Why I Quit Teaching After 17 Successful Years

This article is the first in a three-part series written by Dan Laird, a teacher of 17 years who quit at the top of his game and found success in private industry. In part one, Dan explains what led to his decision to give up on teaching. In part two, you will read why Dan will never go back now that’s he seen “the other side.” In part three, Dan will offer hard-won advice to any teacher who is looking for a job outside of education. 

Dan Laird

When I first decided to become a teacher back in the 20th century, my parents tried to talk me out of it. It wasn’t because they looked down on the profession. My mom is a retired teacher. My sister is a teacher. And some of my cousins are teachers. It’s in the genes. While I will also certainly make an attempt to talk my children out of becoming teachers, my parents’ reasoning was simple: There were more opportunities for success elsewhere.

Today, however, the reasons for avoiding the teaching profession are more serious. The pay has become a stagnant system of scratching and clawing for an occasional measly half-percent off-schedule “raise.” In many years, not taking a pay cut is considered a success. But there is a bigger issue. Teaching is demoralizing. The strain of unrealistic demands has made it even more exhausting than it already was. Sacrifice is now the expectation and that expectation is typically rewarded with criticism and a demand for more.

The Beatings Will Continue

When Detroit teachers walked out of their classrooms in 2016 to protest the atrocious working conditions that included everything from overcrowded classrooms to mold and mushrooms growing on the walls and floor, I read comments on social media demanding that these teachers be fired and that they “knew what they were getting into when they took the job.” Of course, there were also comments criticizing teachers for hurting kids by denying them an education and arguing that these teachers needed to go through the proper channels to effect change. These conditions were not new in 2016. Where were the commendations for using the “proper channels” in previous years?

The crisis in Detroit and subsequent ones like the lack of heat in Baltimore this winter demonstrate two things: Drastic measures are sometimes needed to draw attention to the most basic of educational needs and drastic measures make it uncomfortably difficult for others to ignore the problem. Education professionals suffer when they don’t advocate for their students, but they suffer even more when they do. A friend of mine has a toy plaque with a pirate skull that says, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” I can’t think of a more appropriate motto for the teaching profession.

The Height of My Career

I resigned from my teaching position in 2017 after 17 years. To provide some perspective, I spent all 17 years (plus an additional full year as an intern) in the same district. I was invested in the school. I put down roots. Leaving the teaching profession meant leaving much more than just a job. My colleagues were my family. An entire generation of parents in the community sent every one of their children to my classroom at some point. I was even starting to see the children of students from my internship year.

My connection to the community wasn’t the only reason it was difficult. I was at the height of my career. I had just co-authored the book Real Writing: Modernizing the Old School Essay with Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. I was presenting my work at national conferences in cities like Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. And I was collaborating on educational initiatives with teachers across the country through my work with the National Writing Project. I even earned my administration endorsement the year before I left. I was invested in advancing in my profession all the way to the end.

This isn’t a story about one man hating his job for years until he finally had enough. There was no gradual decline. Quite the contrary. I loved teaching and spent countless hours advocating for it. I spent over half of my career as a building representative, vice-president, or president of my local education association. I marched. I picketed. I protested. I voted!

The Least Trusted Source

While I did love my time in the classroom — the connections, the light bulb moments of discovery — my workplace was becoming a constant reminder of what was happening to the teaching profession. New restrictions, meritless legislation, evaluation tools that hadn’t been properly evaluated themselves, mandated standardized tests that were thrown away or redesigned year after year while their results were nevertheless used to compare one year’s performance to the next, a demand from politicians and parents to “make our kids better, but don’t you dare tell them what to do.”

Somehow, the professional became the least trusted source, and the growing trend for outsiders in showing they cared about education had become to point a finger. I think it’s fair to say that the emotional drain had surpassed the physical one. Something had to change. My change was to become selfish and walk away. I quit.

A New Job

I dipped my toes in the waters of a career outside of teaching when I created my own professional development consulting business. I formed an LLC, created a website, ordered business cards, and even hired a former student to create the logo for me. I sent promotional materials to just about every school in Michigan. It seemed like a logical fit. I’d get to continue in the world of education using all of the knowledge and experience I had gained in almost two decades of teaching. More importantly, I could enjoy focusing on instruction. No more grading papers past midnight, no more parent/teacher conferences, no more battles about sound educational practices with school board members who’d barely earned their high school diplomas, no more spineless administrators who pretended to be uninformed so they could avoid making difficult decisions. The thought of it was exhilarating.

But since making this my primary source of income wasn’t exactly the soundest financial decision, I started looking at job postings that could supplement the venture. Unfortunately for the business, it wasn’t long after all of the momentum started to build that I was offered a job as a Training and Development Specialist for a privately operated company that had nothing to do with education.

I accepted and within one month I discovered every reason why I will never return to teaching again.

____________

I’ll be publishing Part 2 of this series, Why I Left Teaching and Will Never Go Back, in the coming days and part 3, The Teacher’s Guide to Changing Careers shortly after that.  If you want to be sure not to miss those, the best thing to do is subscribe to the blog. I’ll email you new articles (check your promotions tab, Google hides them there). You can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter, where I link to my articles.

___________

Have you also walked away from teaching?

Or maybe you left the corporate world to become a teacher?

I’d love to hear from you. Comment on this or subsequent articles in this series and I may get in touch with you for a book I’m writing. Thanks!

15 Replies to “Why I Quit Teaching After 17 Successful Years”

  1. Everything that you mentioned that convinced you to leave the teaching profession is also encouraging me to walk away from teaching. I have been teaching for 20 years, 9 years in a government facility and 11 years in the public schools. At this point, I feel as if children reflect an attitude towards their education that is not positive in preparing them for their futures and the futures of our country. They just don’t care. Period. Your statement, “make our kids better, but don’t dare tell them what to do’” from parents and politicians, is right on. Our teaching profession is indeed demoralizing. My present plan is to “grin and bear it”, and push through the rest of this school year and the next two school years after. I keep looking for other jobs that I hope will encourage me to leave sooner. It is just so sad that our profession has come to this status and it’s even more concerning for our future.

  2. I left. I’m a para-pro now, making pennies, a mere observer in the world I used to fight my way through. I leave every day at 3:30 with no work to do at home and energy left to give to my own children. Getting my retirement but trying to figure my next best move. Every day I fight the feelings of failure, but I also see the stress and fear on the teacher’s faces. It’s so hard to see something else out there for myself.

    1. You’re touching on a few of the topics of my next section. The guilt is real but so is the relief of being able to leave work at work. The third section will offer some advice for looking elsewhere. What is your certification?

  3. Sacrifice is now the expectation and that expectation is typically rewarded with criticism and a demand for more.- Perfectly said. We’ve been told to work longer nights and weekends. There was once the message from administration to get kids to pass the state test. Then it became to get kids to get a pass plus on the test. Now it is about getting kids to pass, pass plus, and show growth. It’s never ending.

  4. Your article resonates completely with me – in the UK, teaching is a career ruled by fear and oppression too, and I’m desperate to get out – I just don’t yet know how. I’m looking forward to your next two articles – I really hope your advice will be applicable for a middle-aged UK teacher, with limited ICT skills, at the end of a tether!

  5. Your sentiments are right on! I accepted an ERI to leave after 34 years of teaching! I was tired of dismal (if any) raises from a well-respected district with increasing student enrollment. While I miss my colleagues, I work part time tutoring math & make as much $ asI did teaching! Sad, but true!

  6. I ready to walk away now. This is my twenty first year. I have been inundated with more paperwork, less administrative support, and poorly behaved children. I want out ASAP! I just need health insurance!

  7. I have taught 40+ years in Catholic school where our pension was frozen last year and if I weren’t the health insurance for my retired husband I would be retired by now.

  8. After 20 years of working hard in the corporate world to give 15 years of great successes teaching middle school math in the same district, which is now growing very fast, I realize it all was at a great price… my mental and physical health. I didn’t realize what was happening to me, until now when I continue putting all my energy (and love) into my students. This culture of entitled parents are setting their own standard for their children, placing blame on teachers for any evidence of lack of social or intellectual growth their child displays. I try hard to empathize with my administrators, however, their needed support is dimishing. Another issue I have is that many, or most, teachers have also fallen to the pressure, and are now giving passing grades to all students, which does not identify weaknesses in student effort. Our students have lost intrinsic motivation to learn, the only thing left for them. My option… If I give true grades, I have more parent contact/conferences than I can handle. It makes me sad to see so many teachers giving in to the pressures, but now I see why. I have 4 more years to retirement.

  9. Thank you for this honest portrait of your experience. I am leaving at the end of this year. I don’t have a job lined up. I have no idea where I’m going to get health insurance. I have no idea how I’m going to support my family. But I no longer care. I will find a way. I will figure it out. All I know is I’m tired of waking up every morning and feeling so much anxiety. I am tired of feeling like I can never do anything right. It is to the point where I feel like I don’t want to try anymore because, what for? To echo Mr. Murphy’s recent post, we’re not trusted anymore so why put in the energy to make them think they can? I am doing my students and myself a disservice by continuing. Again, thank you for making me feel like I’m not crazy. It truly is like having a toxic relationship. You are so used to being treated with such abuse that you don’t even know it’s abnormal until you start to walk away.

  10. I gave my job away to a riffed teacher last Sept and took a year leave of absence. Felt like I broke out of prison! I sub one or two days a week, but wonder what other part-time work I could do to supplement my on-line book business. Thoughts?

  11. I am in the middle of deciding my next professional move.
    Last June I left my teaching position of 17 years at a private high school in Michigan (plus a year at a charter school before that). This came after about 6 years of being very unhappy professionally, but I had not actually gotten up the nerve to leave. Instead, last May, my husband was offered a job in Vermont and we made the decision to move our family. I have spent the last 9 months juggling the logistics of moving across country and the emotional upheaval for my 3 boys. I recently started subbing.
    This whole time, I have been thinking about what comes next.
    I strongly suspect that teaching full time is NOT it – for most of the same reasons you have sited (the difference in experience within private education is surprisingly small).

  12. Great post. I am taking a year off from teaching to venture into some other things. I understand how you feel, and it’s refreshing to hear an honest voice for a change. So many teachers (especially elementary teachers) view teaching from rose-tinted glasses. While there are many positives, especially if you get in the right school, the negatives can’t be missed or downplayed.

  13. Thank you for your article. I am done as well. 24 years in, and I cannot do this anymore. It is as if you looked into my mind and wrote my thoughts. As I look online, I see so many websites, blogs, etc. speaking to the horrors of teaching. This is a profession that is crying out for help, yet no one cares. The profession is just so disrespected on all levels. I am tired of that categorical disrespect, and no one who works as hard as teachers do deserves it. It is very sad, because I am good at it, but I HAVE to go. I feel as if I am being forced out by all the elements that you mentioned. I, too, have no plan, and I feel fear and anxiety on one hand, but jubilation on the other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *