5 Ways to Encourage Shy Students to Participate in the Classroom

We all have had that quiet kid in the class who keeps silent during group discussions, the one who has done his homework but never gives answers out loud. Whether they are afraid of getting things wrong or speaking up before their peers, shy students withdraw into themselves and it seems impossible to get them involved no matter how hard you try.

While overactive students are considered the most challenging ones, quiet kids are often more difficult. They don’t mess around in class, but it is harder to encourage them to participate and express themselves.

Here are five tips for getting your quiet students to come out of their shells and share their voices with the class.

1. Create small discussion groups

Shy students may be more comfortable speaking up in smaller groups than before the whole classroom. Creating groups with less outgoing students and suggesting activities that require interaction will help quiet students get out of their comfort zone and communicate with one another.

There are different group activities you can suggest to help the students overcome their shyness. Run an “about myself” activity during which they speak about their likes and dislikes, or play a game of emotion charades where they have to act out various feelings.

2. Change the traditional way of asking questions

Asking questions is the most common method of assessing learning and encouraging student engagement, but it’s not always effective. Active students usually monopolize classroom discussions, while the more introverted ones feel uncomfortable raising their hands and answering questions.

A great way to get shy students involved in Q&As is to use real-time polling tools, such as Swift Polling, to challenge your students on what they’ve learned during the lesson. You can create questions with multiple answers and give students some time to text to vote for the right answer. The ability to submit answers anonymously will reduce the fear of making mistakes and students will likely be more active, while you’ll get the chance to gauge their understanding of the subject material.

You can also use real-time polling tools to receive anonymous feedback about the lesson and learn what activities your students like most.

3. Allow students to move around

Different students have different learning styles. Some are auditory or visual learners, while others perceive information better through a physical experience – touching, feeling or doing.

You may discover that students who are usually quiet during lectures or demonstrations are better engaged in physical activities. For example, you can organize gallery walks.

In this activity, students add to their knowledge through active discussions and cooperative learning. The class is divided into several groups. The teacher hangs or stages several open-ended questions around the classroom or outdoors, as in an art gallery, and each group is given time to discuss the questions and add their thoughts with markers or sticky notes. Having contributed to the solution of all questions, the groups return to the first question they faced and see comments left by other groups. Meanwhile, the teacher keeps interacting with students and observing the level of their activity.

For quiet students, the movement and less formal atmosphere can make expressing what’s on their mind easier.

4. Recognize and reward active contribution

Make sure to encourage shy students at every little step they take. Comment on their work and praise their attempts to interact in the classroom. Make sure to give them an important job in the classroom so that they feel they are contributing. When possible, display their work where other students can see it and make them feel proud of their accomplishments. These will help them develop confidence and make further steps toward overcoming their fears.

5. Build a trustful relationship with shy students

Introverted students tend to hide in the end rows to avoid being in the spotlight. Make sure to place them in the front of the classroom to be closer to them and interact with them more easily. Seat them next to the students who are most likely to befriend them and try to organize social interactions.

While you have to keep continuous contact with all the students, allocate some extra time to communicate with shy students one-on-one and build rapport with them. Even a few conversations with introverted students can help to create a stronger connection and give them that little nudge to reach out.


The above article was submitted by Swift Polling and contains affiliate links.

Why More Teachers Than You Think Will Arm Themselves

Here are some recent headlines:

Florida Lawmakers Pass Bill That Would Allow School Staff to Carry Guns
Michigan House to Explore Arming Teachers
Mississippi Vote Raises Question: Should Mid-South Teachers Be Armed?
Bill To Arm Tennessee Legislators Passes First Hurdle
Armed Teachers: Illinois District Wants to Be 1st To Give Teachers Guns

The pressure to do something is going to continue to grow if school shootings keep occurring, and there’s absolutely no reason to think they won’t. The solutions, if there are any, are difficult and politically divisive. The easiest thing for federal officials to do is kick the can and dump it on the states, and the easiest thing for state legislators to do is drop it in the laps of schools. So they’ll pass laws that allow school personnel to carry concealed weapons, they’ll require some training, they’ll refuse to pay for most of it, and then they’ll sit back and wait to blame schools and teachers the next time a shooting happens in their schools.

And teachers will play right into their hands because it’s what we always do. A lot more teachers than you think are going to end up carrying guns. They’ll do so for three reasons.


Fear is a strong motivator. It makes us do things we never thought we would. And the fact that this fear is misplaced doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter when school districts spent millions on secure entrances, security cameras, door stop devices, reinforced glass, and other measures that won’t do a damn thing to stop a determined school shooter.

When something gets this much exposure, we start to believe it’s more likely than it is. Following a plane crash, we’re more nervous to fly. Watching Nancy Grace causes us to watch our kids like hawks. A hysterical Facebook post about an attempted abduction from a grocery store parking lot stokes fears of being trafficked for sex among women across the country. A terrorist attack has us seeing potentially explosive knapsacks on the backs of every young bearded male we encounter.

We’re scared to be the next victim, so we do what we think will protect us (even though it likely won’t). We remove our shoes. We submit to invasive searches. We don’t even care all that much when we learn that our government is spying on us. And we do it all because we tell ourselves silly things like, “If it saves even one child…” and “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

We’ve seen this before.
Teachers don’t want to be shot.
They don’t want their students shot.
If they think a gun might prevent those things, a lot of them will carry one, damn all reason and consideration of unintended consequences.


Why do you attend unpaid after-school events? Fear of being thought lazy or guilt over your colleagues’ attendance? Why do you join committees you’re not interested in? Why do you say yes when you want to say no? Good old-fashioned teacher guilt is an epidemic.

Let’s consider how this arming teachers scenario might play out:

1. Your state passes a law allowing you to carry a gun in school.
2. The local police department offers training (Although, with enough teachers, the demand will probably lead to for-profit enterprises being certified to take the load off the overworked cops and they’ll cobble together some lame training program like most of the inadequate training teachers are forced to endure).
3. Your school district comes up with a policy and finds the cheapest training program to send willing teachers to, permitting them, upon completion (and probably a stupid certificate to hang over their desk) to carry a gun.
4. You find out that a few other teachers have taken the training to carry. They tell you they feel safer now.

Now what thoughts are likely to go through teachers’ minds? I can tell you one: Anticipated guilt.

See if these thoughts seem likely:

It doesn’t seem right that Joyce is the only one armed. So all the responsibility falls on her if a shooter gets inside the school? What if she can’t get to the shooter? What if she’s absent that day? Someone else should be armed, too.

What if parents find out that I’m one of the teachers not carrying a gun? Will they feel their kids are less safe in my room than in other rooms? Will they talk about how I don’t care about protecting their kids on Facebook? Will they question my dedication? Will they think I’m a coward? Will my colleagues? Will my principal?

What if, God forbid, a shooting does happen and the shooter comes into my room and kills a student and the press finds out that I could have been armed but had chosen not to be? Will they blame me? Of course they’ll blame me! Will the parents of the dead child blame me? (Yes) Won’t I blame myself? (Uh-huh) How could I live with myself? (Good question)

What if principals are pressured by parents to put pressure on teachers to carry? After all, if a school with one armed teacher is safer than a school with none, wouldn’t a school where everybody is armed be the safest of all? What will I do if I’m made to feel like I have to carry a gun?

I suggest most teachers will do the same thing they’ve done every other time they were made to feel like they had to do something, whether it was attending a professional development session that had absolutely nothing to do with their job, or teaching in a manner they know from research is not best practice, or implementing a program with fidelity even though data show it’s not working, or buying something from their friend who sells Rodan + Fields even though they don’t want that crap.

And if you think those thoughts won’t happen, then you haven’t been paying attention. Remember these parents, who “recklessly” allowed their kids to play alone at the park, or this mom, who was called the “world’s worst mother” for allowing her nine-year-old to ride the subway unattended? Why do you think you rarely see kids playing outside anymore without adult supervision? Video games and other indoor entertainment play a role, sure. But so do parents who are terrified of the worst happening and then being blamed if it does. The fear and anticipated guilt we feel when we imagine the unimaginable makes overprotective fools of a lot of us. No teacher will want to risk being blamed for a child dying in her care. Many will carry a gun, if for no other reason than to say they did all they could.

Reliable Compliance

Teachers give in. Almost all of us regularly capitulate. We don’t fight. When we do, we get dragged out of board meetings and dinged on our evaluations. How many degradations and indignities have you already put up with in your teaching career? How much do you do not because it’s good for your students but because you’re told to it? Do you really think teachers are suddenly going to fight back?

There’s a reason the West Virginia teacher strike made national news: teachers strikes are rare. In spite of decades of declining respect, falling earning power, and national scapegoating, most of us have gone along to get along. We’ve agreed, even when we didn’t like it. We held out noses and persisted. We did what was “best for kids” even when it damaged our health, our relationships, and our profession. We’re nothing if not reliably compliant. What possible evidence exists that teachers will suddenly execute an about-face and take a principled stand on guns, especially when guilt and fear are also working against them doing so?

Ultimately, more teachers than you think are going to end up armed for the same reasons we’ve agreed to terrify six-year-olds with lockdown drills. We succumb to the seductive illusion of safety. We’ll arm ourselves because we’re scared and because the thing we fear the most is our own future guilt. We’ll submit because it’s what’s expected of us. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s what we’ll continue to do.

A Letter to Principals Regarding Walkthroughs

Dear Principal,

A couple of days ago you did a round of walkthroughs. You popped into five different teachers’ rooms for about five minutes each. I know this because at lunch later that day, we teachers talked about it. We have a request.

Please ask us why.

We would prefer these walkthroughs not happen at all than continue as they have. Even though I’m sure you tell yourself that you’re doing them to stay informed and to be in a position to help should you notice any problems, they’re nonetheless evaluative. How could they not be? Most of us remember our undergrad experience where we visited actual teachers’ classrooms. While the purported purpose of such visits was to learn from a professional, we spent most of the discussion afterward picking apart the teacher’s decisions.  We judged. It’s what people do.

It’s not the judging we have a problem with. We expect to be evaluated. The real problem with walkthroughs is that they don’t happen often enough.

It’s human nature to focus on the negative. We get that. We also get that you’re going to find something to criticize. When I conference with my best writer I’m going to highlight some area where she can improve, even though she’s heads and shoulders above her classmates. That’s my job, after all, to help all students get better. Same as yours with respect to your teachers.  Constructive criticism isn’t the problem. We can live with that.

What’s harder to stomach are the assumptions you make. You have an impossible job, often made more impossible by your bosses. You’re pulled in a hundred directions and you just can’t get into classrooms as often as you’d like. We get that, too. But it matters.

Because the infrequency with which you visit our rooms leads to a lack of context. And that lack of context causes you to make assumptions, which are often wrong, but which may be reflected in our evaluations anyway.

During your five minutes, you noticed that Sarah had her head down while I was teaching and that I did nothing about it. You saw Patel go to the bathroom without asking, just as I got to the critical part of my lecture. Joseph sits by himself at the front of the room and that didn’t sit right with you.

So ask me why. Ask me why because you don’t know. 

You don’t know what happened five minutes, or five hours, or five days, or five weeks, or five months before you walked in my room.

You don’t know that Sarah complained all morning about not feeling well and that she only got three hours of sleep because of her new baby sister. You don’t know that the reason she’s not engaged is because her body won’t allow her to be and that the reason she has her head down is that five minutes before you walked in I told her to put her head down.

You don’t know that Patel’s mom emailed me at the start of the week to tell me that Dad’s about to come home from prison after three years and that Patel’s anxiety over the change has manifested as a nervous bladder. You don’t know that Patel and I have a deal to prevent a mortifying accident for which he’ll be remembered the rest of his life: don’t ask, just go.

You don’t know that I’ve tried everything with Joseph for the past five months, but the kid just can’t sit near anyone with bothering them all day. You also don’t know that his seating location is a sign of tremendous progress. Because Joseph finally acknowledged his problem and asked to sit by himself so he could focus better. He’s not separated from his classmates because I gave up on him or I’m trying to shame him. He sits there because he wants to sit there.

You don’t know these things because you lack context for what you’re observing. That’s not your fault. But it is your fault if you don’t ask me why.

Why didn’t you tell Sarah to sit up?

Why did Patel leave the room without asking?

Why does Joseph sit by himself?

It’s a simple word that invites teachers to provide you with the context you lack.

Because if you don’t ask why, many of your teachers won’t tell you. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to come off as whiners. They don’t want to be the difficult one because the difficult ones get let go when districts cinch their belts and principals vote teachers off the island.

By not asking your teachers why, you put them in a difficult position. They can keep their mouths shut and risk having your ill-informed observations affect their evaluations and your opinion of them moving forward, or they can try to explain. But whenever people initiate explanations for their choices they come across as defensive, which others perceive as tacit admissions of error.

So, principals, do your walkthroughs if you must. Do them more frequently if you can. Don’t tell us they’re not evaluative because they are. And please stop assuming you understand the choices we’re making in the five minutes you’re judging us.

Ask us to tell you why. 





The Teacher’s Guide to Changing Careers

At the end of Dan’s last article, “I Quit Teaching and Won’t Go Back,” he wrote:

When I made my departure official and announced it to the world, I was humbled by the response of kind words and expressions of sadness for losing what I had to offer the classroom. But I was also alarmed by the number of responses I received from teachers asking how I managed to do it. I received texts, emails, and phone calls from teachers all over the national network I had been a part of declaring that they wanted out, too…I began receiving messages from friends of friends and even a few strangers. I had somehow become the exodus guru. I still receive these messages with the most recent just last week from a woman I once met at a conference who found me on LinkedIn and wondered if I could give her friend some advice.

This article, the third and final part in this series, is Dan’s advice.

Dan Laird

Since I was employed by the same district where I completed my internship, I never really experienced the whole job search process. I earned my place, but I certainly was lucky to be interning in a school with an opening. I now found myself looking for a job with no experience looking for a job. Obviously, I knew the basics, but I was now swimming in unfamiliar waters, waters that had expanded thanks to the internet.

Step 1: Update the Ol’ Resumé

Since the last entry on my most recent résumé from 1999 was for being a delivery driver for Pizza Hut, I had some work to do. And since that résumé was stored on a 5 ¼” floppy disk, I found it best to simply start over rather than see if the Smithsonian offered computer time. Because I was keeping my options open, I realized that I would be tweaking my résumé and cover letter again and again to match the job for which I was applying. After all, I highly doubt that the folks hiring for the copywriting position I pursued were interested in my proficiency with Google Classroom. To handle the task of juggling multiple résumés, I paid for a monthly subscription to the résumé building site, MyPerfectRésumé. It allowed me to save multiple drafts and focus on the content without the hassle of the formatting. (Helpful hint: I also discovered that if you pay for a month or two then attempt to cancel, the site will offer you a full year for the price of one month.)

Every time I applied for a job, I made a folder on my computer for that application, résumé, and cover letter. In the modern tech age, it is easy to apply for jobs at a rapid-fire pace. Despite that, some companies will respond as if it is the only job you pursued, and, believe it or not, their initial correspondence may offer very little indication as to which job posting they are referring. If you are casting a wide net, it can be very easy to lose track of your applications and nothing is more of a turn off for potential employers than confusing one opening for another. Also, by keeping a file for each application, I could easily find the closest résumé version for adaptation that best fit the next job posting.

Step 2: Finally Learn About LinkedIn

Despite being the butt of jokes for years, LinkedIn proved to have a place in the job search world. It turns out that employers may want to do their homework on you and this gives them a social media source to learn more about your professional accomplishments without having to sort through New Year’s Eve photos, your angry comments about being a cursed Detroit Lions fan, or hilarious cat memes. (Sidenote: You might want to check the privacy settings on your Facebook account). Since I was determined to go all out on this venture, I  paid for the premium subscription during my job hunt which allowed me to see who was reviewing my profile. I was pleasantly surprised to find views from companies to which I was applying.

In addition, many job search sites allow you to attach your LinkedIn profile to applications. Some even convert your LinkedIn profile information into the application itself. Since the résumé needs to be short, sweet, and right to the point, the LinkedIn profile allows you to really draw attention to work you want to emphasize.

Step 3: Find Your Source for Jobs

Job search sites seem like a dime a dozen. It’s important that you do your homework and monitor your success rate so you know what works best for you. Check to see if the site allows you to apply on its page or if it redirects you to other sites. Remember that companies pay to post their jobs on these sites. If the site you picked isn’t taking the application directly, it probably isn’t being used by the company who posted the job, which means your application may be dead in the water and lost to the internet.

Most of my success came from Indeed.com. In fact, that is where I found my current job. Indeed provides a very quick application process. If you have your résumé and cover letter ready to go, you can send it with the click of a button. A nice way to tell if a company has invested its money with Indeed is to see if it has added on to the application process. Companies can use a default application or they can add their own questions to the process. If you see these extra questions, you know that the company has prioritized this hiring source in its budget. If you do see short response questions on an application, always save your responses in a separate document so you don’t lose them once you submit your application. If you apply for another similar position, you may find a similar question.

Step 4: Cast a Wide Net

One of the biggest misconceptions teachers have is that their qualifications lock them into a teaching role for life. It’s certainly what I thought. What else can you do with a history major and English minor? Curate a museum? Write the great American novel? Finding an open position with the former is about as likely as becoming a rock star and the latter isn’t exactly a financially sound decision for a 40-year-old with two children and a mortgage.

I learned to stop searching for jobs for which I thought I was qualified and instead to start searching for my qualifications. First, I searched for ALL jobs in my city and state. For years I had been telling my students that they may very well end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet. Here was my chance to see what had been invented since I joined the workforce. Of course, there were jobs that sounded great for which I was nowhere near qualified. Still, those are options if you have a long-term plan that involves going back to school. So if you want out and can bear it a few more years, target one of these jobs and start taking classes now. But there were also opportunities for people like me looking to make an immediate evacuation. From there, I started looking for more jobs like the ones I stumbled upon. It was a domino effect of discovery. As it turns out, the world needs teachers in every corner of the workforce and not just for teaching STEAM.

Step 5: Don’t Wait. Keep Applying.

Just because a position is posted, it doesn’t mean that anyone is in any hurry to fill that position. Nothing proves this point more than positions for the state. When you check your state government website for job postings, you will most likely find more postings than you have time to look through. After applying for a few state positions, I started to get the feeling that even the state didn’t want to look through all of them. Rarely did I ever hear back from one of these applications. A few times I was told a position was filled. Once I was told that the state changed its mind and eliminated the position. Most of the time, I heard nothing. The downside to fast and furious job application technology is that most companies now have to sort through applications from people who only applied because they had nothing to lose.

Step 6: Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into

It’s a very exciting feeling to get called for an interview. While the interview is a great chance for the employer to get to know you, remember that it is also a good opportunity to learn more about the job for which you applied, sometimes without even asking a single question.

Not all job postings are specific. They may give you enough information to pique your interest, and hold back information that may cause you to look elsewhere. In addition, some job sites allow you to leave your résumé posted on a general “bulletin board” for any employer to see. This may lead to calls for interviews you didn’t expect, especially from insurance companies. Because I was keeping my options open, I attended some of these. A few of these interviews were located in bare offices that looked like they had been rented for the day. One interviewer mistakenly thought, ¨How would you like to live in Indiana?” was an enticing sales pitch. And one scheduled interview turned out to be a group interview with a dozen other candidates. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when asked what we were all looking for from this position, one applicant responded, “I want time to do my karate.” No offense to the karate kid, but I felt like I had a bit more to offer and was surprised we were up for the same position. It was clear that I was not invited there for my extensive résumé. Lower level employees were clearly mass-hired, disposable commodities.

Don’t be embarrassed about getting tricked by these “opportunities.” This process took me almost a year to get the hang of. As long as you’re not sacrificing something more important, you have nothing to lose by going to these interviews. Use the opportunity to brush up on your interview skills, learn to anticipate some typical questions, and, at the very least, give yourself an interesting story to tell. You never know when something might surprise you. In fact, before I took my current job, I was in the process of accepting a position with a financial company that happened to specialize in teacher 403b retirement funds. It was an unanticipated natural fit and the company was excited to have an actual former teacher on the team. I would probably be working there if my current job hadn’t made an offer right before I was to take my exams.

So, to recap:

  • You have value outside of the classroom.
  • Your qualifications do not lock you into a teaching job for life.
  • Learn about expectations for résumés outside of education. They’re different. Then update your résumé. I recommend subscribing to a résumé building website.
  • Set up or update your Linkedin account. Learn about best practices that will help attract interest from employers.
  • Investigate different job search sites and determine which works best for you.
  • Search for all jobs in your geographical area. You’ll learn about jobs you didn’t know existed. The discovery process will help you figure out which jobs fit your qualifications.
  • Don’t wait to hear back because many times you won’t. Just keep applying.
  • Keep your options open. Attend interviews. You’ll become more comfortable with them, become better prepared to answer common questions, and learn what companies are looking for.
  • Be patient but persistent. Keep looking, applying, and interviewing.
  • Forgive yourself. I made lots of mistakes, but this was a new experience. Recognize that it’s going to take you a while to get the hang of it.

Good luck!

Thanks for reading the series! Dan and I both appreciate your interest and we hope this has helped those of you thinking of making a change. For those who plan on persisting in the classroom for the next five or ten or fifteen years, I have a book coming out in March called Leave School At School: The Effective Teacher’s Guide to a 40-Hour Workweek. It will help you cut back on hours without sacrificing your impact with kids. In fact, because you’ll be more focused, better-rested, and less stressed, you’ll probably be a better teacher. If you don’t want to miss the release date for that one, subscribe to the blog. I’ll email you when it becomes available and you’ll be able to take advantage of a first week discount.

If you have questions for Dan, feel free to email him at [email protected]

You can also follow him on Twitter: @dandanlaird

I Quit Teaching and Won’t Go Back

“I Quit Teaching and Won’t Go Back” is the second of a three-part series written by Dan Laird, a teacher of 17 years who left education to work in private industry. Part one, “Why I Quit Teaching After 17 Successful Years” can be read here. Part three, “The Teacher’s Guide to Changing Careers” will be published in the coming days. 

Dan Laird

It has been almost ten months since I started my new career giving me a chance to see the world from a set of non-teacher eyes. Each day, I’m happier I left. Each day, I want to lead everyone I left in the classroom on a revolt. The grass on the other side is greener. I’ve seen it.

Let’s “yada yada yada” our way through the obvious reasons why: the pay is better, the benefits are better, my retirement savings now grow three times as fast, I have an hour for lunch which gives me enough time to eat at home if I’d like, I can use the bathroom at any time without needing to find someone to sit at my desk while I’m gone, and my office building is modern and doesn’t smell like a gym locker. But you already expected that.

The real reason I will never go back to education is the culture. I discovered that teachers have been conditioned to believe that everything must be harder than it actually has to be. We are trained to think that the reasonable is unreasonable, that anything we are afforded should be considered a favor, that guilt should accompany permission for the most basic accommodations.

As it turns out, the professional world does not operate like it does inside the walls of a school. In the first month of my new job, three events solidified my departure from education as one of the best events that ever happened to me:

1.  Part of my job description includes the creation of digital interactive tutorials and the monitoring of the company’s learning management system. As if being paid to be creative every day isn’t monumental enough, that isn’t the most incredible part. When I asked my manager if I would have access to the designing software at home to continue working when needed, her response was, “The short answer is ‘yes,’ but we don’t expect you to take work home.” She went on to tell me that the company feels family is important and that an employee shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t have deadlines or that I still haven’t brought my laptop home from time to time. But I find that I accomplish more at work because I’m allowed to do my job uninterrupted, unlike teaching, where classroom instruction is the least respected part of the job.

As teachers, there is an expectation that large parts of your required duties are to be performed on your own personal time. Not only are you expected to teach during classroom hours, you are expected to give up your lunch and planning hour if a student requests it. The request never seems unreasonable to anyone other than the teacher. Saying “no” is a guaranteed PR nightmare because, once again, not being willing to sacrifice on command clearly means you don’t care about kids.

As teachers lose their planning time, their 25 minutes to shovel down a microwave meal, and their early mornings and afternoons in order to spend more time working with students, the other half of the job awaits them during their personal time, their time with family, their time to unwind. There is no such thing as “off duty” when you are a teacher. What you do to go above and beyond as a teacher quickly becomes the norm, which means you then have to figure out a new way to go above and beyond.

First, it was important to have your grades prepared for report cards at the end of the trimester, then it was important to have your grades prepared for progress reports in the middle of the trimester, then we were required to send grade notices home to give parents a heads up regarding what they will be seeing on the progress report. Now all of a sudden, you’re unable to work on long-term projects because you won’t have a grade in time for the next update and we all know that if you don’t have grades, then clearly it’s because you’re lazy.

The same thing happens with parent communication. You update a website regularly with daily class information and downloadable materials? How am I supposed to know when it’s updated each day? Oh, you’ve added a class Twitter account to announce updates to the website? But I prefer text messages. Oh, you have a website, a Twitter account, and a Remind texting account? Well, we didn’t have time to check it. Can you just send home everything my child is missing?

My work hours are a little longer now. Instead of 8 to 3, I work 8 to 5. But I wouldn’t say that my work day is longer. As a teacher, 8 am was the time work started but it wasn’t the time I started working. I was usually at school by 7 am at the latest (earlier if I didn’t have to take my kids to school or daycare) in order to get everything ready. And when 3 pm rolled around, I was packing multiple hours worth of work into my bag to take to my other office, also known as my dining room table.

At my new job, an 8 am start means I leave my house at 7:40. And at 5 pm, my bag returns home as light as it left. Again, this doesn’t mean that my new colleagues and I aren’t working hard, or that we don’t bust our asses to go above and beyond expectations, or that we don’t still take work home with us. In fact, right now my work hours are a blur because of the extra time being put in to plan the company’s annual national conference in Orlando. (Did I mention my job includes an all-expenses-paid trip to Florida?) But in the world outside education, we sacrifice our time when needed as opposed to being expected to sacrifice our time as a matter of course.

2.  In the year before I left teaching, my daughter started pre-school, so I enrolled her in the district where I taught. Of course, this meant that I dropped her off and picked her up from school. This created a problem when I had a staff meeting after school. The problem wasn’t picking her up. It was where to take her during my meeting. I asked if she could just sit at my desk since the meeting was in my room fully expecting a “no problem.” Instead, I was made to feel like the request was unreasonable, that an institution for teaching children was no place for a child. Instead, I had to find a student to babysit her in another room. Perhaps it was for the best. Who knows what could have happened had my 4-year-old daughter been privy to Homecoming planning details and SAT data.

When I started my new job, I was faced with a similarly difficult situation when our after-school care provider called in sick. My now five-year-old daughter couldn’t just stay at school for another two hours and she certainly wasn’t going to walk home by herself. I expected an awkward conversation with my manager. Instead, my manager and my team were practically giddy with excitement. They told me that I could work from home for the rest of the afternoon but that they would love it if I brought my daughter back to work with me.

“Are you serious?” I asked cautiously, as if this were a setup for being so gullible. I assumed the answer was “yes” since they immediately began planning activities for her. When I returned with my daughter, she was greeted by everyone with coloring pages, candy, and even a toy car with the company logo on it from the president of the company. Now my daughter always wants to know when she can come back to work with me. In that moment, I learned that respect for people’s lives outside of work exists. Way too often in teaching, teachers are treated as if caring for their own families means they are neglecting their students and that their job is putting everyone else’s children ahead of their own. It doesn’t have to be like that.

3.  I’m not going to lie and tell you that a part of me doesn’t feel guilty about leaving. Public education is currently waging a huge battle for its survival and I walked away. Despite the way teachers are perceived and disrespected in a social context, it’s a little bit easier to stand up tall and declare you are a teacher when someone asks what you do for a living than it is with a job title that requires explaining. However, I don’t regret leaving for a single moment and I have the rest of my teaching colleagues to thank for it.

When I made my departure official and announced it to the world, I was humbled by the response of kind words and expressions of sadness for losing what I had to offer the classroom. But I was also alarmed by the number of responses I received from teachers asking how I managed to do it. I received texts, emails, and phone calls from teachers all over the national network I had been a part of declaring that they wanted out, too. These messages weren’t coming from young teachers who decided they couldn’t hack it for the long haul. These were established teachers, leaders in their field, authors of respected educational research. Many, like me, could even see the finish line of a retirement from education within the next decade but decided that it wasn’t worth it. The requests for information started spreading. I began receiving messages from friends of friends and even a few strangers. I had somehow become the exodus guru. I still receive these messages, with the most recent just last week from a woman I once met at a conference who found me on LinkedIn and wondered if I could give her friend some advice.

With so many wanting out, my guilty feelings quickly subsided. However, I’m left with a fear for our education system. In my state of Michigan alone, enrollment in college teacher programs has declined drastically to the point where schools are hard pressed to find someone who will even be a substitute. For the last decade, teachers in my state have seen repeated attacks on their paychecks, their credibility, their voice, and the profession in general. We’ve reached an era where parents don’t have to dissuade their children from becoming teachers. Their kids no longer see any appeal. Pretty soon, the fight for public education might have to come from the outside because there will be no one left to throw punches on the inside.

I will continue to be one of those fighters on the outside, but I will also enjoy a well-deserved life outside of the trenches. Instead of phone calls to parents or stacks of papers to grade, my evenings are filled with time to play with my daughters. I use some of my new extra income to pay for those subscription home meal delivery kits and I’m learning to cook. I take a Florida vacation in the middle of winter at a time of my own choosing. I go to bed at a decent hour and have time to read a book before I go to sleep. It truly is amazing how stress-free my life has become. Part of me is pretty sure that my grey hair is getting its color back. While that might be a slight exaggeration, I do truly believe that I have drastically increased my odds of seeing my future grandkids grow up.

Whatever you decide to do with your future, whether it is holding strong in the trenches or seeking a more peaceful life, remember the most important point that I’ve gathered through this whole experience: You have worth outside of the classroom. In my case, I found a job that respects my professional accomplishments as a teacher more than those who employed me as one. You have not locked yourself into a career you can’t get out of. There are options. You just have to discover what they are. You may use this discovery to begin planning your exit. Or you may use this discovery to strengthen your resolve to fight for what is right in your school because now you know your school needs you more than you need it. For the sake of my children, one of which started kindergarten this year, I hope there are enough of you that choose the latter. But if you choose the former, I seriously doubt you’ll regret it.


In part three of this series, Dan will share the lessons he learned when he quit teaching and started searching for a new job. If you’re considering getting out of the classroom, you’ll want to learn from his experience. Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss it. The article, as well as future ones, will be emailed to you.

You can also follow Dan on Twitter at @DanDanLaird and if you’d like to contact him directly his email is [email protected]