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Why Stay:  Questions Teachers Need to Ask Themselves

frustrated teacher

Times are legitimately crazy. Teachers feel as though they’re under attack, and no wonder. Education legislation in pockets of America is focused on monitoring teachers nonstop, whether through surveillance cameras or by the required submission of advance lesson plans for parental approval. The belief in teacher expertise is dwindling with each passing week, and the result is widespread demoralization. As we see colleagues in our midst dropping like flies, it can be hard to tune out both toxic positivity and straight-up negativity and focus on what is right for ourselves. To help center thinking around making important career decisions, consider the questions below as a starting point for introspection.

Question 1: Why am I here?

Some educators had teachers who believed in them and changed the course of their lives. Others had the opposite experience: a teacher who was so terrible that they decided to dedicate their professional energy to helping children. And of course, there are countless other reasons to go into education; most teachers have a “why” that defines their number-one reason for being in the classroom. Depending on what that reason might be, considering its validity is important. Are the reasons we got into teaching still relevant, guiding us through even the hardest of days? Do we still value the work we do, and does it drive our purpose each day? Periods of burnout are normal, but even through that challenge, the “why” is still visible. If not, it might be time to consider some alternatives. 

Question 2: How invested am I?

My friend has the worst track record for keeping plants alive. Recently, someone bought her a new plant, and she has desperately been trying not to kill it. When I saw that the leaves had started to turn yellow, a sign of impending doom, I asked her why she keeps working so hard to save this plant. “Are you kidding me?” she said. “I’m invested now.” Investment takes many forms; it can be emotional or material. In the most practical sense, teachers who have been in the profession for many years have salaries and benefits that are commensurate with their experience. Depending on the district, a teacher might take a salary cut if embarking upon a new profession. Emotional investment is even more significant. We become attached to school communities, to colleagues, to students. Even if the best personal choice is to leave, many teachers stay out of love for those around them. However, it’s important to remember that in every professional environment, people can be replaced. Nobody wants to hear that, and some teachers are very greatly missed. However, if someone is no longer invested in teaching, their effectiveness will gradually decline, and that doesn’t serve anyone.

Question 3: How often do I think about a change?

When people start thinking about making a change, they might as well go ahead and set things in motion because a transition to something new is a nearly certain eventuality. We don’t think much about doing something different unless being unhappy has become the norm. If a career change is ever-present in someone’s thoughts, that is a sign. Likewise, frequent job searches online stop being recreational if a person moves from surfing the options to putting together application materials. The difference between knowing whether it’s time to make a change and realizing that it’s just an idle thought is rooted both in how often people look for other opportunities, and in how actively they pursue them. 

Question 4: Do I have career aspirations outside of the classroom?

Some teachers have never imagined doing anything else, nor do they want to. For others, a teaching career is less of a calling. Other than self-awareness and soul searching, there are ways to figure out where we might fall. If our image of a perfect workplace includes a classroom and children, teaching is probably in our blood. However, if the idea of a quiet office space filled with adult colleagues and water cooler talk seems appealing, teaching might just be a stop on the career train. Another sign of wanting to try something new is boredom or complacency. If classes have been running on autopilot for a long time and the process of planning instruction is rote, it’s probably time to consider stepping away. Otherwise, students are more likely to receive a mediocre learning experience, and nobody wants that to happen. 

Question 5: What options should I pursue?

One of my former colleagues transitioned to a position as a museum education director after a career in teaching left her wanting something different. Teachers have skills that are highly valued outside of school buildings. Corporations in the public sector often scout out teachers for their stellar design and presentation skills, and marketing firms recognize that former teachers not only present well, but often have excellent persuasive techniques. In addition, teachers may be slotted into leadership positions more readily than other applicants since their ability to coordinate and supervise large groups effectively has been tried and tested in the classroom. Rest assured that there are plenty of opportunities for educators who are looking for a change, especially in a job market that is currently experiencing record growth.

The decision to leave education is a significant one, and many people are doing it quickly and confidently while others are waffling about how to proceed. If your situation falls under that latter category, take plenty of time before choosing next steps. Unless the situation is dire, any decisions about resignation can wait until the school year is close to finished. Students need stability, and they have been exposed to a revolving door of teachers and substitutes in 2022 alone, thanks to Omicron. However, giving a weighty decision the time it needs is important, so it’s never too early to start asking some of the questions above and answering them honestly.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS.

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