Leaving my teaching career was tough; here's what others wanted to know about my departure.
Fort Worth Stockyards, fall 2021. Photographer: Katie O'Keefe MacMorran
I sent out a poll to friends and family asking what they wanted to know now that I'm 7 months removed from my teaching career. All names are anonymous. I've written out their questions and followed up as best as I could.
"Having been 7 months removed at this point, do you genuinely feel more content? Or are there some aspects you miss about the teaching life?"
I genuinely feel more content. Here's why: leading up to my departure I was sensing less joy in my work. I was unhappy with who I was as a person and no longer felt that what I could control was enough to make that unhappy, shell of a person, feel any better. Teaching is a very selfless endeavor. It takes up a lot of physical and mental space. I tried different forms of 'balancing' my work and home life but found that the environments were really challenging to keep this consistent. Now that I've left teaching, my concept of time has changed for the better. When I was teaching, I was always finding more efficient ways to do things so that I could find more time for myself but that became extremely difficult for a number of reasons; fire drills, extra games, competitions, conferences, testing days, fundraisers, etc...It was important for me to take a step back from teaching to fully grasp just how much I was giving and how much I was missing out on in my personal life. Time will tell, but I feel confident that I made the right choice. When I think of aspects that I miss from teaching, it's probably one of the more obvious things - I miss the lightbulb moments for students when they learn something new. Luckily, that is something that I'll have more time for in the future with the occasional clinic or rehearsal that I can help out with and by that point, I'll be in a better place mentally to give 100% of my attention to.
"Being a teacher takes up a lot of time, so how did you adjust when you had a lot more?"
I gave myself a lot of grace when I transitioned into a new lifestyle. I made sure to go do as much of the things I loved to fill that void and also clear my head of what I believe was a traumatic experience throughout the years I taught. Because the fact of the matter is, everyone has a different experience as teachers. Some are way better than others. There's often a narrative that "oh, you're so strong. You can do this. Teachers are heroes and they do it because they love it, so no matter what obstacles they face, they will remain resilient" and I refuse to believe that anymore. Once I stepped away and had a 'mini-retirement', that really opened my eyes to how other people can make a living and live a life that is on their own terms. The adjustment has not been easy but I will say that working as a teacher certainly prepared me for some of the hardest challenges people face. Teaching in a classroom and especially in the arts, really changes you in unexpected ways that extend beyond the career itself. Which is why, when the discussion of leaving the career came to the table, I believed that I really could do anything once I left. My wife and I were scared leading up to the time I left but also knew that the time I would get back in my every day life would allow for growth, new opportunities, new connections, experiences, and that ultimately we would land on our feet. There are still days that I work less than 4 hours but make what I made as a teacher and there's something to be said for that. I believe in myself, my worth. There's a common phrase that is overused, “There are people less qualified than you, doing things you want to do, because they believe in themselves and take action" and I have to agree, it's true.
"I don't know how to make the jump without ensuring that I make the same paycheck..."
This is a great point. I'm a risk taker and not everyone is. There are certainly teachers that leave because they may have a safety net; whether its family, savings, or a combination of help from both. For my situation, my partner and I discussed the reality of one person having a steady paycheck with benefits while the other could focus on growing their own business. Not everyone has this situation. I would say that making the jump does start in small steps. Most people may not know this but I started taking courses in 2018 to learn more about what I do now. I posted about it every so often but I'm sure that it doesn't cut through the noise, sound sexy, or it may not have resonated with anyone; most people in our circle were and are still caught up in what everyone else is doing within the community. It will take time, which is the most important resource we have, and there's not a lot of it. Someone I learned a lot from leading up to my career departure would often say, "people don't make a change or take the necessary steps until the pain point is big enough". I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. My motivation for making a change was to have a vision for what I wanted. I knew that if I had put in the work slowly and a little bit each day, I would eventually get to the point where I could take the plunge. That meant small sacrifices. People doubting or laughing at me, others saying, "yeah, good luck with that". I had to put blinders on and shut out all the noise from everyone. We see a lot of the highlight reels in the lives of others because our social norms keep that fantasy alive. It's impossible and an unrealistic expectation. Trust me when I say that, "if you can make it as a teacher, you can make it doing anything else you set your mind to". Teachers are brilliant, they hustle harder than almost anyone. Teachers face more adversities in an hour than most people do in a week. As far as making the same monthly paycheck, I had a very simple mantra that I kept to myself when things got really tough, "if I can work 60+ hours a week with everything that teaching throws at me, I can only imagine trading that time for job hunting, hustling, working on my own business, etc..." It is amazing how much time you get back once you leave. I purposefully saved enough to at least cover basic expenses for 6-12 months just in case. There is some preparation involved and I'd be glad to help out with starting the conversation with you.
"How awesome is it to take days off whenever and not have sub plans or classes without coverage?"
I've gotta tell ya, it feels great. One of the epic highlights for me was the freedom to travel and see family during a week day. I brought my laptop with me to do some work and hadn't seen my mom or even met my step dad because of COVID protocols in 2020. I think back to the difficulty of finding subs, the stress of lesson plans, feeling guilty for leaving, feeling guilty for a lot a things, but now I don't have to worry about that anymore.