My mother retired from teaching after 40+years. The great part was that she was still at the top of her game. She primarily taught kindergarten throughout that time. I have taught K-2 at various times in my career, and I still don’t know where the woman got the energy to teach kindergarten every day for all of those years. They take a special kind of attention.
When my mother began teaching, it was a career in which one entered and remained. It was almost unheard of for a teacher to leave the field to work outside of education. And yet, today, just one generation later, good teachers are leaving the classroom at an alarming rate. Some stay in education, but move to an administrative position. I know many, myself included, who did this to become a principal, tech director, curriculum director, etc. Others, however, leave education completely. I know a math teacher who left to become a data analyst for a medical company. An English teacher left, and is now an instructional designer for a satellite TV company. My third-grade son still misses his former music teacher who left teaching after only a few years. There are various reasons for making these career changes. I think they can basically be broken into two categories: 1. Desire for change, and 2. Desire for impact.
- Desire for change – I think this comes down to wanting/needing a job that offers more money, more job security, and/or more consistency in job expectations. Just in the last five years I’ve seen many teachers who wanted to keep teaching decide to take an early retirement in face of the constantly changing academic standards, accountability tools, and government regulations. Add to that (in Indiana, at least), that these veteran teachers are no longer protected by their seniority. I know other teachers who have left simply because they can make so much more money in a different field. The sad part (especially as a parent) is that our students are missing out on some extremely talented and caring teachers. On numerous occasions, I’ve heard teachers lament, “We don’t have time to make teaching fun anymore.” Or, “Everything is about the standardized assessment from the state.” It can get frustrating for even the most enthusiastic educator. I remember the emotional and physical fatigue of spending my days teaching seven-year-olds. Having so many students vying for your affection and attention all day can be, both rewarding, and draining.
- Desire for impact – Other teachers leave the classroom, but remain in education because they see an opportunity to make more impact elsewhere. I loved working with administrators and teachers, alike, as a curriculum director to do just that. Last week I got to accompany my son on a field trip. He teasingly said, “Mom, stop being a teacher.” My response was, “I can’t. I’m a teacher. My job now (education consultant) lets me teach adults.” And it’s true. I love what I get to do (and I get paid!), because of the impact I hope to be making in the world of education. (Disclaimer: I definitely know principals, superintendents, etc. who leave the classroom for less-than-altruistic reasons. These are not the ones I’m writing about in this post. This one is dedicated to those who have educator’s hearts even if they leave the classroom or profession all together.) I feel fortunate to be connected with numerous educators who are doing just that every day as school and/or district administrators, coaches, trainers, consultants, bloggers, tweeters…you get my point.
So, before making quick judgments on why a teacher is no longer teaching, think about what she/he has already offered to the classes taught. Think about them as human beings (who don’t live at the school!!), and what might be best for their families. Think about the impact they could be making on education (or in another field) outside of the classroom. And take a moment to thank them for their dedication. But even more so, thank those that are still plowing away touching the lives of students in the classroom each day. You never know how much that appreciation could influence their career path, and brighten their day!