Why Did I Leave Teaching

basketball-1-1-012Way back in 2011, I was a Special Education Teacher at a local Junior High and before that I had been the same at the middle/high school grades, in a private school that primarily served students that I will call – the ones who didn’t fit in the typical public school.

When I left in 2011 I would like to believe that I was a good teacher, not great, but good.

Finally, after writing my post yesterday, I am ready to say the real reason that I left teaching. You know the real one that once you get beyond the excuses and rationales that I used to allow myself to leave when I did.

The real reason might surprise many and sound kind of hokey but I know, what I know.

When I hear about why veteran teachers leave teaching, we hear about how little they are compensated, lack of respect as professionals in their field and in their classroom, unhealthy work/life balance, being forced to teach to the test or artificial standard, the number of hours beyond the work day that teachers are expected to volunteer of their personal time towards work, student behaviors that were allowed to continue, the out-of-pocket expenses that are expected of teachers and however many other things that can be seen as a negative by many teachers.

As a teacher I whined, complained about all those things and more, but for the most part I dealt them, just like most teachers. They were part of the deal and while they contributed to my disillusionment of teaching, they were not the reason I left.

When I look back the real reason I left.

  • I had given too many pieces of my heart and just couldn’t give anymore.

As a teacher, every year I gave pieces of my heart unconditionally to students in my classes, even the students that were the most difficult to have in your class. I think every teacher does.

For me it was even more difficult, because for many of the students I had in my classes through the years, school was not what most people expect the experience to be and they all had their unresolved challenges – academics, behavioral, emotional and mental health issues. It was my responsibility as their teacher and special education case manager, to help them make progress and sometimes, hell most of the time – academics was the least of my worries – though I still did.

On top of that during my last year of teaching, I had been unable to care for myself physically due to a knee injury, which resulted in a cascade of negative physical conditions that took their toll on my ability to cope with the neediness of my students and my ability to balance life and work.

Looking back honestly, when I left it wasn’t for the usual reasons and you can laugh if you want, but the reason I left is that:

  • I didn’t have enough heart left to continue.

I had given too many pieces of my heart to my students, I cared about them, worried about what they were doing after school, at home, how could I help them more and it wore on me. Even after they were no longer “my” students and they had become young adults.

So often I felt like a failure, because no matter what I did, nothing much seemed to change for the better for my students…year-after-year.

I wasn’t very good at letting things go and still not all that good at it.

Did I make a difference for some students – Yes, I think I did for some. To others I was just an impediment to them getting what they wanted – “I was that mean old bastard”. There are times when I think about things that happened or didn’t happen and still wonder what I could have done better or differently to reach that student.

I know that life is long past, but I still care.

When students fail, their lives fall apart and you can do nothing but stand there and watch it happen or read about it – it takes a piece of your heart and it hurts too much.

No, the Garrett in the story, was not one of my students, but change the name and from what I know, some (not all), maybe more of my former student’s stories are not all that much different than his. Which is why the tears flowed so freely while reading Garrett’s story, he could have very easily have been one of my students.

I had given too many pieces of my heart away to my students and I think that I am not alone, judging from conversations I have had with other former teachers.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it anymore and in the end that is the real reason why I left teaching and will never return.

4 thoughts on “Why Did I Leave Teaching

  1. My wife is a teacher, so I know about the crazy hours. I keep telling her that if she worked that hard in the private sector, she’d be vice-president by now.
    I think all good teachers get attached to their students. Seeing them move on each year must be difficult.


    • Yeah, the crazy hours are and can be definitely crazy, but most teachers realize that going in with their eyes wide open. It isn’t the hours that got me, it was the powerlessness that I couldn’t get through to the ones that needed to find a different path than the one they were on. I know that I am a lot of an idealist at times, but at what point are we starting to loose too many young people and more because “we can’t do anything” because it might be construed as favoritism, paternalism or all those other frigging “isms” that stop good people from doing the right things at the right times. Oh well, as you can tell I am still pretty passionate about the subject. Time to go bury my head in the sand again and stop looking for fights that I have no hope of winning or much less getting back in the middle of.

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      • You fought the good fight and you obviously cared. Caring and trying to do something about it is very admirable.
        You did your tour of duty and probably had a greater impact on more kids than you will ever know. Not hearing about some of them is a victory. Some you gave enough to to get that first job or get through school. Most never come back and say, “Thank you Mr Shaw.” Most probably do not realize how your kick in the butt helped them learn how to get it done, how to work.
        I’m sure I’ve told you before, my wife and sister are teachers. I have a passion for education and great respect for the good teachers who care.


      • Yeah, I don’t think a teacher can be a good teacher without caring. It is more than a job, you either really love it and give your heart to being one or you are there putting in time. I hear from a few every now and then, Facebook is good for that and where I work now, I get to see a few that were “my” students in another life and hear about how some of the others are making out now that they are closer to 30 than 20 (which is hard to believe – how did I get so damn old) ;-). I have a lot of respect for the the good teachers out there who can go back to the classroom year-after-year and continue to have a big enough heart to keep giving. You know exactly what I am talking about when I write this kind of thing. Teaching is much more than simply another job and that is what those who haven’t taught don’t understand, or don’t believe the complexities of dealing with 26 students, their families, the interpersonal relationships that happen in and out of school, all while attempting to provide some solid academics. Oh well gotta get off the soapbox… 🙂 Thanks Andy

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