Why I left my teaching job mid-year

When the 20-21 school year ended in June, I spent two full days in bed. I slept on and off, sometimes opening the curtain and watching the sunlight move across my room until it faded to black. I felt drained, I felt weak, I could barely eat. Dragging a toothbrush over my teeth was the biggest accomplishment of my day. I looked online where another teacher had asked, “Is anyone else feeling this way?” Dozens of others answered with a resounding YES.

I had been counting down the months, weeks, and days till summer vacation and once it finally came, I never felt the sense of celebration. I just thought, Thank god. And then my heart dropped, because a new countdown was beginning.

The 21-22 school year was fast approaching.

Like some other districts, our school had decided to start school early: teachers now had about 7 weeks of summer. In almost any other field, 7 weeks is still a long time. I tried to appreciate the rest; I tried to feel at peace. I certainly tried to fake it. I posted a sunset picture and captioned it, “Summer vacation.” “Must be nice,” someone wrote. “Lucky you,” someone else sent.

Jamesport, Long Island

But all I could focus on were the 10 months of misery waiting for me once summer vacation was over.

6 weeks left. 5. 4. I stopped sleeping through the night. Or even at all. There was a constant thrumming of nervous energy in my chest. I’d go for long walks in the morning and at night to try to expel the energy. Despite being sober curious, I thought drinking might help, and I went back to drinking 1-2 drinks every night.

3 weeks left. 2. 1. I was seeing someone long distance at this point, and I was trying to prepare him for what would happen. “Our relationship is going to change. I won’t be my best self. Promise that you’ll be patient with me.” Then I surprised us both by sobbing.

August came, and the school year began.

From the moment students first walked through the doors, I found it hard to keep my head above water. We had spent hours and hours in training in the weeks prior and had precious little time to set up our classroom. So after the kids left, we would stay until the building closed in an attempt to finish. We had over 20 routines and procedures that needed to be modeled in the first few weeks of school, and after the children left, admin would pick a procedure at random and have us run through it, using our coworkers as the “students.” In the chaos of the first week, I had completely forgotten that lesson plans were due, and I had to work late to complete those.

The list of tasks was overwhelming. We were checking homework daily, conducting and logging data from one-to-one assessments of students, internalizing IEPs, creating and filling out data trackers for each class, reading and memorizing all lesson plans, designing response to data and response to intervention activities, planning for misconceptions, preparing class materials, setting up for Back to School Night, calling parents, attending professional development meetings, doing pre-work and post-work for these meetings, and getting constantly observed. By the end of each week, lesson plans were due again. Our team divided up the subjects, so each of us submitted weekly plans for 1-2 classes, along with morning meeting and 15 small group lessons for reading.

Behavioral issues started occurring that were unlike anything I had ever seen. We were short-staffed, so sometimes it would take 30 minutes or more for help to arrive. For weeks, I taught lessons from start to finish while a child screamed and tore apart the class. I tried to keep 29 other students occupied while corralling him in the back of the room and attempting to write a referral. We evacuated the classroom. We fielded parent complaints. I came home with bite marks and bruises from small hands.

Despite the stress of the school year, I knew I could not afford to work only one job. Living near NYC was expensive, and I was spending about $300 a month commuting from NJ.

Making the trek to NYC each day was a financial burden

Despite leaving the house at 6 am and coming home at 7 pm, I started tutoring privately. First it was 1-2 days a week, then it was every day after school. Then my university job started on Saturdays. I was doing 4-5 hours of lesson planning on Sundays, but I was always missing something. It started to get harder and harder to catch up.

By October, I would wake up and feel completely overwhelmed. I cried almost every day on my drive to work.

Yet I still wasn’t going to quit. It wasn’t an option. Because I could handle everything if teaching was the only hard part of my life.

Then things changed.

My personal life began to fall apart.

I cannot say everything that happened in a public blog. I can say some things, though.

A friend I had known for almost 20 years passed away suddenly.

My boyfriend was cheating on me.

I crashed my car while utterly exhausted on my commute home.

All of this, in addition to health issues and financial stress, made me feel like I was a rubber band about to snap. Now when I entered the school, I no longer felt like I could keep my cool while handling behavioral issues. My heart would race, I couldn’t speak, and I’d have to pull down my mask to gasp for air. After one student spent 30 minutes punching me and trying to flip tables, the support staff had to cover my class so I could go cry.

I used to sleep well out of exhaustion, but the anxiety seeped into that part of my life as well. I started waking up at 4 am in a panic. I lost 12 pounds. I stopped seeing my friends. But I continued to spend 9 hours in the car each weekend to see my boyfriend, who I hung onto with a needy, unhealthy sort of love.

The only thing that brought me a sense of calm was writing my resignation letter.

I never wanted to leave mid-year. But I no longer recognized myself. Within a few days, I decided to leave my classroom, my apartment, and my relationship. In the midst of “The Great Resignation,” I know I’m not the only one who has made this choice. It hasn’t been easy to I pack up the pieces of my former life, and leaving my students and coworkers broke my heart.

However, I need to make room for stillness, for reflection, for healing. Little by little, I am starting to remember who I am, what I want, and what I hope to do.

4 comments

  1. Stay strong! It may seem like a lot now, but soon, you’ll be looking at these things and (hopefully) smile. The beginnings are complicated, but change is always good!

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