure, there are things about any job (even as an entrepreneur) that cause us to feel this way occasionally. But if your life is consumed by these feelings of negativity, our kids will believe they too have to face these feelings. Therefore resulting in no hope for their future.
If the roles were reversed and you saw your child experiencing what you are currently going through, you encourage your child to begin looking for a different career path. You would desire something better for your child than learned helplessness.
You would want your child to…
- believe in herself enough to know that she could find a career that serves others and brings satisfaction to her life
- have a growth mindset and know that he can be anything he wants to be…even if it means learning something totally new
- Find a career path that sets her soul on fire and allows her to make a difference.
But are you leading by example and teaching your kids a growth mindset currently?
If you aren’t sure, ask your kids to describe you and your typical attitude. Tell them to be honest (not that this is typically a problem for kids), but be prepared for what you will hear.
Trust me when I tell you this is an extraordinarily humbling exercise because kids are brutally honest; but it’s necessary. You see, kids are often like a mirror reflecting back the things that we don’t really want to see in ourselves. But just like a mirror shows us EXACTLY what we look like, our kids will often say those things that we fear most.
And no matter how well we think we’re hiding our emotions or how good we think we are at faking “being happy” our kids can see straight through it all.
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How to decide if you should quit teaching
I know this is a hard truth and to be honest, you may be ready to stop listening or stop reading at this point, but if you will hang with me, I have some tips to help you shift everything in the right direction starting today.
1. Make the decision
I can’t tell you whether you should leave the classroom or not. That decision is one that you need to make based on your unique circumstances.
The truth is, our world needs amazing teachers to fill our classrooms with positivity and encourage those impressionable learners with hope for themselves and their futures.
But coming to school each day full of bitterness and resentment is going to be evident to your students. It will be reflected in your teaching and it will fill your students with negativity.
If you’ve been thinking about how to quit teaching for a long time and you are letting the fear of others opinions or the fear of the unknown keep you stuck, then you need to make the decision today to start a side hustle, develop your exit strategy timeline, or write that letter of resignation.
If you want to talk through your thoughts and ideas, I would love to meet with you via Zoom for 30 minutes. It’s completely free and it would be a way for me to serve you and help you think through your decision objectively.
Just remember this…indecision is a decision.
2. Find small ways to be grateful
Maybe you’ve determined that choosing to quit teaching isn’t an option for you, but your attitude has become overwhelmingly negative. Maybe you know leaving is the right decision, but it’s going to take a while to work out the details and find a career to replace your teaching income.
Regardless of your decision, find small ways to be grateful.
When I was in elementary school, I experienced panic attacks almost daily. I was constantly afraid of irrational things and desperately fearful my parents were going to die.
It finally got to the point that my parents took me to a psychologist who was renowned for her work with kids. Unfortunately, everything she was telling my parents went against what they knew they needed to be doing to help me.
So they made the decision to find a different psychologist who turned out to be a complete blessing in my life. She had me do an exercise EVERY day before I went to sleep.
I had to write down 3 good things that happened that day. These things could be simple little things or huge events…the magnitude of the “thing” was irrelevant.
This exercise allowed me to shift my thinking from that of fear to blessing every single day.
Of course, my thinking didn’t shift immediately and I found it hard to come up with 3 good things every day. At first, I tended to repeat the same things day after day.
But as I got used to the practice, I found my thinking shifted from trying to come up with things at the end of the day to starting my day expectantly looking for good things to happen.
My thought process had been turned upside down.
Instead of looking for the worst, I began waiting expectantly for good things to happen. Then when I had those “bad” days that we all experience, I still found little nuggets of goodness tucked inside.
Maybe you feel like you’re drowning right now and it’s going to be a struggle for you to find three good things that happened today.
But I want you to rise to the challenge. Maybe you helped a child do something they’ve been struggling with or maybe you were able to put a smile on a co-worker’s face….even the smallest event or activity counts.
I know it feels completely counterintuitive, but I promise it works. You just have to be willing to try.
And whether you quit teaching or not is irrelevant. The key is cultivating an attitude of gratitude that will influence those around you in a positive way.
3. Kick self-doubt to the curb
I already know what you’re thinking, “Yeah sure, Jennifer. That’s just really simple….I’ll do that right now.” I know it’s not as easy as it sounds, but the fact is you should have confidence in your decision.
And if you’re hearing the word “quitter” echoing in your mind or being thrown at you online, consider from where these words are originating.
- Are they coming from someone else who feels trapped in their own career?
- Is your reason for wanting to leave based on a bad day or simply your need to prove a point?
- Do you want to leave a legacy of positivity even in the midst of struggle?
- If your best friend, spouse, or child was facing the same decision (based on your same reasons and experiences) would you say he or she was a quitter?
Being able to pinpoint why you are hearing this word echoing over and over and how you should respond are key to making the right decision for you.
As much as we feel like we’re under a microscope, people don’t actually think about us as much as we think they do. They are more focused on themselves and what other people think about them.
The only way you are going to be able to overcome this “quitter” mindset is by acknowledging why you feel like leaving the classroom is the right decision for you, how leaving will positively affect those you care about most, and accepting that you are no longer willing to be held captive by the negative narrative that’s been playing for far too long in your life.
So consider this your invitation to move forward with confidence. You’ve done all of the hard work. You’ve made the decision…now go for it!!
You have the power to choose whether or not you want to quit teaching and I cannot wait to support you along the way!