Why I Quit Teaching

by Nicole M. G. Brennan

When I was a little girl, I found a science textbook in my attic. I was so excited because I could finally play school without using a textbook I was learning from. I grabbed a notebook, read the first chapter, and created a lesson plan. I set up my room and lectured a fake class on matter. Seventeen years later, I stood in front of a real classroom. Nervous and excited, I introduced myself for the first time as Mrs. Brennan. I knew the next year would be tough, but nothing in college or my field experience could have prepared me for the tears, sleepless nights, and self-doubt running a classroom creates.

I taught high school for two years before taking a break. After the second year, I felt it might be time to start something new. I was overcome with a sense of not contributing enough. I didn’t make much money, I couldn’t advance unless I got another degree, and I wasn’t recognized for my work. I loved my students and the relationships I had with them, but I grew exhausted of the politics, the pressure, the testing, and constantly being the reason students weren’t achieving. How was I supposed to change the world by teaching twenty-four students at a time for just forty-five minutes?

If society has taught me anything, it’s that the only professions worth doing involve making a great deal of money. Every once in a while someone will get sentimental and thank a teacher for inspiring them. Most of the time, though, teachers are given more and more responsibility for things families traditionally took care of. In the abstract, everyone says teachers and education are important. However, when it comes to making concrete policy decisions, teachers are left without protection or support.

In 2011, my husband and I moved from Minnesota to Iowa. I realized I did not want to jump through the numerous hoops required to become a licensed teacher in a new state. Instead, I got an eight-to-five job at a company in the healthcare industry. I was able to go home at the end of the day with my work completed. However, something was missing. I missed being in charge of a classroom. I missed seeing the “a-ha” moments in my students. But most of all, I missed the mental challenge associated with teaching.

My year away from teaching gave me a new perspective. I realized I was called to teaching. Instead of sitting by and letting my frustration bottle, I want to let people know what teachers do. The following are a list of things I learned and wish others would realize:

Students Have a Responsibility to Learn

When schools are threatened to have their funding cut or their curriculum overhauled by the state, the students are not taken into consideration. Teachers can spend every second of class time devoted to preparing students to take standardized tests. However, it is ultimately up to students who don’t understand the stakes. We must take the greater social problems into consideration when talking about student achievement.

Just Because I Love What I Do Doesn’t Mean I Shouldn’t Be Compensated

Non-teachers often think teachers are paid fairly. If they don’t, they say we know what we are getting in for. If we want more money, why don’t we get a different job?
Teaching is the most important career if we want an educated workforce and strong future leaders. If we are not paid fairly and respected, the only people who will be left teaching are the very dedicated or those who can’t do anything else. Teachers work long hours during the week and bring home grading on the weekend. Without support and compensation, great teachers quickly burnout.

Teachers Have Less Power and More Responsibility

Before I started student teaching, I was told there was a very good chance I could be sued. In order to do my student teaching, I had to purchase liability insurance. I’ve heard several anecdotes about students who made false accusations about teachers they didn’t like. Good teachers who are strict and have high expectations, the ones we truly need, are often targeted.

When I talked to parents about their children’s behavioral issues, I’ve been attacked personally as not being a good teacher. Without the support of parents, and in some cases without the support of administration, teachers are left to defend themselves.

Talk to the Teacher, Don’t Just Believe Your Child

During a discussion with a parent, I was told she had never heard anything good about me and parents wondered what my problem was. By the end of the conversation with me, she stated she understood what I was trying to do in the classroom and apologized for coming in with a hot head. I don’t know about you, but I rarely went home and told my parents how wonderful my teachers were. I was more likely to complain about challenges and how unfair things were. In retrospect, I was usually in the wrong. Instead of assuming what your child says is unbiased truth, talk to their teacher.

I’m currently a graduate teaching assistant. I instruct first-year college students in public speaking and communication skills. The college setting is very different than high school and it comes with its own challenges.

In future postings on the blog, other contributors will discuss the challenges of working in a private school, being an adjunct instructor at a university, completing student teaching, and balancing teaching with extra-curricular responsibilities. If you have a narrative or essay you would like to contribute, please email justateacherblog@gmail.com with “Blog Entry” in the subject line.