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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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  1. I’ve been teaching for over 25 years. There have times over the years that I have wondered how I was going to get through the next month, week, day, or even hour. Teaching is a tough profession. If you are a title 1 school, you must deal with issues related to poverty and violence. If you work at a middle class school, you must deal with individuals that feel teachers are beneath them. There is no perfect place to teach, nor is there a perfect class, but what gets me through the day is the love that I have for each of my students.

    Today, members of the district visited our classrooms. They were not happy with my grade level. Each of us were doing what was expected of us, but not what the district wanted to see. I was working with a small group of students, preparing them to work with partners on a comprehension activity while 2/3 of my class were either on computers working on Destinations (a program that the district wants the students on each day) or working on other assignments. My principal wants us to conduct small reading groups. How do you conduct small reading groups if the other students are doing mindless worksheets? The disconnect between what districts, principals, parents, and students wants makes teaching very difficult. How do I satisfy everyone? Simply, you can’t please everyone all the time or even any time. I was doing what my students needed at the time. I did nothing wrong even if the district didn’t see anything right. Oh well, I can’t help that these individuals are short sighted.

    As a 25 year veteran teacher, I have seen it all. I have gone through a half dozen programs and adoptions. Everyone thinks he knows what the kids need. Just like this group of District People, everyone thinks they have the perfect answers. Ironically, no one does. No class is ever the same from year to the next. No student is ever the same from year to year and no school is exactly alike. One year, I will have a good year, and the next year, I will be wringing my hands all year. I have seen 7 superintendents come and go, worked with 12 principals, taught from 6 different Language Arts series, and have seen the pendulum swing back and forth so many times that I feel dizzy from all the changes. I have been a gifted teacher to some and a pariah to others. Some parents have loved me and others have hated me. But… all in all, I have taught children to the best of my ability and loved them all with all my heart. I am not been a perfect teacher, but I have given my all. Of the 700 plus students that I have taught, they know one thing — that I loved them and I did my best. When I am laid to rest, it will say “Here lies a teacher who loved us best.” At the end of the day, that is all that anyone can ask of us — to do our best and love them as we do our best.

  2. overwhelmed and confused
    thanks for sharing you experiences !
    it was very helpful 2 me !
    I need to leave bc I ‘m giving it all that I can and it doesn’t seem to be enough. I’m a new Mom and my job is taking time away family. My princpal has written me up for submitting late assessment data and lesson plans … poor classroom management bc i wasnt able 2 handle a few students misbehavior on my own.I had to develop a teacher improvement plan and implement it now which is causing me more stress bc my principal made it clear I should take leave

    but I can’t financially my husband keeps telling me hang in there the year is almost over ! he will become the breadwinner for next year so I can stay home with our baby girl. He doesn’t get how hard it is 2 manage 26 kindergarteners without any help and more pressure to administer many assessments individually (that’s a requirement) my husband has an office job where he can put his call on hold or call the customer back later/use the bathroom anytime he needs to. I’m afraid to tell my husband that I need to leave I think Im reaching my breaking point and it looks like its all downhill. My husband says other teachers teach and have time for their family. Why can’t I ? this makes me feel like failure.

    I want to quit but I feel guilty leaving the students they all are very nice and well behaved except 4 several students behavior makes it difficult to teach. defiance/not staying seat/running around the room/a student who has repeatedly stolen from me and classmates, my breaking point was when two children were running around the room,refused to talk with me in private/go 2 time out it …
    they were so disruptive i couldn’t teach refused 2 have a time out in my neighbor
    classrm. i had to call the principal the well behaved kids were annoyed and had lost interest in the a have a few copycats ! this scenario is not good fot my TIP i feel like i’m failing that too. If I do leave i dont no what 2 say 2 students/co-workers/parents and I feel like my principal was right I’m not meant 2 b in this setting but would be good in a daycare setting, I feel like its best for my students they will b able to learn more. I feel so bad that I have used up all my sick days and feel uncomfortable saying I needed a mental health day. any advice or suggestions ? I already received call asking if i’m ok am i aiI have been out this entire week after I had to call the office 3 daqys in row afraid how that will b documented on my TIP embarassed kids will go home tell parents about those misbehaviors/parents will call 2 complain….i have lost my confidence and feel really bad about myself bc i didnt plan on being out that long had 2 fax my l plans which is not good 4 my TIP

    I appreciate any advice/suggestions thnxs again

  3. I so understand and relate to this article and many of the teachers who have posted. I taught public school for 4 years. My children were not being challenged at all so for 4 years I homeschooled. That was the best thing I ever did for my family. When they reached the ages beyond my teaching credentials I placed them in a private school where I also picked up a job for 2 years. So, after ten years of teaching, I took a long look at what I’d been through. Having a sexually abusive background, the perpetrator began showing up at my work my 3rd year of teaching. He was good friends with my principal. He’d already served time in prison for what he had done. I approached my principal and asked if he knew what the perpetrator had done. All my principal would say was, “I know him and you can keep your job as long as you are willing to work hard.” See, he had been told by the perpetrator that I had recanted my story and he was released. Not so. It was against the law for the man to be on school grounds. But, he would come every week to have a referee’s meeting with my principal during school hours. I hated the politics. I quit working for that school that year. It was a sad time for me. I was so low over believing my principal believed the perp. over me. I went into a depression. Then I pulled myself together and began homeschooling, not only to challenge my children, but to get them away from such evil. Yes, a huge investigation was conducted and I was given many options. But the school system had offered too little, too late. Homeschooling was a blast and my boys soared through school and became so far ahead of the public schools that I held pride in my boys. I then tried public school again. Fifth grade. My youngest went with me to school. my oldest into middle school. That was my year from Hell. I was given the worst kids with the most needy of problems. Not hard to deal with for me. I loved teaching. As time went by my teammates on grade level bgan to talk about me and the principal joined in on their efforts to make my life miserable. They would have meetings when I’d take my bathroom break. I never got them to switch time of day for meetings. Because I didn’t wear makeup, I was named unprofessional. Anything they could do to tear me down, they did. I ended up quitting before the end of the last 9 weeks…Again, an investigation was done only to find out the principal had broken several laws and codes of conduct. I was done. I only had an early childhood/elementary degree. So when my oldest son at 12 years old began taking college classes and making A’s I figured it was time to seek some help. Both boys were tested and placed in a private school. They wanted to move them up several grades. I allowed only one grade. Being the youngest in your class was going to be tough enough. I didn’t want them being bullied. I took a job there teaching 4th grade. I had a blast…..for a while. After my new principal found out I was on depression medication she told me that mind altering meds. were Satan’s work. The pressure began to build. My depression got worse and I began to have panic attacks. Only, my attacks looked like some kind of seizure. On my last day teaching at that school, I had a panic attack at the school convincing the principal I had a demon in me. I was released that day. My oldest son was months away from graduating..so I kept my children in school until number one could graduate. He graduated valedictorian, of course. The next year number two began having problems with the high school curriculum. Again, we had him tested and found out he had a simple type of epilepsy. He would blank out for 10-20 seconds several times in a minute. So, we asked for notes to be copied so he could study the entirety of the class material. We were denied. I told them they were breaking the law. That didn’t matter. Back to public school with number 2. He received the help he needed and over-came his disease. He was popular and a star athelete. He bloomed. I went 15 years without teaching a single child. I missed it very much. Today, I tutor a kindergartener and a 2nd grader 2 times a week each. My life feels full again and I’m having fun. I do not charge for my services. I don’t need the money. I do it purely for the love of teaching. I’m in total control. I answer to me. No one has an issue with me. In fact, I’m appreciated. I should be retired by now. But, I just can’t give it up. I’m having a blast.

    1. Christina, I love your story. Homeschooling was the coolest thing I have ever done. My son is flourishing in public high school though now I think that was the best decision for him. The comments about Satan made me laugh. Remember the two teachers I said left the kids? One of the new teachers ( and youth pastor) said they had been great teachers before. ( true for at least one of them). At our meet the teacher meeting, he said there must have been an ” evil spirit” involved. Wow, no one has to change or take responsibility if we can blame Satan and evil spirits.

  4. Thank you for this. I have been struggling with guilt ever since recently quitting my teaching position at a residential treatment center/open enrollment charter school. I taught two years previously in the inner city and though some days were exhausting, I stuck with it. The kids were good kids at their core and administration was supportive. When my husband was transferred out of the city, I got a new position at a small charter school serving a residential treatment center and neighboring community. The students who chose to come to our school from the community did so because they didn’t like the rules at the local ISD. Almost all of them came to school heavily self-medicated which made it impossible for them to comprehend most things, let alone learn. They proudly bragged about the drugs they were on. I spent my day just trying to get them to stop texting on their phone or talking over me. I had to constantly reteach materials because they would forget what they learned so quickly. I reached my limit when a student came into class every day and tried to intimidate me. I would write him up and nothing ever happened to him. One day I realized I was actually afraid to write him up because I knew there would be no consequences and I feared his reaction, as his methods of intimidation got worse. It was in this moment I knew my safety and mental health outweighed my concern for the students I taught. I felt/feel so selfish. We served an extremely needy population that required structure and discipline, yet administration was afraid to provide it. Our Superintendent/Principal did not like conflict and would not call parents. He had an extreme need to be liked. When I walked into the office to give my letter of resignation, I could hear him dismissing another teacher’s concerns by saying “write him up, write him up”. I felt like this was my sign, though it didn’t alleviate the guilt. Reading this has helped a lot. Thank you.

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