A Former Teacher Looks Back
By: Anne Mayer, a former teacher
Do you miss it?
That is the most common question I am asked when people find out I used to be a teacher. Former colleagues still in the classroom ask it a lot, too. The answer, without a doubt, is yes.
I miss kids every day. I miss their proud smiles when they recognize their hard work paid off; their laughter at a corny kid joke or a pun they thought of with their friends; looking over when they asked me to watch them dance, cheer, throw, or successfully complete a hard math problem; and partnering with amazing parents to set the path straight. Most of all, I miss the connections.
I miss teaching the way I used to teach. I used to be able to collaborate with peers to create meaningful projects. I used to be able to brainstorm ways to make learning fun and engaging. I miss the trust I was given to teach children what they needed to know to be successful. I miss the liberty to take a few extra days to teach the really hard concepts. I miss the art of teaching.
When I was teaching, I was in it. I worked hard day in and day out for my students. I led many extracurricular activities in my 21 years in the classroom, from Spell Bowl to Science Olympiad to Student Council to yearbook to mentor. I obtained my National Boards. I was grade chair many times. I was Teacher of the Year a few times. It was my life and my identity. Since I wasn’t blessed with my own children, I poured what I had into other people’s children.
Leaving teaching was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I never wanted to turn into one of those teachers just counting down to retirement. With only 9.5 years in North Carolina of my 21, I knew I had to make a decision. My decision to leave was not solely based on the lack of a competitive wage. I could not put my head on my pillow at night knowing I was causing such pressure and anxiety in 9-10 year olds with tests I did not want to give, after delivering a scripted curriculum that I did not write. I taught at an extraordinary school my last few years of teaching, and I thought if I was feeling the way I did while at a great school, I was not going to make it. Morale was at an all time low, the economy was still shaky, and with the direction lawmakers were headed, no retirement benefits would be left by the time I got there. I was also frustrated students’ parents were not angrier about what was happening. Combining this with the roaches and mold, broken heat/air conditioning, non-functioning windows, locks that wouldn’t lock, and spending my own money for classroom materials – all troubles I encountered over the years – was more than enough to make me ask myself what I was doing.
So, in September of 2013, I walked into my principal’s office and told her I was leaving at the end of the school year. Several teachers that year had left after school started with a short notice, but I promised I would stay until the end. I knew it would be an emotional year for me and I wanted to savor every moment, good or bad. I wanted to enjoy the last field trips, the last field day, pajama days, and all of those corny kid jokes. It was going to be a process for me to leave. When I got an interview invitation on the last day of school at 2:00, I knew it was meant to be that I leave.
In June of 2014, at 45 years old, I started at a biotechnology company in RTP in an entry-level position, and I am so glad I did. I didn’t know what I was doing or if I could even do it well, but I did believe in this company and what they do to help people. From the beginning I was in awe. The professional development was amazing; the technology was fantastic; even small things like the copy machine/printer only printing my work when I swiped my badge. I didn’t have to rummage through dozens of other papers on the printer to find mine? Amazing. Oh, and in four years, we have never run out of copy paper. Not once. Even perks like free coffee (with an assortment of creams and sugars), tea, and soda were available. We have never run out of this once, either. All of the equipment works – all the time.
More importantly, however, the feeling of service that teaching provided me was still part of my new day to day. In a short time, my hard work was recognized and I received a promotion. I moved to managing a territory where I could connect with patients, their doctors, and a field team. I was given opportunities for development like Emerging Leaders, Introduction to Project Management, Managing within the Law, and Manager Essentials. I earned my Six Sigma Green Belt. I’ve had a few more promotions and I now lead a team of 14. After four years, my salary is about double from when I left teaching, and I have work/life balance. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and learn so much, and I appreciate the new challenges that come my way. My feedback is comprehensive, specific, and meaningful. My leaders cheer me on and continue to mentor me. The praise I receive is genuine, and the opportunities given me prove that good teachers have transferable skills that can make us successful in most places. My financial status now allows me to prepare for my future instead of tutoring after school to supplement my income.
When comparing teaching to my current experiences, I get angry. Yes, I clearly understand the difference between taxpayer money that funds schools and working for a publicly traded company. I know it is comparing apples to oranges, but the reality lies in feeling valued. As time went on, I did not feel valued as a teacher. My leaders in education, just as frustrated and stressed out about even more than I was, did not have time to provide the support they wanted to offer. Working with impossible budgets, broken buildings, and unrealistic standards didn’t leave much for building morale at a school. Lawmakers were denying a competitive wage and making decisions via shady processes. Teachers and administrators continued to get more and more burdens put on them, and the testing pressure mounted. It seemed that everyone in charge had more concern for test results than allowing students to experience the journey of learning. The funny thing is, in the “real” world, the journey drives the results.
Do I miss teaching? Yes, but I know I did a good job of leaving when a former student told her new teacher that I must have left because I would be too sad without our class. She wasn’t wrong, but even more so, I love that that is what she believed.