Updated: Jun 7, 2022
By Brigid Byrne Rowlings
I See You!
How many of you out there have joined a “transitioning out of teaching” Facebook group or four? I see a lot of hands out there! Mine is raised, too.
Three types of posts in these forums make me sad. First, the poster believes that because they’ve spent so much time in education, they are not qualified to do anything else. Second, the poster is ready to apply for jobs in a particular field, but doesn’t know how to translate the skills they use every day as educators into resume-friendly language. Third, the poster wants to go, but does not think they can afford to leave teaching.
These posts make me feel sad because I hear reflected in them the disparaging view of educators and the teaching profession that is so pervasive in the United States. Educators have internalized the belittling rhetoric, and now, when many of us need to step away to preserve or regain our physical and mental health, many of us believe that we have no way out.
The First Goodbye
Friends, I have good news for you! I’ve stepped away from teaching TWICE, and so can you. The first time I walked away, I was 25 and had 4 years of teaching under my belt. I was broke, and tired of being broke. I’d also been diagnosed with generalized anxiety and clinical depression - diagnoses that were long overdue. I was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other, never mind standing in front of a classroom of sixth graders, so at the end of the school year, I resigned.
What was my plan? I did not have much of one. I was on a pay cycle that meant I’d get paid and have health insurance through August. The good thing about being 25 and unemployed was that I didn’t have a partner or children depending on my paycheck. The bad thing about being 25 and unemployed was that I depended on my paycheck.
When August rolled around, I’d been in therapy for a few months and had started an antidepressant, so I had enough energy to find an affordable, no-frills individual health insurance policy (this was before Obamacare - yup! I’m old!). I also decided to register with a temp agency, but after cleaning mouse poop out of a large wholesale club warehouse, answering phones at an architecture firm, and most bizarrely of all, sitting for 8 hours a day doing absolutely nothing in a completely empty office, I needed a new direction. A hankering for some Trader Joe’s tortilla chips and salsa steered me in that new direction. I walked in a hungry woman and walked out with a Hawaian shirt and a name tag. Trader Joe’s ended up being just what I needed. The pay was good, my co-workers quirky and fun, and, after three months, I qualified for a great health insurance plan. Work stayed at work (surprisingly, you can’t bag groceries from home), and I had time to work on my writing.
Almost a year and a half later, my mental health improved significantly. I’d written about half of a novel, but was having doubts about myself as a writer. I was also having some doubts about humanity in general - there are only so many times you can try to tell an irate customer that 365 brand is Whole Foods, not Trader Joe’s, before sighing and giving them a “refund” for the unsatisfactory product. Then my grandfather died suddenly. I’d always been incredibly close to my maternal grandparents, so my grandfather’s death shook me. The loss of my grandfather woke me up to something that had been creeping into my consciousness - I missed my family. I’d been living away from them for 7 years. It was time to go home.
Trying Teaching On Again
Home ended up meaning becoming roommates with my widowed grandmother for the next two and a half years, a time I wouldn’t trade for anything. Home also meant returning to the classroom. My return started with a stint as a long-term sub, and lasted 14 years.
In those 14 years, I fell back in love with teaching. I also fell in love with a childhood friend and married him. We had a baby boy, 3 miscarriages, and a 4 year journey through the adoption process. When Covid hit, we were waiting to travel to Thailand to adopt our daughter. The stress of remote and then hybrid teaching, on top of the stress of parenting a remote and hybrid learner was compounded by the uncertainty of our pending adoption.
Fortunately, I reached out to my friend and fellow teaching quitter Angela Gentile and got signed up for her now virtual Sweat Remix fitness classes. I’ve always been not so much an athlete, but athletic in the sense that working out feels good to my body and mind, even if I look like Elaine Benes dancing on Seinfeld when I do it. Angela’s Sweat Remix classes did more than I ever expected. They brought me into alignment. After one particularly grueling and sweaty workout, I lay in meditation listening to Angela’s words and realized that I was done. I was done working in a broken public education system that didn’t even have the heart to show teachers and students mercy during a global pandemic. I didn’t want to be part of a system that prioritized a “turnaround plan” and student test scores over recognizing the courage, effort, and strength students and teachers were showing in the face of unexpected pivots to on-line, hybrid, and full in person learning. Angela asked me to really think about how I was living my life. Were my thoughts, words and actions aligned? If I continued to make concessions to a system I no longer believed in, they would not be.
Pressing Pause Again
Fortunately, this past October we were able to travel to Thailand and to bring our 5 year old daughter home. Since then, I’ve been on parental leave. This second break from the classroom comes exactly 20 years after the first. It’s been a little easier this time - my husband’s income sustains us and he carries our health insurance. It’s also been more challenging - I now have two children, one of whom had her entire world turned upside down five months ago! I could have returned to the classroom in January, but I’ve chosen to take unpaid leave for the remainder of the school year. I am so thankful for this time. Being away from the classroom has given me time to breathe, something I needed desperately to do after a year and a half of pandemic teaching. It has given me courage to leap back into writing. I’m slowly but surely establishing myself as a paid freelance writer.
It took a few more months of Sweat Remix and talking with my FAM - the friends I know only virtually through Sweat Remix - to decide I’m done again. I submitted my resignation about a month ago, and I feel relieved. I also feel a little panicky - this freelance thing is new. But most importantly, I feel that I am living in alignment - my beliefs, thoughts, words and actions match - and I can’t emphasize how much healthier that makes me feel.
We Can Help You Get Clear on What You Need
After I resigned, I told Angela I thought she and I should team up to help all y’all on the Facebook groups who are trying to step away. After all, who is more qualified than teachers who have done just that?
We are creating a space for you to land! It's time to connect with one another in a meaningful way so you can finally get the tools, resources and support you need to make your plan, build your budget and quit without guilt, shame, or fear.
We will be hosting a casual conversation series in June, where we share our stories and provide a space to connect during a pivotal decision. We will discuss the overall saga of teaching, our personal experience, what we did, how we left, the catalyst that got us there and how staying too long impacted our health. It is a way to connect and support folks who are looking to leave their profession, but are unsure of what to do and how to even start.
Join us WEDNESDAY 7PM EST.
It is open to teachers, healthcare workers and anyone considering a new, fresh start.
Just sign up and get the link sent directly to your email.! CLICK HERE to get started. And please share! This is how we create a movement!!
See you soon,