One day someone handed me a bumper sticker with the school crest on it. “Put this on your car,” she told me. I looked down at it but never put it on my car.
To me, bumper stickers are like tattoos. They are a permanent statement of allegiance to whatever is on them. Plus they’re a pain to remove. While this may seem trivial, this little circular bumper sticker forced me to ask myself, “Mike, how long can you see yourself here?”
I looked around at my school and job, and saw that I was unhappy. After a little bit of soul searching, I knew that I wanted to quit. And so I’ll soon be starting my third teaching job in five years. I don’t want to settle. And neither should you.
To be clear, I am not advocating for teachers to become journeymen who leave a school every few years. But I am advocating for happy educators who don’t want to quit. When teachers are happy, students can grow and achieve.
1. You are valuable.
People all over the world quit their jobs when they don’t feel valued or appreciated. But not teachers. The global conversations about the work of a teacher often encourages people to pay lip service to teacher appreciation day/week/month without paying or treating teachers like we are valuable.
So, I would like to tell you. You are valuable. You are the most important adult in your school building. You are doing the work of changing the world. You are raising up leaders of the next generation. You do not have to settle for a place that does not remind you of this daily.
2. You are a professional.
You are not just a teacher. You are a specialist, an enthusiast, an expert. You study and train constantly to do what you do. In nearly every other arena professionals are revered. Education can be that place, too. No, you may not end up on SportsCenter or the Oscars, but you are one of the best at what you do.
I’ve sometimes found myself in a place where I am not treated like a professional, and it has led me to question whether education is for me. It has led me to want to quit. But instead of worrying about whether it’s me or if I’m cut out for this, I choose not to settle. I will not stay in a place that does not treat teachers like professionals.
3. You have financial needs.
This one may be met with some criticism from some, but it is necessary. Teaching is not a vow of poverty. Yes, teaching pays more today than it ever has. Yes, teachers have benefits and perks today that historically we did not. But we also know that teachers are underpaid.
For two years I told myself that I had to settle for a lower salary because I didn’t want to, yet again, jump ship. I wanted to commit. I wanted to be a virtuous teacher who stuck it out during the hard times. But then I realized that I have an obligation to myself and my family to provide. Just because you teach does not mean you have to settle for lower pay. If you want a job with better pay, go find it.
4. You are not indebted to your school.
Each time I have left a school, the big push was unhappiness but the pull to stay was a feeling that I’d be letting the administrators and community down. Teachers are public servants and communities matter deeply. But, you are not in debt with your school or its community. If you are unhappy and want to quit, then go and don’t feel guilty about it.
5. You deserve to find your passion again.
As I sat across the table from my administration in a meeting I called to tell them I would not be returning for next school year, they asked me why I made this choice. I told them that I had not been enjoying teaching. In fact, some of the passions and reasons I had become a teacher were no longer there.
This has been a huge process for me—understanding my happiness as a teacher. Yes, times are hard and every school had their pros and cons, but think about the original reason you started teaching. And if it’s not there anymore, maybe it’s time to go.
This doesn’t necessarily mean leaving teacher altogether. At least, it doesn’t for me. Instead, it’s about going to find it again. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.
Need a safe place to talk about whether you want to quit or stay in your current teaching job? Join our WeAreTeachers Chat group on Facebook.
Plus, take a look at these jobs that will get you out of the classroom but not out of education.