As a former teacher, it’s not unusual for people to ask me why I’m not still a teacher. This is a difficult question for me to answer, because there isn’t one lone reason, but several. Time, emotional health, and money all contributed to my decision to thank my principal for giving me the opportunity and offering my apologies that I wouldn’t be renewing my contract over a decade ago. I have continued to remain working part-time in the field of education periodically since then, but I do not see myself returning to full-time work as an educator in the near future. Sadly, I’ve been told that I must have picked the wrong career, that I wasn’t really cut out for teaching, so I needed to leave. I loved teaching, and I was good at it, but I know what my family needs, I’m learning what I need, and I know what I’m worth. Today, I’ll focus on time and the part it played in my choice to quit teaching.
When I realized I was pregnant with my first baby, I began to look at how much time I’d actually have with “Little Bear”. Lots of people choose education because they believe it gives them more flexibility to work full-time and be available for their children. At the time, I was employed in a school district two counties away and typically spent anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours in the car per work day. I regularly left for work before my husband was awake and sometimes got home after him. Depending on the time of year, the sun either rose or set during my commute. I quickly realized that not only would I not see my baby in the morning, my time in the evenings would be extremely limited. Essentially, I’d have two hours, at best, when my baby was awake and playing, and in the early months, most of our time would be exhausted moments of nursing throughout the night. I’d have June, July, a week during Thanksgiving, about two weeks during Christmas, and about a week during the spring to be with Little Bear. In comparison to a typical salaried position that probably seems like a lot of time off. It isn’t when the amount of work a teacher takes home is considered.
Had I chosen to continue working as a public school teacher, my job requirements would have continued after getting Little Bear to bed. As a middle school teacher, I needed to be in my classroom and ready for students by 7:40 in the morning, at the latest. After giving my goodbyes to my last class of students at about 3:30 and helping with bus duty, I needed to stay on campus until about 4. On a typical day, planning periods were useless, because several times a week I needed to attend team collaborative meetings, IEP meetings, etc. These were necessary and important. I mention this so that it’s understood that I wasn’t able to do any lesson preparation or grading during my “planning” period. If I wasn’t in meetings, I was typically catching up on work emails, forcing down a quick bag of trail mix, or finally going to the restroom. When you’re teaching a class of students, you can’t just take a pee break when your bladder says you need to. After getting back to my classroom, it took about fifteen minutes just to shut the room down to the district’s recommendation for electricity savings and have it in working order for the following morning, with all materials and supplies ready to use as soon as students arrived. Even when there weren’t after school meetings, school games I was required to attend to work the concession stand or take up tickets, or afterschool tutoring, I’d have about ten to twenty minutes for my own personal planning or IEP writing during the school day. Whatever wasn’t finished in that twenty minutes had to be completed at home around the other events in my life. I usually had a minimum of two hours of work each night, not including unexpected tasks assigned to me throughout the week. Unlike other salaried positions where a lunch break away from the office to rest and recuperate is understood, teachers typically eat in the lunchroom at a table within eyesight of their students, or forfeit five minutes of their lunch walking back to their classroom to eat alone in less than ten minutes before needing to walk back to retrieve their students at the end of lunch. In my opinion, I didn’t have a break all day long, because there was no point during the day or place in the building where I could rest and not be a teacher.
To summarize, though I technically didn’t have to be in my classroom until 8 and was allowed to leave at 4, to do my job successfully, on average, my days began at 7:30 and ended at 4:30. Then, on a good week, I did two more hours of work at home. I typically worked nine hours during the official work day, two hours at night Monday-Friday, and usually about five to 7 more hours over the weekend. At minimum, my work week was sixty hours long. In one month, I averaged two hundred forty hours while my friends usually worked about one hundred seventy hours a month in their various non-education careers. With a couple of weeks off for vacation, a forty-hour work week job is just over one thousand nine hundred hours over the course of a year. A teaching career, factoring in two weeks off at the holidays, a week in the fall and spring, plus summers still averages nearly two thousand two hundred hours in ten months. This workload isn’t highly sustainable. If you see teachers looking unbelievably frazzled, it’s likely that they are. They’re working more hours in less time than you probably are in a year.
I considered transferring to our district. Removing my commute time would have added about two hours back into my day. I carefully weighed the pros and cons of this option, and the cons won out. It took nearly the entire commute home from work for me to decompress and leave work at work. Leaving my job as a teacher and going right into being “mommy” without time to separate myself from my day wasn’t likely to happen. I risked taking the stress of work and placing it on my baby. Likewise, I needed the commute to work to get ready for the day and leave the hardships of being a new mom at home. Teaching isn’t easy and neither is parenting. Though adjusting my commute would reduce the time spent in my car, it would also reduce my time alone. I need time alone to survive and function and I wasn’t positive that I’d find any time alone after having a baby if I didn’t have that commute, but I also knew I’d feel intense guilt for leaving Little Bear during the day, having to choose between my husband, my work, and my own needs during the week after the baby went to bed, and prioritizing them all again over the weekend, not to mention housework, church, volunteer work, friends, etc. I soon began to realize it might all be too much for my heart and mind to handle. It wasn’t only about whether I had enough time in a day for all of it, it was also whether I could survive it and not completely lose myself in the process.