For whatever reason, there is this enormous stigma of leaving your classroom mid-year. It’s even bigger if you’re not leaving to move to another classroom or district.
I’ve read countless blog posts and social media threads about teachers essentially giving up on their kids if they leave the classroom, regardless of personal circumstances.
And I woke up today feeling like now is the time to share my story.
At the end of every school year, we have to determine if we want to sign our contracts to return next school year. So many of us are burnt out… teaching in our field is tough.
But no one really talks about leaving the classroom. Because as soon as you say those words, it’s like the ultimate sin. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. You’re labeled by some as a failure, and that’s a really hard pill to swallow.
The purpose of me sharing my story is not to “play the victim” or “come out of the closet”. It’s to help those of you struggling, whether with the decision to return to teaching or with bullies in your school or online.
The purpose of me sharing my story is to let you know that you are not alone.
My story has been one I’ve been very quiet about. If I’m really being honest with myself… it quietly started and festered the previous school year, but didn’t resurrect itself until the Fall of 2016 when I had my first panic attack.
You see, I’m a “yes!” person. I will do anything for anyone, especially my kids. I’ve always given teaching every ounce of who I am, for I was born to be a teacher. It’s this innate ability and intrinsic drive that I’ve had since I was in first grade.
“Do you want to be a mentor?” Yes!
“Do you want to coach track?” Yes!
“Do you want to be the lead SpEd teacher?” Yes!
“Will you do XYZ for us?” Of course!
| “There are some things you can only learn in a storm.”
My school life got to the point where I had met my match. I said yes to too many things and the intense pressures from higher ups broke me. Those magic powers of “you’re a really good teacher, here’s some more stuff for you to do” had me falling asleep on the couch at 6PM or taking Aleve PM to actually sleep, eating way too many comfort snacks, spending an obnoxious amount of time on creating resources for my kids due to lack of supports, strain on my personal life (because if I can just get this one thing done tonight [at home], it’ll lessen next week’s to do list)… it broke me.
Then something happened to me that fall that I still struggle to let go of. I really broke. For the first time in my life, I broke. I crashed. And it wasn’t a soft landing, it was a hard landing with no warning kind of crash.
My life is always in order, and even in chaos it’s more like organized chaos that always works out. I am a strong person. I am me, and that is my power.
But I am teaching, too. I am a teacher. Every ounce of who I am is a teacher, that’s what defines me, defines who I am as a person.
Except it doesn’t (or at least I’m slowly learning that).
| “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
After my first panic attack (my crash landing), I gave my notice. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I cried that entire night, I cried when I handed in my notice, and it still makes me sad. But I knew that I could not possibly give my kids, my school, my district 110% of me… when I wasn’t giving myself anything.
I was diagnosed with severe anxiety shortly after. I left teaching at the end January that school year, once my FMLA was approved and the district let me out of my contract, but the anxiety only worsened after I left.
People I worked with, friends that I had, didn’t know why I left. Partially my fault because I didn’t tell anyone (I was ashamed), so they all assumed I left teaching to pursue TpT full time, not really knowing how wrong they all were.
Quick witted comments turned to banter which ultimately turned into online bullying. You name it, I heard it.
“You’re not a teacher!”
“You left your kids, how dare you!”
“You aren’t a real teacher. You couldn’t even hold yourself together!”
“I would never leave my students in the middle of the school year. How selfish!”
“You’re a liar! What a fake!”
“Only true teachers stay in the trenches!”
I mean, honestly. Every single thing, I heard it. And it stung. Every single time.
Eventually, the people I used to work with found better things to do. It’s now summer 2017 and I’m still trying to accept this “new” me. This me with anxiety.
During this hard time in my life, I shared my journey with a select group of people. All people who I met online through Instagram or TpT, other teachers (many of whom also struggle with anxiety)… my tribe. People who got me.
But sometimes relationships fall apart. Trusted parts of your tribe become toxic and you have to walk away. That’s life, and it’s okay. But what happened after is not okay. Let me repeat, online bullying is not okay.
| “Just because my path is different than yours doesn’t mean I’m lost.”
My decision to not return for the 2017-2018 school year became a huge deal. My personal decision to get my life in order, deal with my anxiety first and go back to that person I was before I was diagnosed with anxiety meant nothing (let’s not even talk about how we knew we were moving and I didn’t want to leave mid-year again).
People who were my friends spread rumors among the online community. People who were my friends posted about me, talked about me, shamed me, called me names… publicly. And many people who were my “friends” that heard these things, stopped being my friend at the drop of a hat. Because I was no longer a teacher and I was lying. How dare they be associated with me.
And you know what. I was lying. I was lying to myself. Waking up every morning telling myself that I was okay. Telling myself that I could go back to who I was. But I wasn’t okay, and I can’t go back. But I played it off like that for a really good while.
The online shenanigans continued. I ignored them, but they’re like those tiny little gnats at a BBQ. Or the leeches at a bottom of a swamp. The thing about bullies is that they’re always there… waiting. Waiting for more ammo with nothing better to do. Bottom feeders.
2018 started out rough, and I ultimately decided to go see a psychologist to work through my anxiety. My psychologist was incredible and changed my life. I finally opened up to my husband and family about how I felt about everything that had happened (because up until this point they pretty much only knew that I had anxiety and I left the classroom because of it). I started being honest with myself, and I told my friends, my true tribe.
And you know what, they still love me. They’re still here. They aren’t ashamed of me or disappointed in me for the decisions I made. They’re proud of me for taking care of myself.
| “The comeback is always stronger than the setback.”
2018 Mrs. D is like the 6.0, super-charged version of Mrs. D… a great white shark in murky water. I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. Because of my struggles, I am a stronger person. I am a better person. I am a better wife, sister, aunt, friend, teacher. Yeah, I said teacher… because I am a teacher. I will always be a teacher.
And I look forward to returning to the classroom one day, in whatever fashion that may be, and continuing to fulfill my passion of educating children with special needs. I, also, look forward to my life with anxiety… because it’s part of who I am now and I’m okay with that.
So this is my message to you:
If you’re struggling in your current classroom or school, working in a toxic environment, or dealing with bullies (in school or online)… you aren’t alone.
The reality is teacher burnout is a thing. Stressed out teachers is a thing. Anxiety and depression is a thing. How do I know? Because I went through it.
You struggling and trying to pull yourself together, wiping tears of frustration from your eyes at 7:30AM as students walk through your classroom door is not healthy… for you or your students.
Coming in an hour early and staying 4 hours late is not healthy… for you or your students.
Scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest, looking at these “perfect classrooms” and comparing yourself to them is not healthy… for you or your students.
| “What God knows about me is more important than what others think about me.”
I got sucked into feeling the need to portray this perfect teacher life because of social media and what others have to say. But I don’t have time for it, and neither do you.
Teaching is tough, and it’s okay to take a step backward.
Your decision to leave your current teaching position does not define you.
Your struggles do not define you.
Your anxiety or depression does not define you.
Your decisions to take care of yourself first do not define you.
Teaching does not define you, and neither does your classroom.
It’s okay to need help and it’s okay to ask for help. You’re human, not perfect.
What it’s not okay to do is shame and bully others. You know nothing of our journeys. We all are dealing with our own insecurities, anxieties, and struggles. We deal with enough backlash from outside of our teaching community; we should be lifting one another up, not trying to tear others down.
So fix that crown. Your own crown, your friend’s crown, the new teacher’s crown, or anyone else’s crown who may be temporarily a little crooked.
Hand in hand we will stand together. And stand strong we will.
If any time you feel alone, need a nonjudgemental ear to vent to, or just someone to talk to… please reach out. I’m here for you. You are not alone. I promise to stand with you.
The next blog post in the teacher anxiety series: Moving Past the Trauma and Back to You – A Tribute to Teacher Anxiety