Friday, August 3, 2018

On Leaving the Classroom (three years out)

It’s that time of the year - fresh glue sticks line the bins at Target alongside freshly sharpened ready-to-use pencils, composition books, and colorful folders. Little things that I used to get so excited about as I prepared my room for the twenty-some students who would soon make it their second home for nine months a year.

This school year marks the third year that I have not returned to the classroom. I was recently interviewed by our state newspaper about the current teacher shortage in our state and why so many teachers are choosing to leave the profession.

It is a hard career to choose today and I honestly wouldn’t encourage Madeline to walk down that path even though I really do love education and teaching children. Our family has worked in education for four generations - almost one hundred years all the way back to when my great-grandmother taught in a one room schoolhouse just fifteen miles from the school I served in my last several years. But, it is a far cry from the career it used to be.

Since I still work part time in education I have to stay up to date on methodology and standards and I get to plan activities and lessons and create resources for children to use. Sometimes that plants a desire in my heart to return to the classroom because teaching and working with children to help them learn is my favorite thing - aside from being a mama and wife. 

But on that note, I felt like it was a choice between my job and my family when I returned to work after maternity leave. My days were often ten or twelve hours long leaving so little time for anything else. And they were filled with meetings and paperwork and accountability measures with such little time remaining where the focus was actually on teaching children. 

When I was pregnant I was often expected to go all day without taking a restroom break if we had a meeting during my planning period. When I returned to work I received so much push back for needing to pump during the school day and even ended up with a clogged duct and the beginning stages of mastitis by my third day back. These are the things I remind myself when the itch to return to the classroom strikes me. 

I know this isn’t the case in every school or state or district, especially the ones who serve more affluent areas and have the resources to provide ample aids and coverage so the load isn’t so heavy on classroom teachers. But that wasn’t the case for me in my school because there was literally no one to cover my class long enough for me to pump. 

I had a lot of guilt for leaving the classroom because I served in a Title 1 school and having come from a district previously where funds and professional development had been abundant I brought a lot of training and resources with me to serve a population that so desperately needed and deserved it. 

But what I didn’t feel guilty about was never having to leave Madeline sleeping in a tiny little swaddled ball ever again to be cared for by someone else until an hour before her bedtime when I could return home from work. Or having to get up at four in the morning to pump so I could nurse again at five and be in the car on my way to school at six. 

Or having the luxury of giving my husband my undivided attention at night without a stack of papers to grade on my lap. Or the million other menial tasks I do all week that feel mindless (unloading the dishwasher, washing, drying, and folding five loads of laundry, going to the grocery store) but that I don’t have to spend our weekends doing so that we can enjoy being a family. 

Now that Madeline is a little older I’m often asked if I will return to teaching soon. Obviously with baby 2 on the way, my answer is not any time soon as I know my hands and heart will be even fuller soon. But the answer to that question still feels like such an unknown to me.

I can confidently say I made the right decision for our family. And I feel very fortunate that it was even an option because I know many other teachers and moms who wish they could be home and it is not a viable option for them.

I definitely miss the classroom of third graders I spent my day with and now that I work by creating resources for other classrooms I often find it hard to believe that I’ll never use them in my own classroom with my own students again. So, I guess it remains to be determined if I will ever go back.

But I can say with certainty that by walking away from my job, I have gained so much. Isn’t it funny how that works sometimes? That by saying no and letting a big part of our life go, that we are truly able to enjoy other parts so much.


  1. It’s so interesting to see your take on teaching. My mom was a 6th grade science teacher and left when my brother was born, and I worked for the Communications Department of a local school district before leaving to stay at home with Walker because, for a job that was all about kids, MY kid (and husband) were the ones who suffered.

    But all of that to say, I think teaching is a wonderful profession and one of the hardest and most underpaid jobs. My entire family is a product of public education and I believe firmly in public education. Praying for our teachers as they teach these little ones God has placed in their care from August-May!

  2. I have so much respect for teachers. You all work tirelessly and without financial help most of the time to give your students what they need. Especially low-income schools. I have pondered teaching so I could be home with E in the summers, but I too know that it would not necessarily let me have more time. We all have to make the decisions that are right for our families and I am so glad you feel great about yours.

  3. WOW you had a long day as a teacher! It sounds very similar to teachers' experience here - particularly the constant assessment of children they have to endure. I don't think a lot of teachers here agree with that - so much to take them away from actually teaching! I would have done the same in your position - pumping at 4am and leaving the house at 5am sounds utterly untenable. You mentioned still working part time though? I find part time work a great option, and I think after mine next year I will even cut further back from a 30 hour week. You write so well and this was such an interesting read - I totally related to how exhausting it is to come home from work late and still have to spend hours on household jobs rather than quality family time - it saps everything from you so you have nothing left. You sound like you have real peace of mind for making the best decision for you about your happiness and quality of life. It is a cliché but we don't get these years back - and you will never come back in years to come and think 'I wish I worked more'! Have a lovely weekend Elizabeth! Joanne xx

  4. My sister is a teacher and people always assume that the job is easy and tell her "but you get 3 months off in the summer." I have such an appreciation for my kids teachers and for the profession since she become an educator. :)

  5. This was fascinating!! I wanted to be a teacher, and I really am glad I didn't choose that path. There are so many things that need to change! My good friend is a High School teacher and she was telling me that her schedule this year leaves no room for a bathroom break either, and that just floored me. And I never thought about how challenging it would be to pump as a teacher.
    I'm sure you love your current job! =]
    Kristen //


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