If I stop now, I’m a quitter. I started teaching in 2017, right after I graduated college with a degree in something I didn’t know how to apply. I thought moving to a rural area of the country with a handful of other twenty-something-year-olds who all wanted to “make a difference” would be an adventure.
Teach Trauma-Bond for America
It was, for a while. We were all in this together: the late nights grading, the early mornings hitting the gym before school. All of the hours before and after sunlight. Because all of the sunlight hours belonged to the kids.
Our mutual suffering made it… sufferable. But now I’m the only one left. At least, it feels that way. I think there are a few members of our cohort scattered about. It’s my own fault for not reaching out. The “poor me” complex is a real problem among teachers, someone should do some research on it. Anyway, Teach for America doesn’t even recruit to New Mexico anymore. The closest dot on their recruitment map is in Phoenix, Arizona, a seven-hour-ish drive from where I live. But New Mexico is still a high-need state. We currently rank #50 on the U.S. News and World Report PreK-12 ranking in education.
If I stopped after the two-year commitment that Teach for America demands, I would have achieved something. If that’s all I had expected of myself, and I had accomplished it, I would feel proud.
Instead, I got excited, and thought, “I’m going to do this until I retire.” Now, if I change careers, I’m a quitter. I’m letting myself down.
Teaching and “Trading Up”
Teaching isn’t like other industries. My father retired this year after more than twenty years at the same company. At some point, he was offered a promotion, but he turned it down because he was happy with the amount of money, benefits, and responsibility he had at the time. He didn’t want to be in charge of training new people, but if he had taken the job, or negotiated a better job at another, similar company, it would be a smart move. Trading up isn’t quitting.
Hopping from school to school, in his eyes, is not a “smart” career move. There’s a certain amount of ass-kissing to do, and a non-zero amount of bullshit to endure, in any job, he says. Of course the job is hard, that’s why they pay you.
And how they pay us! Last year, New Mexico passed a raise for educators, so we can now make more than the median state salary. For a million dollars a year, I think I would keep working in schools. For 70K? It depends.
“Quiet Quitting” and Denial
I don’t want to be a quitter. I don’t want to admit that the overstimulation of twenty-one students all having to use the bathroom at once makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Or that I’m not patient enough to repeat instructions three or four times, when the kids really are trying their best, they’re just young and easily distracted. I’m ashamed to admit that even though I’ve read and studied all the best ways to do my job, I’m not as good at it as I should be. I’m not neglectful, inadequate, or lazy – I just thought I’d be excellent by now.
Is teaching really different from other jobs in this way? Does it take more than five years to get good at something, really good, like, I-want-my-child-in-your-class good?
If I’m quitting (or even toying with the idea) I’m far from the only one. According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of January 2021, people in my age range (25 to 34 year olds) have only been with their employer for a median of 2.8 years. That number is 4.1 for workers in “education services,” specifically. People in my father’s age range (55 to 64 year olds) have been with theirs for 9.8 years. Perseverance is a virtue. I wonder if we all have it.
I need to stop being so hard on myself. But how?
Would this be “Quiet Quitting”? Wouldn’t it Just be “Quiet Taking Care of my Health”?
I could accept the parts of my job that I can’t change. Focus on what is within my locus of control. I could stop coming in early and staying late. I could start exercising. Eating better. I could remember that life is more than just a job. The word for this is “quiet quitting.” I’d argue that when my dad stopped going after promotions and settled into his niche, still doing his job well, but not making any headlines, that was the boomer version of quiet quitting.
The Millennial/Gen-Z version, my version, is this: I refuse to let myself be taken advantage of. I’m capable of so much, but I’m working a job that barely affords me a lunch break? You have to draw lines somewhere. I’ve started doing that.
If I found a higher-paying, lower-stress job, wouldn’t it be smart of me to take it? Would that make me a quitter? Would it be equally smart of me to stop putting in the extra work, “quiet-quit,” and focus on other aspects of my life? At least, until things change?
I will say this: I like what I do. And I’m proud of it. And I’m good at it. So if even I am toying with the idea of quitting, that is a symptom of a much larger problem than I can solve in a 2-page essay.