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Mindset & Motivation   |   Nov 4, 2014

If you agree with this statement, it’s time to quit teaching.

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

If you agree with this statement, it’s time to quit teaching.

By Angela Watson

A teacher recently asked me the following question:

How do you know when it’s time to find another career? I’ve been at this for a couple of years and tried switching schools and grade levels to see if that helped, but watching the kids learn and grow just doesn’t do it for me. I feel like the kids are supposed to be the reason I go to work every day, but I don’t really enjoy them. Helping them and seeing them make progress doesn’t really give me a feeling of satisfaction. Does that mean I need to quit?

My answer to her was this: Yes, I think you should quit. And here’s why.

Enjoying your students is the key to sticking with this profession and loving your work as a teacher. If you don’t enjoy being with the kids, what’s left? The meetings? The testing? The paperwork? Not every moment with students will be enjoyable, but I truly believe that the kids should be the source of energy, joy, and laughter that makes the job worthwhile.

If you don’t derive a sense of satisfaction from watching kids learn and grow, that does not make you a horrible, heartless person. It does make you a person who’s going to get burned out on teaching rather quickly, because there aren’t a lot of other perks or rewards to the job.

If you agree with this statement, it’s time to quit teaching.

Here’s my advice to this teacher, and any others who recognize themselves in this post: Figure out what you DO love about teaching, and start planning how you can spin that into a different career.

Do you enjoy planning your lessons, just not implementing them with students? Maybe you can create materials for TeachersPayTeachers, corporate training modules, or curriculum resource companies.

Do you enjoy teaching lessons, but not dealing with the constant interruptions and behavioral issues? Become an instructional coach, administrator, college professor, or corporate trainer. Find opportunities in which you can teach adults the topics and skills you’re most passionate about.

Do you enjoy decorating and organizing the classroom? Make you should look into interior design, or become a personal organizer or personal shopper.

Do you really love your subject matter or a particular aspect of education? Write a book about it, teach a college course on it, become a consultant, or find other ways to get paid for sharing your expertise with the world.

It’s scary to give up a steady job, and it’s not easy to transition into a different career. But if you don’t enjoy your students or get satisfaction from seeing them learn, I truly believe it’s time to quit teaching. Your students deserve to have a teacher who’s in the job whole-heartedly…and you deserve work that you’re passionate about. Start looking for opportunities outside the classroom now (maybe an alternative job in education), and make the move as soon as you feel ready. You can even begin pursuing other work in a part-time, freelance capacity and build from there. There are many edupreneurs who make a great living from a variety of income streams rather than from one full-time job.

Teaching is not a career you can coast through half-heartedly for 30+ years until retirement. It’s hard work. And I think the hard work is only worth it if you really, really love connecting with kids and watching them learn and grow.

If that’s not the case, it’s time to quit.

What are your thoughts on this? Am I drawing too firm of a line in the sand? How would you advise a teacher who’s thinking of quitting because she or he doesn’t get satisfaction from working with kids?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. As usual, Angela, you are right on point! I couldn’t agree MORE! Teachers are a special breed- it’s not for everyone. If you lack the passion that you describe here, teaching is not for you.

  2. I think that we go through highs and lows in this career. You can’t expect to be excited about the job every single day! I’d love to meet that teacher! Sometimes we experience days that are really rough which can make us think that we’re done. But then there are those great days where most everything goes according to plan, every student is with you, and smiles and laughter abound. We need support from each other. When I have those really challenging days, (sometimes weeks! )I rely on my colleagues to help me through. We have one of the toughest jobs in the world! We’re not going to love it every single moment of every single day. I’ve learned that I have to take care of myself, and put my family first. I’ve had to step back and reflect on my priorities. There are only so many minutes in each day. I do what I can, and I don’t put the whole weight of EVERYTHING having to do with the career or my students on my shoulders. Most importantly, I ASK FOR HELP!!! Sometimes, I even demand it! We cannot do it all and I think that when I acknowledged that reality, everything got more manageable. We don’t have to quit when we feel the way this particular teacher does. She’s just burned out and needs to take a step back and truly decide what’s important. She also needs support from colleagues, administrators, and the district. She may have come into the profession with high hopes and that optimism that we all felt when we first started. She may just need our help finding her way back to that (I think it’s impossible to feel optimistic every day. I do think it’s possible to be hopeful.). Sometimes, feeling alone in this profession can make a teacher cynical and bitter. With all the changes/challenges we are facing as teachers RIGHT NOW (CCSS, SBAC testing, value added evaluations, Vergara) we need to support each other as much as possible.

    1. This is lovely advice! Thank you so much for sharing it, because I think it’s helpful for the majority of teachers who get burned out. Most of them say to me, “I love the kids, but ___” and then all the other bureaucratic stuff gets filled in the blank. Those are the teachers who I think need to do what you recommend: get a support system, step back and connect with what’s truly important, etc.

      This particular teacher has a more unique problem, though–she doesn’t love the kids or get a sense of satisfaction from helping them learn. She never did, from day one, so that’s not burnout, in my opinion. It’s a matter of having a personality type that is not suited to enjoy classroom teaching.

      We can’t often teach the way we know is best. But there are those little lightbulb moments where a child finally understands something for the first time, and those are the moments that make the other things worthwhile. If those moments don’t make you happy, I just don’t think teaching is the profession for you, and there’s no point in trying to stick it out.

  3. What a positive, encouraging treatment of a challenging topic, Angela. Well done!
    In my very first year of teaching, I recall senior colleagues publicly counting down the years, months, days and hours until they would be able to retire. Although physically there, their hearts and minds were already elsewhere. Both they and their students suffered. I can remember vowing to myself that if the day ever came when I couldn’t be whole-heartedly ‘there’, I would leave – whatever the cost.
    You are right: inspiring learners is at the heart of teaching. I have ‘stayed in the profession’ for almost 40 years, and I still LOVE what I’m doing. However, that is partly because I did some of what you’ve suggested: I’ve gone from secondary to primary to university to corporate to teacher-training and consulting. I stayed in two richly rewarding teaching situations (Primary & Uni) for seven years. Even there, when I began wondering, “Did I say this to them yesterday, or was that two years ago?” I moved on to new challenges.
    Are you taking too firm a line? NO! You’ve made a solidly reasoned case – beautifully.
    Yes, I agree (having done it many times) that it is always scary to give up a steady job. But fear of losing a steady income should not be the primary reason for staying. I have always found that the rewards of living a life doing work which I believe in easily compensates for any temporary “loss”.
    Additional advice??? Before acting ‘precipitously’ our friend could find a mentor / counselor / pastor / wise friends, and take some time to explore his or her fundamental values. Finding greater clarity on life’s “Why am I here?” questions might shine light on how he/she DOES want to share the remaining gifts of days, time and energy which we call “life”. He or she might even find new purpose in guiding kids as they learn and grow.
    Keep up the good work, Angela.

    1. I appreciate you sharing your story, Bryan. It’s great to hear that you have experimented with different roles in education over time–that has been helpful for me in keeping my passion, as well.

      I really like the advice you give at the end about exploring fundamental values before choosing another career. It’s critical to think about what your gifts are and how they can be used…otherwise, you might end up in another role that’s not a good fit.

  4. Hi,
    I’m an Australian teacher who has been teaching Primary (Elementary) school for nearly thirty years and I’m coming up to retirement soon so I have done a lot of reflection about both my career and teaching in general over the past few months. Your article does make sense at first read, on an emotional level, but given closer thought there are deeper issues at work here sometimes, for teachers who are in this situation, ie not enjoying watching the kids learn and grow, feeling burnt out, and so on.
    I know from my personal experience that my enjoyment of teaching, of seeing the students learning, has always depended very much on how much ownership I have been allowed over developing the content, strategies and resources I have used in my teaching program. I do believe that there is a direct relationship between these factors, just as educators understand that students engage more deeply with content and strategies that they have input in and a sense of ownership with. Students will learn from a program I have not developed, and I will see them learning and I will interested in their progress, but I will not feel the same excitement in teaching it and knowing that I have had a direct responsibility for their learning achievement, that it was my innovation and insights, my experience and knowledge of my craft that moved each student from A to B, that I did it. That is something that keeps a person in teaching for thirty years.
    So often we do not do for ourselves as professionals what we know works for our students; I’ve seen it in professional learning sessions, staff meetings and so on since I started teaching. We don’t apply the same teaching and learning principles to ourselves as adult learners as we do to our students; ownership, engagement, differentiation.
    I don’t have experience of the US education system, however any prescriptive system that leaves it’s teachers without professional freedoms to develop outcomes with imagination and creativity, that doesn’t support initiative and independent thinking in ways to deliver the common core, and that withholds resources for imagination, will ultimately suck the joy, motivation and life out of any teacher.
    Instead of arguing that those struggling teachers just get out as fast as they can, they need to be encouraged to examine what the issue is, and structures need to be in place to support them to achieve more meaningful, inspired, engaged teaching practice.
    Somewhere in the person, when they started out, must have been an ideal about teaching that sustained them through many hard years of university study and the early years in classrooms, and something in the system has contributed to derail that ideal. Again, teachers must be supported when the spark is missing, given inspiration, resources, freedoms and opportunities and shown what they can achieve, and only if the spark isn’t then ignited, should they be encouraged to quit.
    Yes of course, we don’t need bad teachers who are apathetic or worse. But let’s not let go of the spark before we are truly sure it cannot be reignited with a burning passion to be an even more accomplished educator than ever before.

    1. Jan, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. I couldn’t agree more with this statement: “…any prescriptive system that leaves it’s teachers without professional freedoms to develop outcomes with imagination and creativity, that doesn’t support initiative and independent thinking in ways to deliver the common core, and that withholds resources for imagination, will ultimately suck the joy, motivation and life out of any teacher.”

      I also really appreciate your point that it’s hard to feel a sense of satisfaction when kids are learning if you do not have a hand in designing the learning activity or choosing the learning outcomes. When we are asked to implement a pre-determined lesson for which we have no input or control over, it’s hard to really enjoy teaching it or even feel like we played much of a role in the kids’ learning.

      In this particular teacher’s case, she did not enjoy helping kids learn, period. I asked if she might want to work with kids in a less restrictive setting, and she wasn’t particularly excited about the idea. I do think for her, the amount of energy and work it takes to teach kids in any capacity is probably not going to be worth it, because it’s not something she inherently enjoys.

      However, I think many, many other teachers will relate to the scenario you described: they don’t get satisfaction from seeing their kids learn, because they and their students have no autonomy or ability to express themselves creatively. It’s not generally not that satisfying to watch kids fill in bubbles correctly on a test. Thanks again for raising those issues.

  5. While I understand most of what you’re saying, I strongly disagree with the advice that someone who like the teaching but hates the behavioral issues become an administrator. That seems like the complete opposite of what they should do. By becoming an administrator, you would ONLY be dealing with behavioral issues and constantly be interrupted by fires in the school (either literally or figuratively).

    1. Such a good point–principals are dealing with TONS of behavioral problems all day long. In suggesting that a burned out teacher become an administrator, I wasn’t thinking of a principal job, but rather, someone who works in an administrative role for the district. That wasn’t very clear from the article, and I’m glad you brought this up.

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