Myths About Former Teacher Life, EXPOSED
If you’ve listened to previous episodes of the podcast then you already know that I am a former teacher. For those of you who are new, you can listen to some of my previous episodes such as Episode 12 and Episode 25 to hear more about my story. But essentially, I taught elementary and middle school for 10 years before I transitioned into a new role outside of the classroom.
While I’m not a teacher anymore, I am still an educator and I will always be an educator, and I’m not sure if I will ever get tired of it. I enjoy helping facilitate the growth of other people, whether that’s through mindset shifts or sharing my experience in such a way that helps you reflect on your own.
So, with that being said, this episode is all about addressing myths and assumptions about being a former teacher.
These things I'm going to share with you today are things I’ve either seen online, heard people say, or things that other folks over on Instagram have shared with me about their experiences. I think at this point, most people know about the teacher shortage and the mass exodus of teachers from classrooms. K12 was experiencing a great resignation long before 2020 and it has only been exacerbated by COVID-19 and the continued mass shootings in schools that literally place teachers in harm’s way.
In addition to safety concerns, more and more people - especially teachers - are realizing that time really is our most precious resource and we only have a limited opportunity to make the most of it. So much of the great resignation for teachers is about finally standing up for what you deserve, setting boundaries, and evolving. That’s not to say that choosing to stay means you are not doing any of these things, I’m just saying that for folks making the choice to step away, it is a deeply personal choice that fits with the lives and goals of the people who make it.
So without further adieu, let’s break down some myths.
Myth #1 - Former teachers believe that their jobs are more important than teaching.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Most teachers, at least from experience anyway, enter the profession because they want to impact change. They want to inspire kids to believe in themselves and in a better overall future. With that said though, I think many of us believe that there are other jobs that are also needed and important. A teacher’s choice to step away from the classroom isn’t an indictment of the value of the job. Rather, it’s a reflection of personal or professional evolution, or maybe even just a desire to try something new. Even now, I believe that teaching is one of the most important spaces a person can occupy and I believe that teachers can also contribute their skills and talents to other roles too! There’s more than one way to show up for kids whether you're in or out of the classroom.
Myth #2 - You left the classroom because of the money.
*Laugh* Okay, so right off the bat, this comment makes me chuckle because we all know that teachers are frequently underpaid and underappreciated. That’s not a secret. And if I’m being honest, don’t you think that any person doing a job and doing it well deserves to be compensated at a rate that’s commensurate with their contributions? That’s just ethical and equitable, right? So I don’t blame any educator who leaves the K12 space because they want to secure their bag. Make your paper boo! For the most part, though, my personal experience and my conversations with others tell a different story. Yes, it can be challenging to live the way you want financially on a teacher’s salary, especially if you’re in a state like mine that’s anti-union, but the truth is that teachers believe so much in the work that the pay is often not the first complaint. Heck, even if teachers were compensated more fairly, it wouldn’t necessarily “fix” the issues that plague our schools. It might make it easier to stomach all of the issues but it wouldn’t address worker exploitation or burnout or the fact that teachers do so much more than the title suggests.
Myth #3 - You don’t really care about the kids/you weren’t in it for the “right reasons”
The first thing I want to ask when I hear things like this is: “What are the “right reasons?” The reasons that are right for you may not be the right reason for me. I think when people say this they are using their own moral frame of reference to judge someone else’s intention without having any context. I try not to frame my perspective through a lens of “right” or “wrong” and instead consider what reasons might have been right for them. As far as the kids are concerned, while everyone’s reasoning may be different, I think an overwhelming amount of teachers both current and former would say that the “kids” is really the primary reason that we chose the profession. We definitely care about the kids. We also care about our families and our passions and ourselves. So, the "right reason" changes as we change.
Myth #4 - You hate teaching.
I love teaching but I hated the bureaucracy. I hated that teaching has become a weapon for folks to accuse passionate people who simply want to make all students feel seen, heard, and valued of indoctrination. During the last few years I taught, I felt …caged. In the last 18 months of my career, I knew that a change was imminent because I felt like I could no longer show up as myself. I felt like someone was always waiting to use my words not just against me but against teachers in general. So that part, yes, I hated. But the reality is that I am an educator to my core. Even in my new role, I’m most happy when I’m teaching people new things. I love the relief and the confidence that comes with people knowing something that will help them navigate their work or a process. Although I’m no longer teaching in that traditional K12 setting, I’m still an educator, and as far as I’m concerned I intend to play that role for a long time.
Myth #5 - You’re not “Strong enough” to handle the job
Mmkay. So there’s a LOT to be said about the fetishization and vilification of hard work. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in “paying dues” and the fact that you do have to make sacrifices in order to accomplish goals, especially big ones. But there’s an interesting dichotomy to this thinking. I hear people talk about how if something is meant for you, it will come easily. Then on the converse side of things, there’s this ideal of hard work and how something isn’t “worth having” if we haven’t poured our blood, sweat, tears, and time into it. With teaching, we see this duality all the time. If you’re in it for the “right reasons” and you’re doing all the things a “good teacher “ should do, then the job will be hard, yes, but it will be worth it. We give out Teacher of the Year awards and we celebrate teachers who go into their own bank accounts to finance needs and wants for their classrooms. There’s this narrative that if you work hard and you’re resilient, everything will work out and while those values aren’t inherently bad, I think they communicate a problematic message. Hard work and resilience aren’t all that’s needed to feel fulfilled in any career, there also has to be an alignment with your values, goals, and strengths. You also have to leave room for growth. We all evolve and sometimes that means we grow out of clothes, people, and yes, jobs too. That doesn’t indicate anything about you as a weak person. Instead, it shows courage, flexibility, and a strong sense of self.
I’ve said this many times in the past, but I always knew I wouldn’t teach forever. I didn’t know what that meant in terms of any specific job but I did know even at 18 that I was multi-passionate and that eventually, I’d probably want to do something else. When I finally got to the point where it was time to make that change, it was clear that the person I had grown into wanted something different. My values and goals no longer fit the role and I was less and less able to show up the way I truly wanted to.
For a long time, I allowed fear from limiting beliefs and uncertainty to hold me back. I had been teaching for so long that I wasn’t sure I had anything else to offer another role. I was also nervous that maybe I’d leave teaching for something else and hate it. What’s that thing they say: "Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t"? I knew K12. It was a familiar place to land. I knew my strengths and I had a routine. As much as I was discontent, I believed that maybe discontentedness was worth the comfort.
I ultimately had to have the courage and confidence to take the leap of faith to follow my gut. I’ll be honest and say that it’s not easy. Heck, I am STILL working through limiting beliefs and figuring out who I am beyond teaching. I find myself wondering if I’m capable of rising to new career challenges and learning new industries, especially as I navigate my career journey outside of the linear path of K12.
If there’s one thing I can say about former teachers, it’s that we are not weak or deficient or the problem. Though teachers are leaving the profession at rates like never before, there’s still some stigma around the choice. Since the pandemic, more people do “get it” …they understand the choice…but there’s a lot of fear from folks about how we will achieve the change we need if good teachers continue to leave. Other teachers, parents, school leaders, and I think society at large attach the decision to leave the classroom to leaving kids, especially since there’s also a decline in the number of people deciding to pursue teaching as a career. That concern is valid. Change is sorely needed. Kids do deserve experienced, talented educators, but there’s another side to this narrative too. It’s the one that uplifts and supports educators as humans, not as the solution to problems we didn’t create. It’s the one that invites educators to grow their skills and talents even if it means outside of the K12 environment. We don’t have to be in the classroom to advocate for transformation. Everyone has their role in the revolution.
So whether you’re a current teacher, former teacher, or a teacher curious about the possibilities, know that I see you. I’ve been in each of your shoes and I’m grateful for the role you play in changing our schools. Understand that your desire to stay or leave doesn’t impact your ability to be part of the change our education system so desperately needs. My mom always tells me to “Act locally and think globally.” She encourages me to think about seemingly small contributions that could eventually have more significant impacts. To me, that means that no matter your role, it’s really all of our small contributions that have macro-collective impacts.
To all the teachers out there (and the teachers considering their options beyond the classroom);
You are brave.
You are worthy.
You get to choose exactly how you show up in the world, whether that means teaching for a few years or teaching for a lifetime.
Remember that no path is ever set in stone and that your greatest power is the power of choice.
I love you and I’m here for you.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
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