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Teachers Are Human Too: Why I Left Teaching After One Year

Teachers Are Human Too: Why I Left Teaching After One Year


Excerpt from the book Teachers Are Human Too by Jaclyn Kirby

I think we all experience a moment in life when our intuition screams out at us. No matter how much you’ve tried to push away your emotions and block out your deepest desires, your true self will one day make itself known.

For me, it happened the moment I stepped into my classroom after a glorious summer break. I was gearing up to begin my second year of teaching. As I walked into my empty classroom for the first time in two months, I froze as I looked around at the spider-web-infested room.

Let me explain a little about myself. I grew up with a police officer father and was a competitive gymnast until the age of 16. My childhood experiences made me the queen of suppressing all my emotions. The nasty little voice in my head echoed the beliefs of my father and coaches—your feelings don’t matter, and nobody cares what you think. When I felt sad at home, I was told, “Suck it up. No crying allowed.” At gymnastics, when I’d break a bone, I was told, “No, you didn’t. Keep going.” 

All this to say, I never cried. I stuffed all my emotions away and stored them in places where I wouldn’t have to deal. I drank heavily on the weekends and binge ate every time I got home from school to numb away the anxiety, the stress of the week, and the self-doubt. This coping strategy made me feel like I was in control of at least one aspect of my life—so that I could continue to appear successful and like I had it all together during work. I didn’t share my struggles with anyone. Quietly suffering alone was all I knew.

Now here I was, stepping into Room 11 after two months of complete freedom and bliss. I had never in my life had two months off from all responsibilities, so I finally relaxed and did the things I genuinely wanted to do. I did not worry about finding a job, signing up for classes, or extra long, extra painful gymnastics practices—I just lived. 

The energy of my classroom held all of the memories from the previous years. It swallowed me whole and threw me back into the reality of what was ahead of me. A tear rolled down my cheek. Once one tear escaped, the floodgates flew open. I was sobbing. Wailing. Trying to cover up my cries with my shirt so my colleagues in the rooms next door wouldn’t hear.

I collapsed onto my desk chair, hysterical. As I cried, I tried to rack my brain to understand why I was having this reaction. I’d driven to school that morning, not necessarily happy to get back to work, but definitely not sad. I had a great summer, and I felt ready to come back. So why was it so triggering to walk back into my classroom after eight weeks away?

I kept searching for the answer. I told myself… 

Last year was great.

You ended on such a high note.

You made a positive impact on your students.

As my tears slowed, it hit me. You are a naturally great teacher. You surprised yourself by how easily you handled situations you never imagined would happen in a classroom.

But, you are not fulfilled. For the rest of your life, you will be on this hamster wheel, only looking forward to the two months out of the year when you can live the life that feels true to who you are.

This epiphany surprised me. I never had even a slight thought of a career other than being a teacher. I listened to what all the adults in my life told me and chose a safe, respectable career where I could achieve it all by the age of 22 and then coast until retirement. What I didn’t consider was that maybe I desire so much more. I have a fire to achieve more. I want to live my dream life instead of just scraping by.

My mom was a stay-at-home mom until all her kids grew up, and then she had to find a job she hated in her 40s. To her, I was living the dream as a teacher. It seemed insane that I’d want to give up a job so reliable, with holidays off, a retirement fund, and all those government benefits that older people care about. I get it. I had it made.

I achieved a respectable career at such a young age. I loved the feeling of being the youngest teacher while looking around at other people my age who were still in their 6th year of college. I’ve always been a bit of an overachiever, and I cared about that status. But at that moment after the breakdown in my classroom, I realized that there’s nothing cool about a 40-year-old 3rd-grade teacher who hates her life, gives 1⁄4 of herself to her own kids, fully neglects her husband, and is still nowhere near close to paying off her student loans.

I acknowledge that this might be where some of you are in your journey, and I recognize your pain. I saw myself headed straight there, and just the thought of it was debilitating. The high expectations and selfless stereotype of teachers are held up to make it seem normal to put yourself last. I see how easily I could’ve ignored this breakdown and continued on as planned, headed straight for that unhappy veteran teacher life. 

Everyone makes choices based on their unique situation. My first year of teaching was the perfect storm to wake me up and thrust me on this journey of searching for more. Up to this point, I made a lot of choices for the sole purpose of looking “cool” or “successful” to others— ignoring my own needs, desires, and personal definition of success. 

Today is not too late to make a shift that frees you to live a full, joyful life. My breakdown revealed that this is not the life I want, and I’m going to change it now before I get to the point of complete misery. I’m no expert teacher. I’m a regular human who became a teacher, crushed it, and then realized I wanted more. 

If you liked this article, you’d also like Unexpected Feelings When I Quit Teaching.

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Jane Morris

Jane Morris is the pen name of an ex-teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is worried awful administrators will come after her for spilling their dirty little secrets. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in Writing and Literature from an even fancier (and more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh through the tears.

She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.