Why I Left the Classroom
Tomorrow is the first day of school. Usually I'm full of jitters, nerves, dread, and pure anxiety at what my class rosters hold. What are the class dynamics going to be like? Will they laugh at my jokes? (That is the most important part to me) Will they be kind to me? To each other?
Instead, today I took a long nap. I'm full of peace for the first time. Sure, I have no idea what this school year is going to hold for me because I took on a new position. But there is something comforting about just accepting what I don't know. For the first time since I graduated college, I will not be teaching. Instead I'm going to be a high school counselor, a transition I prayed and thought a lot about.
I've been met with a lot of questions about it. A lot of people have said something to the effect of "You are such a great teacher-- why would you ever leave the classroom?" First off, none of these people have been IN my classroom, so let's take their opinion with a grain of salt (I definitely was no John Keating). Regardless, I know a lot of you are wondering why someone who played school all of her life and only ever wanted to be a teacher made a clutch decision to leave the classroom, so what better way to inform the masses than through writing? (I'll always be a Language Arts teacher at heart)
After four years of teaching, I am burned out. Teaching was pretty much what I expected, but I am not who I expected. I do not have the resilience to stand in front of 20 some teenagers, most of who are not even pretending to care. I don't enjoy grading papers one bit. And I lost a lot of motivation and drive that I had entered the workforce with. I told myself I went into education to make a difference in student lives, but I realized very quickly that I put more value on character education than their ability to read and write. Only one student in my five years of teaching (counting student teaching) has vocally credited me with supporting their academic success, and he's even giving me credit I don't deserve. Instead, the compliments I get are personality driven... you are so kind, you're fun, you were there for me, you helped me see things from a different perspective. And most of those were from seniors on their way out onto the next chapter of life.
The refrain in my head, whether it's healthy or not, rang for five years: "You could be doing more. You could be impacting more." The students who do praise me have one thing in common: we spent a significant amount of time in one-on-one conversations. I wanted to spend more time in personal conversations with students, listening to their hopes and dreams. I wanted to help them through any tears or extreme emotion, processing and helping them make wise choices. But my role as their English teacher limited me. It gave me some access, but not the kind I wanted.
All of this combined made me realize I could be maximizing my strengths doing something else, but my passion for high school students and public education still stands. So I've chosen to stay in this sector, but redefine my role. A few years ago I started graduate school to pursue a Masters in Counseling with an Emphasis in School. The classes have been easy, but only because it is something that just makes sense to me. I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of my classes for my program. So when I was presented with an opportunity to pursue a new role at my school with colleagues I was already comfortable with and a lot of students I have already built rapport with, it was an easy decision.
It was an easy decision to make in the moment, but as the end of the school year approached, I started to freak out a bit.
I'm grateful for the time I did have. That has not made walking away from the classroom any easier; last spring was filled with a lot of doubt, as there were many students and relationships that I wouldn't have without my time as a teacher. However, amidst it all-- the goodbyes, the boxes of books and curriculum, the grad parties-- there have been a lot of moments that reminded me why I'm going to be a counselor.
So here's an update:
After a week and a half of working as a counselor, I can't imagine a better role for me. I have been able to work with and meet so many students already, and much of that time is spent helping them, getting to know them, and advocating for them. In fact, in some cases, they come in ready to trust me as their advocate, so I don't even need to lay preliminary groundwork to prove myself to them. I am not wasting time.
Nevertheless, I'm glad teaching was always my end goal. It meant I poured my heart and soul into curriculum and lesson plans believing that was my legacy and how I'd achieve a lasting impact. Now I get to pass that hard work off to colleagues to possibly take and craft into their own masterpieces. It meant I was fully devoted (most days) to being present in the classroom and being intentional about reaching out to my students. If I had always known I was going to be a counselor, I think I would have had a difficult time giving teaching my best. Alas, this transition has flowed naturally, and although it is a steep learning curve, I feel like I am where I need to be to maximize on my strengths and serve students to the best of my ability.
"Wherever your heart is, that is where you will find your treasure."
-Paulo Coelho; The Alchemist