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Teaching Tips & Tricks   |   Nov 22, 2012

Why I quit my teaching job mid-year (no, it wasn’t the testing)

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Why I quit my teaching job mid-year (no, it wasn’t the testing)

By Angela Watson

I wanted to write a post for those of you who are barely making it, and are so dreading the return to school the following morning that you can’t even enjoy your evenings off. The idea of going back to that place just makes you sick to your stomach. I get it. I have been in your shoes. And I’ll share with you what happened when I quit my teaching position at exactly this point in the school year almost ten years ago.

What my teaching situation was like

Quitting was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. My administrators were blindsided by the decision–after all, I was an experienced teacher with multiple years in urban schools, and I had a good handle on my classroom. My students were learning, and their benchmark test scores showed strong gains. The kids liked me, their parents liked me. Things seemed to be fine. But what people didn’t know was that it took EVERYTHING out of me to keep it that way.

Things seemed to be fine. But what people didn’t know was that it took EVERYTHING out of me to keep it that way.

I had just moved to the state and had no idea what to expect in my new school. I was disappointed to learn that most of my second graders were reading on a late kindergarten level, and the pressure to get them up to speed was weighing heavily on me. We had no windows in our classroom, and were not allowed to have recess or any break at all during the day (per district mandate), so I was stuck in a tiny, dark classroom with a large class of energetic seven-year-olds and zero outlet for all their energy.

Beyond our four walls, the school’s atmosphere was in total chaos. We couldn’t send students to the bathroom alone, as there had been instances of both girls and boys being raped there by other students. One of my kids found a knife on the ground on our way to lunch. An off-duty police officer and a drill sargeant were hired to help control the students in the cafeteria: one of them would bend over and scream in the children’s faces while the other marched up and down the center aisle, yelling into a microphone as the kids threw food around his head.

Not exactly a fun working and learning environment.

Things were quite a bit calmer in my classroom, but student behaviors still posed a huge problem. Getting students to respond appropriately to even the smallest request took Herculean, first-day-of-school efforts from me. It was like the movie Groundhog Day. We practiced the same basic routines and procedures over and over, and three quarters of the class just wasn’t internalizing anything.

Why I quit my teaching job mid-year (no, it wasn’t the testing)

My breaking point

I remember the exact breaking point. I hadn’t used our social studies books yet that year, but there was a particular passage I wanted the kids to check out as an intro to our activity. I said to the class, “Okay, when you hear the magic signal, you’re going to take out your social studies books and turn to page 35.” At the mention of the word social studies, one student burst into tears and crawled under desk so he could bang his head against the floor. (Later I learned this was a reaction to social studies he’d begun having in first grade and his previous teacher had no idea why.) Another boy murmured something under his breath, causing all the children in his vicinity to say, “Awwww…Andre called you the B word!”

Simultaneously, another child took out his social studies book but accidentally dropped it on the floor, causing the children around him to laugh. “What you laughing at, punk? Shut the F up!” and then punched the kid nearest him in the arm. The child who was punched did the same thing right back. The two of them sat there glaring at each other, and the children around them were either frozen in anticipation or egging them on to a fight.

Almost every child in the classroom was now either disrupting the lesson or distracted by the disrupters. One child had her hand up asking to go the bathroom. Another had his hand up and was pointing at the child next to him, who was gleefully ripping out pages of the social studies book. Yet another child was tapping me on my arm and asking me to repeat the page number.

As I took a deep breath and made a decision about which fire to put out first, I heard a scuffle outside the door and a voice come over the intercom. “Lockdown, code 3. Lockdown, code 3.” That meant the police were pursuing a suspect in the neighborhood, and I had to cover the small window on our door and move the class away from it.

I wanted to teach…and THAT wasn’t teaching

It was in that moment that I knew my job was not worth the energy expenditure I had to put out everyday. I realized that I was up against too many obstacles, and most of them were insurmountable. Things were not going to improve significantly and I was going to go home exhausted every day for the entire year.

I was managing the classroom, I was maintaining some sense of order, but I wasn’t teaching.

It wasn’t that I was incapable of handling it. That day, I could have had the class back on task within a minute or two after all those interruptions. But those things happened all day long, every day. I was managing the classroom, I was maintaining some sense of order, but I wasn’t teaching.

I wanted to have deep conversations with my students about current events.

I wanted to delve into books with them and watch their eyes light up when they made connections between the text and their own lives.

I wanted to see them develop a sense of curiosity and wonder about the world through investigations in science.

I wanted to teach.

But after seven weeks of school–almost the entire first quarter–the kids still weren’t anywhere near ready for those things. And so I was still spending the entire day disciplining students and teaching them basic work habits and socio-emotional skills.

The worst part? All teachers who were new to the district were required to stay in the same school for THREE YEARS. Sticking it out until June wouldn’t have done me any good, because I would have had no choice but to return to the same situation again in the fall. And again the following fall. I was trapped in that level of stress for another two and a half years, and the thought of going in for even one more day after the long weekend passed was enough to make me physically ill.

And yet the guilt I felt over even thinking about quitting was indescribable.

Making the decision to quit my teaching job

Was I really willing to abandon such a needy group of children in the middle of the school year?

What kind of person would give up on those kids and look for an easier job just so her own life could be more comfortable?

I felt selfish. I felt like a hypocrite. I felt like a failure as a teacher.

But I had to do it.

My principal was shocked and furious, vowing that I’d never work in the district again (Not for a million dollars, lady!, I wanted to yell.)

Even worse was the unexpected reaction of my students. I thought they’d be devastated, but most of the kids barely blinked when I told them Friday would be my last day. Part of their nonchalance was because of their young age, but I realized with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that they were so used to losing teachers and other important adults in their lives on just a moment’s notice that this was par for the course.

I got hugs and letters and a few tears on the last day, but the majority of the class was so wrapped up in their own issues that they weren’t even thinking about me. Five minutes before the final bell rang, two of my toughest kids got in a physical altercation over an eraser one of them had thrown, and I was so busy dealing with them and school security that there was no opportunity to have wistful goodbyes. My time at that school ended just as chaotically as it had started.

What happened after I quit my teaching job: a fresh start in a new school

My decision to quit in the  middle of the year would have been much tougher if I’d had to leave the field altogether. I know that’s the situation for many of you who are reading this post and unable to find other teaching jobs. I quit in a year when there were far more teaching positions then qualified teachers. You’re going to groan when I tell you that within a day of making my decision, I had an interview in a neighboring county and was hired on the spot.

But maybe you can relate to this part: the hope that in a different school, the love of teaching would return.

I can tell you without a doubt that it did. My new school had its problems, of course, but I felt safe there. My students were safe. And I was able to really teach again. I stayed in the classroom for another five years (and probably would have stayed longer, except I got married, moved to New York, and started doing instructional coaching). I even chose to spend my last two years as a classroom teacher in another inner city school.

Urban teaching is where my heart has always been, and will always be. I know that it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. These days I work with teachers in some of the toughest areas of Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx, and I see the amazing things they’re able to do. The quality of teaching and learning in many high-poverty schools is truly exceptional and they can be fantastic places to work.

5 things to know if you’re thinking about quitting YOUR teaching job

There’s no clear-cut moral to this story, I suppose. I’m hoping it’s helpful just to know you’re not the only one and someone else has been through this.

But there are a few other things I want you to know if you feel like quitting teaching right now or are still feeling tremendous guilt about having quit:

1) It’s not your imagination–teaching IS getting harder.

Our students are coming to school with more and more problems, and the bar for achievement is continually being raised.

2) Sometimes, the school year does not get easier with time, and that’s not necessarily your fault.

Usually I’ve found that teaching becomes less stressful as the year progresses because students get the routines and make more and more academic progress. Occasionally, though, this was not true for me and it’s not true for other teachers I know. Sometimes the class is just a really difficult one and your stress level won’t improve until the following year when you have a different group. That’s very normal.

3) You are not a bad teacher just because your job feels too hard.

Even the best teachers get put in situations that are physically and mentally exhausting. Feeling like you want to quit does not mean that you were not cut out for the job, or are a bad person. The position you’re in just may not be the best one for you, or you may just be having an exceptionally tough year.

4) Quitting does not equal failure.

I struggled with the decision to quit long after I’d left the job, because I felt like I had abandoned the kids who needed me the most. I had to remind myself over and over: It’s not that I couldn’t do the job, it’s that I chose not to for my own mental well-being and physical health. I was not a failure, I was successful in taking care of myself. I have many other responsibilities in life in addition to being a teacher, and I was not willing to let all those other areas fall apart because of my job.

5) There are lots of ways to use your talents and gifts to help children.

 Many teachers who quit still have a deep desire to work with children and make a difference in their lives. There are many, many ways to do that. Your career as an educator does not have to be over simply because you don’t want to stay where you’re at.

Is quitting really the answer?

Now, to be clear: I’m not telling you to quit your job. Quitting is not always the right decision: in fact, there were plenty of other low points in my teaching career in which I wanted to walk away but didn’t. During those times, I found that I was frustrated in the moment, but I knew in my heart that things WOULD get better, that an overbearing principal would transfer to another school (he did), that the transition to a new curriculum would be for the best (it was), or that I could make it through just a few more months with an exasperating parent or student (I did.) One of the best things about teaching is that every fall is a new start. Sometimes the best thing to do is hold on until then.

But for those of you who have emailed asking me whether to quit your job or teach on (and there have been hundreds of those emails over the years), I continue to say: do what you know is best for yourself.

If you’re not sure, keep teaching. Hang in there as long as you can.

Read Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching and learn how to perceive stress differently.

Read Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day…No Matter What and get ideas for infusing your day with meaning, purpose, and joy.

Join The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club and get productivity hacks to help you achieve balance.

If and when you hit that breaking point–your gut feeling is to go, and the reasons to leave truly outweigh the reasons to stay–you’ll know, and you shouldn’t ignore that realization if you can find another option.

You will hear many voices within the school system telling you to prioritize your work (or more accurately, your students’ test scores) but it will be far less often that you hear the message to prioritize your health and well-being. I’m telling you that today.

It might mean finding another job, or it might mean staying and developing different coping strategies for stress, but my advice is to do whatever it takes to avoid complete burn out. I think as teachers we owe that to ourselves.

I’d love to read your stories on this topic. Have you ever quit mid-year? Are you thinking about doing it? What advice would you give teachers who are in that position?

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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Discussion


    1. This is my life this year! After 29 years I don’t want to go there ! I’ve nearly had a breakdown , had to go on meds , and cry daily. I’ve been teacher of the year 3 times. I’m a good teacher. I can’t quit. I have one more year to get my retirement. What is happening ? It’s everywhere. It breaks my heart.

      1. Oh my goodness, Tracy, my heart totally breaks for you. This was supposed to be my 4th year teaching (first in a new district), and my new school was a complete nightmare. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to have invested 29 years into a career that is now causing so much stress. My thoughts and best wishes are with you. x

        1. OMG–i could have written this comment. I was RIF’d during my 3rd year at my first school and took a last-second job at a school in another district in another state (I’m in a “border” city). It’s November and I’ve walked out twice but come back out of guilt and a lack of options. My physical health is suffering and my mental health is off the chain bad. I just don’t belong there. I’m hoping I can make it the next 5 weeks to semester–at which point I will leave and not return. I’d rather sub and take my chances for next year than endure this abuse any longer.

      2. Tracy,
        I have been teaching for 20 years. I have some other health issues, but I was trying to hang in there for 1 1/2 years to get my retirement package. I used to live for teaching. I loved my job. Over the last 2 years, I cried and prayed every day that I could just make it through the day. I was on depression and anxiety medications. But it didn’t help. I felt like I was going into combat everyday. Then I started having these strange seizures. It’s what they call conversion disorder. The doctors told me the seizures were a result of what I couldn’t verbalize. My body just couldn’t handle the stress anymore. November 12, I was returning to my classroom from a grade level meeting, walking behind my wheelchair and another seizure came on. I took a step of faith, went to the principal and resigned. I’m in a position now where I’m not able to work at all. I can’t handle being around any children, including family. I felt like a failure and guilty. I taught K,1 and 2 and was a reading specialist. Now I’m not sure of who I even am. Don’t let this happen to you. Listen to your body and your emotions. I so appreciated this article because it made me feel “okay” about quitting in the middle of the school year.

        1. This is a powerful story and warning, Claudia. I’m so glad you took the time to share it. Our bodies often manifest stress in ways we never see coming. The anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, etc. are not the worst of our symptoms as we often assume. They are warning signals that our bodies are about to break down if we don’t make changes.

        2. I’m so glad you said you prayed to God for the strength you needed to go keep going everyday. Sometimes, however, a physical ailment is God’s way of telling us “It’s enough, child.” It was for me. After leaving midyear, God gave me a year sabbatical of doing nothing except waiting to know Him more, waiting for His next mission for my life. Almost a year to the day, He gave me a new vision. It still involves teaching but to adults instructing them in church how to be more effective, brain-based teachers of the Bible. Isn’t that cool. I get to use all the skills I’ve become proficient with in a new setting that also uses the gifts and talents God gave me. You look too for where God wants to place you. He will give you not only what you need for life fulfillment, but also what He needs to further His kingdom through you. Keep the faith, sister.

        3. I am a school teacher in Philadelphia. I resigned effective Oct. 13th but I signed the form September 13th. I was out sick for 3 days went back to work finished the week out. I realized I signed on September 13th as opposed to Oct. being my last day. The board took Sept 13th as my last day. It was before the time anyway. I have been calling all over the school board but they will not allow me to rescind my resignation or to even re-apply ever again. Would someone please help me or tell me what I should do or who to call. I have 3 children and that is my only means of employment..

        4. So very sorry to read what happened to you.How are you now? I feel like I need to quit as well. I will listen to my body before anything bad happens.

          1. Ditto. Parochial school, face-to-face. I have been throeing up and crying since I sogned…I wasvtold we’d be online and will not. Lax enforcement during pandemic. My health, physical and mental, arecmore important.

        5. Health comes first u made the right choice. Our worth is not based on what we do it’s who you are , and I’m sure you are a wonderful person inside and out.

      3. Tracy, Before you get thrown out of the building (like I did) retire. The money is not worth it. I am signing a separation agreement with the district today and I feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders.

        You are a good teacher. Times and kids have changed. I feel for you.
        Jacquie

      4. extremely sad when you have to take meds to do your job, it is so hard and not getting easier. There will be a shortage of teachers soon unless the children have accountibility and the parents start doing their job and not leaving it all to the teachers !!!

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      5. Life is too short to keep teaching when it’s making you sick. I retired early after 26 years. Everyday I wake up and I’m so glad I don’t have to teach.

        1. Me too and I get very irritable when people ask why with an incredulous look on their face. I don’t feel I should explain why partially because there are so many things that brought me to resign after 20 years of mostly what Id love to think was successful teaching. I just don’t want to step in another school again. Right now I’m happy as a full time mum of two boys and enjoying my freedom. Don’t worry if you can get support or help ask for it. Health is more important. After all we only have one life to live.

      6. I am in my 40th and final year of education. This year has been the worst of my career. Nothing to do with covid, but admin took advantage of the covid circumstances to try and get rid of me. Why? Because I am the reading specialist and I did not become an ‘expert’ on the reading series the county adopted. So new principal, who is the 3rd one in 4 years, started targeting me with every little thing he could find to try and get me to quit. Horrible treatment, horrible situation. But I thank them because I was struggling with retirement and now…I CAN NOT WAIT.

    2. I feel like you are writing about my school, my year, my emotions. I tried to resign yesterday and they won’t release me from my contract and threatened to “go after my credentials” if I leave any way. I feel broken. Lost. Incredibly sad.

        1. I’m wondering the same thing. This sounds just like my present school. I had a complete breakdown in early September and have been on FMLA. I have found a job outside of teaching and don’t plan on ever going back. This was my 25th year and I actually asked to go to this school. There was just no reading these kids and there were threats daily. They will take $750 for breaking my contract and can sue I have been told, but I don’t even care. I was in danger of stroke or heart attack if I’d stayed!

      1. They are lying to you about going after your credentials. I was told the same thing years ago. I called up the state agency that certifies teachers and they told me no teachers had their credentials pulled for quitting.

    3. I just started a new contract its three weeks in I love the school but now the board is asking us to create 200 portfolios online for report cards with a full teaching load of 7 grades and two hundred kids. I cant do it even if wanted to Im looking at 250 hours for report cards in the next two months. Um any ideas. I have a good name and experience but I can’t do what they are asking . Its illegal to teach over 180 as a specialist I think and portfolios are intensely crazy they are even asking us to blank over the pictures. I’m fiercely against this I wondering what to professionally without ruining my name or career due silly policy that is going to fail. Another specialist has 300 kids to teach for PE and it going totally crazy over this. Um. what do you do when they ask the impossible. Also Im having to carry very heavy books and my back is really bad. Should I just opt out medically to be polite I don’t want to cause any harm. I love the kids I teach and the school but soooooooooooo unprofessional.

    4. I read your posts with h tears in my eyes! I am there! I love teaching but due to budget cuts I was transferred to a new school. It is horrible! My students are so low and my admin dictates what I must teach.

      I am ready to leave! Trying to get a new teaching job in another state. So far no luck! Two interviews. One principal said he didn’t want to hire a teacher that left or would leave mid year. Any suggestions on how to handle that?

      1. Count your lucky stars that principal revealed his true character up front. He doesn’t understand that teachers are human beings with complex needs and emotional lives, and will expect you to always put the students first before your personal life. You don’t want to work at that school.

    5. Sorry you had such a horrible experience ….It is true…as a 27 year veteran teacher and national teacher trainer – teaching is getting harder – but there are good schools out there for teachers to work at- not all horrible – teachers who feel called to teach should move to other schools before deciding to quite entirely.

    6. Hello

      Bitter sweet article

      When applying for another position in another district, on application, when asked why did you leave last position, what was your response?

    7. I am thinking about quitting now. Things have changed so much due to Covid, but we are not being given grace by our administration. I have been teaching for 27 years and I juxst received the worse observation I have ever gotten. It was extremely nit- picky. I got marked down for not doing things that I could not do due to Covid. I am having to clean my own bathroom every time the children use it, and I am totally exhausted. I am spending over 80 hours a week on school and I need my life back!!

  1. Thank you for sharing, it is not some thing that we openly talk about, but some thing that we’ve all felt at one time or another. I appreciate your honesty and I love your message about balance and personal health. This is something that I have always struggled with! A touching post.

  2. Thank you for expressing what I have been feeling. I can do the job and get results. I have a good relationship with my students, their parents,my principal, and my co-workers. But it takes absolutely everything I have to make it work. I leave at the end of the day just exhausted. By the end of the week, I can hardly function. It takes the entire weekend to recover enough to be able to drag myself back in on Monday and start over.I hope to finish the year, but after that, it’s anybody’s guess.

    1. This is exactly how I feel. I could have written the above message, yet I didn’t. What I did do was tell my principal that I am resigning at the end of this school year after 21 years of teaching in a Urban setting. I love my students but I can’t function at all by Friday and I, as well, sleep all weekend, just so I can drag myself back in on Monday morning. I am going to lose my husband and child if I continue to choose teaching over my own family. I am not willing to do this.

      1. What did you do after you left your job of 21 years? It does take everything to keep it going and weekends too. I so appreciate my summer time off.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I also had to quit midyear some time ago. In that case it wasn’t the kids but the administration and superintendent. I had been harassed for so many years and on many different sites (mostly for standing up for other teachers) that I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was on a lot of medication just to get to school each day and still have long term health issues from the stress. I finally decided I could not take anymore. Luckily, I also found another job soon after. Sometimes we really have to put ourselves first.

    1. Heather, I know this was from a long time ago, but I’m hoping you or someone else will respond. I am in this situation right now in my district and have resigned due to harassment from the administration (mostly the principal) and am on medications to help with the anxiety and stress. Now they are having me call every single family, as well as hold a meeting, and send a letter home addressing my resignation. I feel I am being harassed even more, even when I have expressed that I am uncomfortable with all of the requirements, they advised that I need to stick to this “outline” (even though I was not involved with the establishment of it). What were the steps you had to take once you put in your resignation? I have never heard of a teacher having to jump through all of these hoops once resigning.

      Thanks!

      1. It sounds like they’re trying to help ease the transition for the kids and families, but if this isn’t in your contract, Brianna, you can push back. Call every parent individually PLUS a meeting sounds excessive. The principal can hold a meeting him or herself after you’re gone to introduce the new teacher and talk about transitions.

      2. I am being bullied at my school. We moved here from outside the area and are seen as outsiders. My coteacher acts she knows everything and talks to me like I’m an idiot. The kids are taught to lie. It’s part of their culture. They go home and tell lies about me. Of course the principal believes them because I’m an outsider. She’s also buddy buddy with my co teacher. I have a heart condition that has been getting worse because of all of the anxiety and stress. I don’t want my teaching certificate to be suspended for a year but I can’t go back there.

        1. I’m switching to a new school next week, with the semester change. The behavior of the principal of the school I’m leaving was easily the #1 factor in my decision to move. Hang in there, Michelle, you’re not alone (but if you can afford not to stay, don’t stay).

        2. What state are you in? And I know this was a few years ago, but my daughter is in this exact situation. What did you end up doing and what was the outcome. I hope you are doing well now.

          1. I retired after 22 years and left mid year due to severe anxiety. Two and half years later the anxiety has stayed with me and I am having a hard time getting any job. Right now I am a para in a school system having gone from almost six figures to Pennie’s per week. I miss the proud feeling I got from teaching but suffered such burnout.

    2. I worked in an urban setting for six years. Three of those years were very difficult, because there was a tremendous amount of drug abuse. I was able to maintain mostly good behavior, but it took everything I had. While I worked there, I was physically threatened by a parent and had my car broken into. Fortunately, I was forced to transfer and I went into a much better section of the city to teach. However, there was not enough supports in place to help those students who greatly struggled. I had a principl who could have been Hitler’s brother, and I worked many hours and spent so much of my personal resources to purchase materials the district did not supply. I went to school for my Masters of Science in Reading Specialization. I found a position in the suburbs in February, and left the inner city. I felt bad, becauses I grew up in this area, and these students were quite nice. However, there were too many of them, and I had a fist and second split classroom. I felt terrible about leaving. However, the salary and the distance served much to my advantage, so I had to do what was best for my career. I will never forget my experience working in the city. It taught me a great deal about compassion and humanity.

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