Saying Goodbye To Teaching: Take Three

If you played with me from the years 1976-1981 we would have played school. I would have been the teacher.  And because I was a great teacher, you’d have been my pupil, because good teachers have students; the great ones have pupils.

Every birthday I asked for my teacher supplies to be replenished: chalk, paper, red apples for my desk. Every professional dream I had until I was in my 20s was to be a teacher.

You can buy this on Etsy, but not for me. Wah! (

You can buy this on Etsy, but not for me. Wah! (

I remember the day my mom told me that I didn’t have to be a nun to be a teacher, which was my mis-impression from years of Catholic schooling. I almost choked on my Tang. Why didn’t you tell me? I can teach and marry Tad Martin from All My Children?  It was the best day of my first decade of life.

My career path was settled.  Eventually, I honed in on my discipline– English. I could picture my future Christmas trees decorated with hand-painted apples that my students made for me.  I’d have a whole jewelry box full of education-themed charms and brooches.

And yet twice I’d walked away from the profession.

After a student teaching stint in rural Texas I got cold feet. The students were bigger than I was, and it seemed like there were hundreds of them crammed into desks. There weren’t enough books!  I couldn’t believe the state of public education. I couldn’t stomach the penury of teaching in a private school.  Subjectively, it didn’t feel like I always thought it would.  Real life teaching had to live up to two decades of fantasies and dozens of influential teachers like Sister Annel, Senora Benke, and Ms. VanHoozer.

So I bailed. I dashed off to graduate school so I could become a professor. Maybe if I teach at the college level it will feel “right.”  But it didn’t. There was too much reading, loneliness, and pressure.  Everyone I knew was depressed about the publish or perish mandate. I fled the ivory tower faster than I fled that over-crowded classroom in Texas.

Today I’m bailing for the third time. This time, I am stepping away from teaching legal writing.  If teaching was Jesus, I’d be Peter and a cock would be crowing.  I’m teaching my last legal writing class and feeling that familiar mix of relief that the interminable grading and lesson planning is over but sadness for the realization (again) that teaching isn’t for me.

Because it’s not. Not now. Students deserve more than I have to give; I deserve to follow the barely visible trail of my true bliss; my husband deserves a life without me whining about grading papers.

I can see teaching in my rearview mirror and the little girl in me is mystified that we are breaking up again.  She’s annoyed that I don’t like it and that I don’t think I should do things I don’t like.  I am consoling her as we prepare our goodbye remarks and prepare to live different dreams.

It’s going to be ok, I remind her.  You deserve to do something you love today not something you thought you would love when you were a little girl.  It’s ok to outgrow your old dreams.

I hope I’m right!


51 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye To Teaching: Take Three

    • It is like mom guilt!! I didn’t realize that until you said it. IT comes from that same place in my gut where I feel like I am letting people down, including my little self that wanted me to love it. I will note that I am finding it impossible to leave the law too, so not sure what that means. Thanks for being with me on this. If you find any answers, give me a Tweet or a shout por favor.

      On Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 10:36 AM, Outlaw Mama

  1. So glad I hopped over to this post from twitter. As an attorney who is thinking about making the switch to teaching english, it was sort of uncanny to read your journey. My favorite play activity as a child was also school. My poor little sister was forced to receive lessons after she’d already spent a whole day in classes! And though I started college as an English with secondary education major, I got nervous about dealing with “bad” kids and whether I would be old enough to handle highschoolers. I switched my major to just plain English.

    Every other time I’ve moved in the direction of teaching – going back to get a PhD in English, started a masters program in education, I’ve ducked out at the last minute. Hence now being an attorney. (An unhappy one). I’ve even recently started to wonder whether I should look into teaching legal writing!

    I appreciate hearing your perspective on it, though it is what I fear – that I will finally do what I always wanted to do and find that I don’t really like it….

    • Oh, my sister in the law and English major! I am glad you clicked too. I am trying to untangle myself from my “shoulds” around law and teaching. I can’t say i am a happy attorney….I have a good gig that is part time, but I know my heart is somewhere else, but somewhere else doesn’t pay and my student loans don’t seem inclined to pay themselves. I am so glad to hear from you. It’s expensive to make these career mistakes!!!

      On Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 10:46 AM, Outlaw Mama

  2. I graduated from my undergrad as a certified high school speech, theatre and English teacher and have never taught a day in those subjects. I wanted to be a college acting professor, but couldn’t get into grad school because grad schools want to train award-winning actors that get mondo famous, not professors. That and I don’t have the right personality to self-promote the way actors have to self-promote. For the record, that’s the same reason I could never be a salesperson.

    Anyway, you’re not giving up on a dream if it is a dream you’ve outgrown. And it’s OK to have mixed feelings about it. It would be strange if you didn’t because normal people don’t feel ambivalent about walking away from something that has been a big part of their lives for a long time, you know?

    • One of the allures of both teaching and law was the career path– you can get a job (hopefully) and then do the job and do it well and then one day retire. By tentatively stepping out as a writer, I have no idea what that could look like. What’s the career path? Who’s going to quell this anxiety I feel from just writing about it on my blog? Oh good lord, hold me!

      I could so see you being a teacher. You actually teach me through your writing all the time.

      On Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 10:53 AM, Outlaw Mama

  3. I may be wrong but I’m hearing a conflict of values here. It might help to decide what’s really important today. Is it student loans? Is it being a wife and mother? Is it being happy? Maybe something else?
    In the meantime, all this guilt is just a distraction. Try being kind to yourself, Mama.

    • For today, in this moment, 57 minutes before my last class, I am aware that I like the idea of teaching and I adore most of my former teachers, but I don’t like being a teacher. I love being a student in the care of a good teacher, but I don’t like the feeling and the WORK of being a teacher. I don’t like it as much as writing. It’s like how I love being in therapy and I love my therapist and sometimes I mistake that for a SIGN that I should be a therapist, then I realized that I wouldn’t like being a therapist, just because I like being a therapy patient.

      Something like that.

      On Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 10:59 AM, Outlaw Mama

      • Gah – I came back to read the comments and you’ve just touched on another thing that I struggle with all the time! I think I want to be every profession that has helped me. When I get a good massage, I think maybe I want to be a masseuse. When I have good therapy, I want to be a therapist. When I eat a delicious meal, I want to be a chef. It’s a trait of people pleasers, I think.

  4. Yes, you are right! Congratulations on following your current dreams and comforting your little self as you go – brave and wise. I also played teacher endlessly as a kid – my little sister was my pupil and I didn’t want her to talk. Ever. I wanted to be the only one to talk, but I called it lecturing. I was a lot of fun back then. 😉

    • Oh, my pupils weren’t allowed to talk. They were only allowed to diagram sentences on their notebooks. And give me candy.

      On Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 11:27 AM, Outlaw Mama

  5. It’s funny, I never thought I’d be a teacher growing up – I always pictured myself as a writer. Or a famous actress, whichever came first. I went to school to become an English professor though, because it was “safe,” and then when the economy crashed I got squeezed out of the profession (public & university education in California is in shambles – people with decades of experience were applying for the same jobs I was). So I’m back to doing what I’d always wanted to do, anyway. The universe is smiling smugly at me right now.
    Good luck following your bliss! Sometimes we outgrow childhood dreams, it’s true. That’s why I’m not in any major motion pictures, like I thought I’d be; you know, giving Angelina Jolie a run for her money…

  6. Great post!
    Teaching is hard work, even when it’s ‘only’ one course. I hated how it expanded into every bit of free time imaginable. I worked all day, every evening, weekends, and holidays. That’s the life of a prof, especially in the first few years. My department once had a workshop to discuss its workload problem…on a Saturday! No one saw the irony except me. I knew then these people were not, shall we say, ‘kindred spirits.’

    It’s okay if dreams change and paths taken lead to new outcomes. Those twists and turns make life exciting!

    • It’s definitely exciting. I just got out of class. I have that anxiety sad feeling. And a pile of new papers to grade. You aren’t kidding about the expansion into free time.

  7. “I deserve to follow the barely visible trail of my true bliss…”

    You have such a way.

    What was it with teaching that captivated us all? Was it just that teachers were our first real life idols? That they held mythical powers?

    My mom used to watch all the soap operas, and All My Children was her favorite, so I was exposed to a lot of it as a girl. Oh, Tad…

    • Oh tad is right. I think teaching was one of the only professions I knew and had good associations with. Plus I was codependent so naturally I gravitated to a so called helping profession.

  8. I only teach art, and only on a sometimes basis, to other children. Mostly, I teach my own kids. From what little I know, it is one of those jobs only a few people can do regularly and still retain their sanity. A couple of days a week for about an hour is all I can tolerate, personally. As a thirty-something still trying to figure out what to be as a “grown up”, I have no advice. I can only wish you a sincere “good luck”.

      • So far it’s cool, but I couldn’t do it all day every day. There are those days when you have sharpies and children who want to draw mustaches on unwilling neighbors… O.o

      • Ditto. This is why I couldn’t do it as a job 24/7. I already do it 24/7–for free. 😉 It would be like becoming a professional cook or house-cleaner. At some point there would be a moment of identity crisis. Also, Magic Eraser? Not so magic with sharpie.

      • Exactly. I glamorize the whole chef thing, but the minute I am chopping onions, I am like Um, no, someone else should do this.

        On Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 11:16 AM, Outlaw Mama

  9. I also loved playing teacher when I was little and my mother blames me and my strict ways for my brother’s disrespect for authority. But you really got me with the Tad Martin reference – he was my second crush (after Ricky Shroeder). I loved the Tad-Dixie-Liza love triangle.

  10. Such a great post! I totally get it! I stopped teaching in 2008 (after teaching for 12 years) to go back to graduate school. There is so much that I too love about teaching. And it took me a few years of thinking about it constantly before I made the big leap to give up teaching. Like you, I wanted to follow my true passions, and I didn’t love teaching anymore. Sometimes I miss it a bit. And I’ve done little “guest teaching stints” in classrooms. It all comes right back!

  11. “It’s ok to outgrow your old dreams.”

    Maybe my emotions are residing a little close to the surface these days, but this line made me cry. I think it takes some serious bravery to realize that your old dreams aren’t your dreams now.

  12. Totally okay to outgrow childhood dreams. I’ve long since made peace with the fact that I will never become an astronaut who also happens to be a veterinarian. And kudos for even trying to teach legal writing—that’s about as appealing to me as the metaphorical needles in eyeballs.

  13. Student or pupil, the little shits in my daughter’s imaginary classroom at home need exorcisms. Their behavior is no reflection on her teaching, I’m sure.

  14. I think some of my youthful teaching fantasies were actually about being listened to and valued for what I knew and who I was, and also having some influence in my little world. Imagine, eager pupils hanging on my every word! I still go there in my head sometimes, although I’m clear it’s not my passion – at least not now. I’m so glad you’re following the dreams of the person you actually are today.

  15. I remember asking for rubber stamps, a real grade book, and a teacher’s edition of a reading manual for my birthdays and my parents got me all of them. I *knew* I’d be a teacher one day. In real life when I grew up, I realized patience is not my strong suit. I found I only had the patience to teach medical residents (a very motivated group of people) when I was a chief resident. But real teaching…I just wouldn’t be good at that at all! –Lisa

  16. Yes! yes! It IS OK to outgrow old dreams – but sometimes difficult to do! It’s almost as if that loop in my head tells me I’m supposed to do something because I wanted to do it when I was 8. Congratulations on your “goodbye.”

  17. I had a similar experience when I realized after years of planning, studying, and training to be a social worker, I just didn’t want to. All those years of work gone, just like that because I changed my mind. There’s a grief involved in that, for sure.

    Also, I don’t know how you thought you were going to marry Tad because *I* was going to marry him.

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