Many new teachers get to the point where they’re just DONE with their teaching situation, or maybe just teaching in general. While most of you are still excited about teaching since you’ve just started, there are still some of you that are already overwhelmed and just over it all and are wondering what to do next. You may be wondering if teaching is still right for you. You may have hated the first semester for a variety of reasons that seem beyond your control. Maybe you still love teaching but there’s just something that’s making it less enjoyable or less fulfilling. In today’s episode, I give you some options aside from quitting teaching altogether that may make teaching more enjoyable and keep you in the field.
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At the time of this recording, most of us have just survived one semester and finished one week of winter break. During this past week, you may have been lamenting about going back to school even though you have another week left. This is pretty much how 99.9% of teachers feel.
But there may be something more lurking there. You may be wondering if teaching is still right for you. You may have hated the first semester for a variety of reasons that seem beyond your control. Maybe you still love teaching but there’s just something that’s making it less enjoyable or less fulfilling. And you can’t figure out what to do.
In all transparency, I have had these thoughts and gone through this questioning process quite a few times in my career. It’s completely normal! The problem is when these thoughts lead us down the path of quitting teaching.
Now, you may know a lot of people who have quit teaching and are quite happy. But I bet you know more people that are stuck in teaching for whatever reason and are miserable. AND perhaps at this moment, you don’t want to quit but you don’t know if you want to stay. So what do you do?
So I want to discuss the different times I’ve felt stuck in teaching and what I did to get out of my rut.
After my first two years of teaching, I moved to San Diego to be with my husband. My first job here was the EXACT JOB that I told myself I never, ever wanted to have – high school marching band. I’d taught it in my second student-teaching experience, and HATED it. I knew I wasn’t cut out for it, but it was honestly the only way to get my foot in the door in my district.
There weren’t a lot of other options around me, and it was getting dangerously close to the beginning of the school year. So when I got the call to interview for a high school band job, I put on my big girl pants, sucked it up, and went for it.
I was surprised that I even got the job because I could tell that the principal interviewing knew that I really didn’t want to teach it. But they were desperate, and the school year was about to start, so I got the job.
During my two years at the high school, I learned a LOT about myself and my abilities as a teacher. I learned that I could connect with pretty much any age, but I was also really immature. I got stuck in that mindset of wanting to be friends with my students, and it didn’t pan out for me. Yes, they liked me, but they didn’t really respect me.
I also knew that I was a terrible high school band teacher. I really didn’t know what I was doing, and you could tell based on how the bands sounded. And I knew that I didn’t want to do it anymore, and I even entertained the idea of leaving teaching.
But I’d spent so much money just to get my credential, and honestly, no other job sounded interesting to me. So instead, I looked for a new school to teach at. Two years into the high school band job, a middle school position opened. I immediately jumped at the opportunity, and luckily I had an in with the current band teacher who was moving up to the high school level.
So changing schools really helped me get through that first bump in the road when I was doubting whether or not I should stay. It may not seem like an option for you, especially if you’re in a more rural area and there aren’t a lot of schools around you. Or perhaps the only option would be to move, and you can’t for a variety of reasons.
But if you’re thinking of leaving the profession, I urge you to first try to change schools and see if a different environment will make a difference. I did this again about four years ago when I was really starting to feel stuck at my previous school. I jumped at the opportunity to transfer to a nearby middle school, and it really invigorated me and sparked a period of creativity and innovation in my teaching.
You definitely want to consider switching schools if you’re in a toxic environment. Sometimes poor administration, factions and cliques in your school, low morale, and in general just a lot of negativity can take a toll on your teaching, especially as a new teacher. This is a time in your career when you need a LOT of support, so if you dread going to work but LOVE being in the classroom with the kids, then changing schools is a definite solution.
Also, you might have noticed that I went from teaching high school to middle school. So I also suggest considering teaching a different grade level. After a while, teaching the same material year after year gets boring. And even if you mix up your lessons and activities, you may get tired of the same standards, the same issues, and basically the same thing over and over again.
I tried this after teaching 7th grade English for five years and I decided to try 8th grade. It was definitely a challenge for me, but it kept me on my toes. I realized that I didn’t like it and switched back to 7th the following year, but it was enough of a change for me to want to try new things in my teaching and keep me satisfied with my work.
So back to teaching band. After teaching it for 9 years, I started to get restless again. I wanted something different, and I also wanted to make more money. You can relate, right? So I decided that it was a good time for me to get my master’s degree. I’ve always been a good student, and I figured that learning some new teaching techniques could help me become a better teacher.
I researched different programs, talked to my colleagues, and finally settled on getting my master’s online through National University. It was a very intensive program, and I was writing 2-3 essays per WEEKEND in addition to reading and participating in online group discussions. And of course, I was teaching.
But getting my master’s gave me a sense of purpose and something to mix up the monotony of teaching. Yes, it was difficult and time-consuming, and yes, it was expensive and I had to take out loans, but it also ensured that my future step increases and pension would be higher.
So this could be an option for you as well if you’re starting to get tired of teaching already. On the one hand, you might think I’m crazy to suggest this because you already have so much on your plate just figuring out teaching. But at the same time, you’re also not too far off from college, so I bet your studying and writing chops are still pretty good.
AND perhaps there’s an avenue of teaching that you’d like to really refine, like incorporating technology or perhaps curriculum and development. These can give you a different focus, and while you’re going through the program, your teaching will naturally change.
If you’re further along and have been teaching for more years, I also suggest considering National Board Certification or getting your administration credential. While I haven’t done either of these, it’s the same idea as getting your master’s. The coursework will help you make more money while also improving your teaching. There are requirements to even apply, such as needing to teach for a minimum of three years before applying for board certification. So be sure to look those up if you want to go down that road.
So not long after I got my master’s and 10 years into teaching band, I got really bored and over all of the time spent outside of school for performances and practices, all of the planning, instrument inventory, and things like that. But getting my master’s also opened my eyes to aspects of teaching that really didn’t seem to apply to band. One of them was technology integration. At the time, there wasn’t much that we could do with tech in the band room aside from having students go into a practice room and record themselves playing.
And I really started thinking about helping students with literacy, communicating through writing, and using technology. I always had a knack for helping my students with their English homework, especially with explaining grammar in a way that was understandable.
After talking to one of my good friends who was an English teacher at my school as well as my principal, I decided to take the test to get my English Single Subject Credential. This required a LOT of studying since I wasn’t an English major. I mean, it was BRUTAL, and there were areas of English lit that I really was unfamiliar with.
But I passed, and my principal had a position ready for me! So another way to reignite your passion for teaching is to consider teaching a different subject. Yes, it’ll be tough in the beginning as you’re figuring out the standards, expected outcomes, etc., but that new challenge can really put teaching into another perspective.
Also, having a new team or PLC can also change things up for you and open your eyes to new ways of teaching and thinking about delivering content! When I taught band, I was the only visual and performing arts teacher at my school, and while I would meet with other electives teachers during PLC, it wasn’t the same.
But when I switched to English, it gave me a new sense of purpose and seeing how that PLC functioned really helped me up my game. PLUS I was able to use everything I’d learned about educational technology in my master’s program because shortly after the switch, our district went to a 1:1 iPad model.
So a few years into teaching English, I started to get restless AGAIN. But this time it was different. I was beginning to really question how I ran my classroom, particularly when it came to grading. I’d heard about standards-based grading, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around how it would work in my classroom.
So I researched and researched it, and started small. I started by really examining my gradebook and reflecting on what it communicated about my students. I also decided to start small and only do partial standards-based grading where some assignments were graded on a 1-4 scale and others were based on points.
It’s taken a long time to come up with something that makes sense for me, and it’s never the same year after year. But trying something new in my classroom kept me from getting bored and wanting to leave the profession. This also applies to me integrating technology into my teaching. It was foreign and I fumbled through it, but it gave me a different focus rather than just the same lessons over and over again.
So for you, this might be something like changing your grading, switching up texts that you use to teach certain standards, researching different activities for how you teach concepts. You might be a math teacher and decide to try Open Middle Math, which I discussed with Robert Kaplinsky in Episode 86. Just try something new and different, and you’ll most likely forget about your dissatisfaction with teaching.
Another way I’ve mixed things up is by applying for additional positions at my school. My district added school curriculum specialists for all of the core subject areas, as well as one for blended learning, which was for integrating technology. I’ve applied for and have been both the English curriculum specialist and blended learning specialist. Just like switching up your teaching, taking on a position like this can also give you a renewed sense of purpose.
You may be thinking but I’m just a new teacher, why would they hire me for that! You have more to offer than you know, and if you don’t get it now, that doesn’t mean you won’t be perfect for it in the future! There are many districts that have teachers on special assignment, or TOSAs, who fulfill different roles as needed. So if you’re feeling stale and wondering if it’s time to exit, maybe consider throwing in your hat for one of these types of positions. While you may not get this particular one, if your administrator knows you’re interested, they might have you in mind for something else that comes along the way!
Finally, a great way to get pumped up about teaching is to attend conferences! I admittedly didn’t do this enough due to money, but now there’s DonorsChoose and so many people have their registration or other fees funded through this! There are so many inspiring conferences like Teach You Heart Out, Get your Teach On, Teacher Self Care, the New Educator Weekend that I talked about in the beginning of this episode. There are also a ton of grade and subject-specific ones. Whatever you choose, you can empty and refill your cup by attending a conference and being around like-minded teachers. I swear by this and am already planning to attend more conferences in the future.
So as you can see, I’ve wanted to leave teaching many times, but instead, I found other ways to keep myself motivated. Whether it’s a change of environment, grade, or subject, a distraction like getting your master’s, trying on different hats, or investing in professional development, there are ways to keep your mojo with teaching. And since you’re just starting out and you’ve invested so much time, effort, and money to get here, you owe it to yourself to try to make it work.
Having a career in teaching is in many ways like being in a relationship – you get bored, tired of it, frustrated, and sometimes hate it after a while, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to call it quits. I’ve always been a believer in doing my best to work things out and not just walking out. I think it’s a huge part of adulting.
Does this mean you’ll reach year 18 like me? No, but you’ll at least know you did everything you could to make it work and you won’t have the guilt of being a quitter. If you try some of these and realize that teaching really isn’t for you, you can leave knowing for sure and have no regrets.
I hope you found this helpful, and if anything I mentioned touched a chord or you want to discuss your situation with me, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter with the handle kimlepre. I’d love to connect with you and help you out in any way that I can.
Thanks for hanging out today, and have a fabulous week!