It was April 5th, around lunchtime. I was at a conference with a fellow teacher (and friend) when I decided that I was going to leave my job. Now, I don’t mean that I had one of those, “I wish I could just quit” moments without any real conviction, I mean that I had an epiphany. I was done, it was over, and I was going to move on and get a new job.
Immediately following my epiphany, my friend returned from the bathroom and I told her:
I’m leaving. I’m not signing my contract.
About ten minutes prior to this life-altering decision, I had taken part in a group discussion about the climate and culture in local schools. We were given a set of questions to discuss, and I gladly shared my experience working in a local high school. I don’t recall the specific question, but I remember hearing my own voice talking about my school, speaking the truth that I had never really told anyone:
My workplace wasn’t the right place for me anymore.
Over the course of nine years in education (or any workplace, really), you are apt to see some changes. Some changes will be at the building level, designed by immediate supervisors, and some will come from the very top, the state or national level. When change comes along, there are two choices:
You can become fragmented and disorganized, or you can band together and take the challenge head-on, as a team.
Over time, at this job, I’ve seen much more of the first option and much less of the second. After much careful thought and consideration, I’ll begrudgingly admit that I’m not sure which of the two options is easier and which one is harder. But what I will say is that it’s easier to work as a team in general if you feel like there is a team and that you are part of it.
For a long time, I have felt like my work (and me, by extension) had no value. I was willing to go the extra mile to help co-workers and pick up the slack, but when I really needed help, most people were too busy. While I had a group of co-workers I was close to, I felt like most other people I interacted with didn’t appreciate me or the job I was doing.
I wasn’t happy in this job anymore, and I didn’t want to set a bad example for my son by continuing to do it.
I had wanted to leave before but didn’t feel like I could. This year, though, things felt different. I felt different. When contracts were issued and when I notified my supervisors I was looking for work elsewhere, I was met with silence. No one told me I was valued. No one asked me to stay. Their silence told me exactly what I needed to hear:
You’ve made the right decision.
I ripped up my contract. I made an online portfolio. I went to interviews. I talked about my teaching philosophy, and I took a chance on myself. All the while, things went on at work as usual; people were too busy to check in, and I continued to wonder if anyone valued my work.
When I told people I was leaving, my haze of confusion cleared and I knew instantly who had my best interests in mind. They were the ones who were sad but excited for me and for whatever would come next in my life. Ones that said they would miss me, but that they could tell I was happy with my decision. There were others who discouraged me. Someone I worked very closely with told me that she wasn’t happy for me and accused me of being selfish.
Now, let’s pause for a minute. There are two things that I understood from this statement. The first is that my relationship with this person had been a rollercoaster for years and that each time I thought we were becoming friends, she destroyed our trust and friendship. The second thing you need to know is that yes. YES. I was being selfish. For the first time in my life. And I deserved to be.
I have wanted to leave this job for years. I was frustrated with the system, felt powerless to effect positive change, and I couldn’t seem to find co-workers that were willing to stick their necks out with me. I have felt trapped by circumstance, trapped by contract deadlines, and trapped by my fear of uncharted waters. After years of seeing expectations lowered and feeling a lack of support, I doubted myself. But, something in me snapped that day, sitting in the conference; I decided that I wasn’t going to doubt myself anymore.
The truth is, I am good at what I do. I work hard, and I deserve to valued. I deserve better. “Good enough” wasn’t good enough for me anymore.
Now, back to being called selfish. Regardless of the fact that this statement by my coworker was completely rude and ultimately led to the end of our friendship, yes, I was finally doing something for myself, and by extension, for my family. For a long time, I have put my husband’s comfort before my own, and when my son was born, we put his comfort ahead of both of ours. However, I realized that I was no longer happy nor healthy in my current job, and I wouldn’t be setting a good example for my son if I stayed any longer. Making a change in my job situation required a huge leap of faith, but with my new-found confidence and my husband’s moral support, I knew it was the right thing to do.
I knew I would be a better wife and a better mom. And a happier person.
In spite of my own conviction, the negative interaction with my coworker made me feel really anxious about telling anyone else at work my news. I was nervous that people wouldn’t support my decision. It took a long time for me to work up the courage to tell my students too, and I had butterflies in my stomach before I told each class. However, much to my dismay and relief, my students were perfectly normal teenagers. Most exhibited surprise upon hearing that I was leaving, but they were back to chatting (or snapchatting) after a few breaths. One student said she hoped that I was going on, “To do bigger and better things,” and her kindness at that moment meant a lot to me. A few students were truly crushed, though, and I won’t easily forget the feeling that I was letting them down.
A few weeks went by, and I found a new job at a new school. I knew it was right for me because of the way I felt walking through the halls. It felt academic. The other teachers and administrative staff took me seriously. I could tell I would get along with the other teachers in my department. (This suspicion was confirmed when one of my new co-workers sent me a Honey Boo-boo gif. Isn’t this how all people bond?) They are really awesome people, but I think I’ve managed to keep my cool so far. I somehow managed not to squeal in delight when they showed me our shared office and told me they all eat lunch together. I haven’t yet blurted out, “You saved me!” or even hinted at my desperation for witty banter. It is such a pleasure and a relief to be included.
For years, I had wondered if every workplace was like my old one. Now, I know it’s not, and while I’m sorry for the colleagues and students who will miss me, I’m also not sorry that I quit my job. I could tell when I spent my first afternoon with my new colleagues: I was already in a whole new world.