It's late May, and while I have about a month left of school, I thought it might be worthwhile to reflect on what will almost certainly be my last year of classroom teaching. After 13 years, what have I learned? What did I enjoy? What did I hate? What will I miss? And what's next for my career?
Why I'm leaving the classroom
First off, I might as well explain why I'm leaving my well-paying teaching gig.
"Essentially, I'm part of the problem..."
I haven't enjoyed classroom teaching for a while. It has nothing to do with the kids, their parents, or the administration. Instead, it's a combination of a school system that increasingly does not align with my values and a long-time desire to pursue other creative and career opportunities.
For years I have explored alternative styles of education, and while I still have a lot to learn, I've started to recognize that there are better ways we could be doing almost everything that goes on in a school, from how much homework we give to what time the school day begins and ends. Despite decades of extensive education research from all over the world, nothing much has changed since I was a kid. If anything, things have only gotten worse in terms of standardized testing and behaviour management strategies.
Meanwhile, I teach at a private international school, educating very rich students with lofty academic goals. Essentially, I'm part of the problem, and I've found it more and more difficult to reconcile the differences between my own changing educational philosophies and the requirements of the highly academic schools I've taught at.
We aren't wealthy by any means, but my wife and I have been fortunate and frugal enough to save quite a bit while avoiding debt. This has given us the freedom to take a risk on our future to see if we can carve out a life for ourselves in rural Japan while still giving our kids the kind of education we could only dream about as teachers. What will we do out here in the mountains of Wakayama? We're still figuring that out, but it was a chance we felt was worth taking at a time in our lives when we can afford to do so.
"Teaching taught me a lot about myself and what I'm good at..."
I hope I can look back on this in a few years and feel confident that I made the right decision to walk away from teaching. It helps that the school I'm working at is scheduled to close in a few years, which made my eventual departure all but guaranteed. I'm quite optimistic about the future, but it's far too soon for me to give any advice to other teachers hoping to quit and do something similar. Only time (and hard work) will tell if I made the right call.
So what have I learned as a teacher?
Teaching is hard. REALLY hard! It's actually pretty good preparation for being a parent, where you work all day for little people who don't seem to understand or appreciate what you're doing for them at the time. Then there's all the planning and preparation, which pretty much can't be completed within normal working hours unless you're a superstar teacher or you've been at it for a very long time. I'm endlessly impressed by teachers who turn up every day and have the patience and professionalism to give it 100% no matter how they're feeling. I have even more respect for those who teach our youngest students. I honestly don't know how they do it!
"Being in the classroom has been a constant reminder that teachers are learners too."
Teaching taught me a lot about myself and what I'm good at as well. I learned the value of sleep, the dangers of procrastination, and the importance of staying organized. I've discovered that I prefer teaching middle school students to high school ones (because they're less focused on their grades) and I've learned the value of my time and gained the confidence to say no. I've also found that I greatly prefer planning the curriculum to teaching it, which is what I'm mostly going to be relying on as my source of income next year.
Being in the classroom has been a constant reminder that teachers are learners too. I try to always have a project of my own on the go and make sure students see me doing it, whether that's working on the school garden or trying out new ideas for experiments. Of course, there are plenty of things I want to try that are unrelated to school, which is another reason why I'm excited to be leaving in a few weeks. Now I might finally have the time to finish editing my first novel, grow more vegetables at home, or improve my DIY skills. If I'm really lucky, I might even be able to farm full-time someday (and actually make money doing it), which is and has always been my dream.
Things I will (and won't) miss about teaching
I never made it a secret that I was leaving at the end of this year since I felt my students had a right to know. They've had months to think about it and have been asking me all kinds of questions lately. Will you be bored? Will you miss us? The first one is easy: No, I've got too much going on to be bored. The answer to the second question is yes, I'll miss (some of) you. This got me thinking about what else I'll miss about teaching.
"I'm looking forward to thinking about things other than lesson plans and where I left my good pen."
I definitely won't miss the meetings, report writing, and other seemingly endless administrative tasks. I will miss being around kids, though.
I have great conversations with my students almost daily. They're funny, and they keep me up to date on the latest trends, like god-awful slang that I will never use.
I'll miss having informal conversations with my colleagues, but if you know any teachers you'll find that they don't have much to talk about that isn't school related (it has a way of taking over your life!). I'm looking forward to thinking about things other than lesson plans and where I left my good pen.
I recently read a post that suggested teachers are undesirable hires in the business world because they're too used to running the show. I think there's some truth to that, as I'm definitely not the kind of person that likes taking orders. I might miss being the boss of my classroom, but I'm hoping to have even more freedom at home to work when and how I choose.
I'm not looking forward to having my home and work lives overlap, however. There was a clear separation before, but now it's up to me to set those boundaries and I don't have much experience doing that. I'll be in a situation where the more I work the more I can make, but I'll have to balance that against the time I can potentially spend with my family.
I used to think that I was trapped in my teaching career and that I didn't have any transferrable skills, but I forced myself to look for other opportunities this year and have been pleasantly surprised with the outcomes so far. I'm just getting started with online tutoring, creating curriculum resources, and writing, but already I can see the potential and I'm confident that if I just keep at it, something will work out. There are just so many success stories of other teachers doing the same that I can't help but feel inspired.