Experiencing Teacher Guilt
Let me guess! You are quitting teaching or seriously on the fence about whether or not you will leave the teaching profession. But there is just one thing- you have a little teacher guilt.
First, let me say that you are not the only one experiencing guilt.
You are also not the only one quitting teaching or wanting to for that matter. And you sure are not the only one feeling guilty about how you are feeling.
Teacher guilt! I believe that is what they call it. It’s a real thing.
But let me be clear. You should not feel guilty about quitting teaching.
Trust me, I know from experience that is easier said than actually walking out.
However, have no fear!
We will discuss ways you can manage those feelings simply by expanding your perspective. Your decision to stay or go should be done with a clear head and without feelings of guilt.
More specifically, we will examine 15 perspectives you should consider as it relates to feelings of teacher guilt and other negative emotions one may experience after quitting teaching.
If you prefer to listen to this list, I’ve made two videos detailing the following:
Ways to Deal with Teacher Guilt Over Leaving Teaching
- There should be no guilt.
- Put your mental and physical health first.
- You have to put your family first.
- You are replaceable.
- You have done a lot of good.
- The next teacher will be a professional.
- Focus on what’s next.
- Make a plan for your future.
- Practice letting go.
- Consider how you left your teaching position.
- Are you sure quitting teaching is right for you?
- Ultimately, you are not responsible for your students.
- You gave above and beyond.
- Talk to someone.
- Teaching is not your identity.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something that we talk about in and among our teacher circles.
Teachers often deal with these emotions in silence.
For some teachers, teacher guilt ultimately impacts their decision to leave and others’ quality of life after teaching.
I would like to make it clear that I am not advocating for teachers to quit. I am also not advocating for teachers to stay in situations where it does not serve them.
Sometimes I think the teacher/school relationship has become equivalent to a romantic relationship.
I believe in committed relationships with all my heart. However, anytime abuse is involved, there should be a separation.
I feel the same way about teachers and schools. If the cost of staying is too great then separation should take place. I would advise anyone in any other profession the same.
And, there should be NO teacher guilt if you decide to leave or if you simply want to but can’t.
Teaching is such a serious career. I don’t take it lightly. I hate the fact so many teachers quit.
But I also want to make it clear that I’m not for teachers staying in situations that do not serve them.
15 Ways To Manage Teacher Guilt
1. There should be no feelings of guilt.
First and foremost, there should be no teacher guilt attached to any teacher’s decision to leave.
You took on a career that agreed to pay you for a series of tasks that you performed.
Not only did you perform them to the best of your ability, but you also went above and beyond what you were expected to do.
You showed up and you delivered. When you gave your resignation, you stop your work, they stopped your pay.
Once you decided that it no longer served you there should be no guilt.
I know! That is easier said than done. Keep reading.
2. Managing Teacher Guilt: Put your mental & physical health first.
You should not feel guilty for quitting teaching because you put your mental health and/or your physical health above the act of teaching.
So often, teachers do for everyone else. They think about everybody else before they think about themselves.
The reality is that if you’re not healthy, whether it’s physically or whether it is mentally, you can’t give it your all.
If you are showing up at work unhealthy, then you are not really showing up at your best.
You are more important than the job and the title. Quitting teaching should not be a reflection of your character.
If you’re not well, you cannot do the job you have been hired to do at the level you are capable of doing it.
Ask yourself, “Are you still fit for the job?”
And if the answer is no, because physically you’re not healthy, or mentally you’re not healthy, then you should be able to walk away with a clean slate, knowing that you gave it your all.
You should not allow yourself to be impacted by teacher guilt in this circumstance.
3. Managing Teacher Guilt: Put your family first.
Your biggest obligation is to your family. Therefore, you have to put them first.
I know we consider our kids (students) our family. But the truth is, they are not “our kids.” You have your kids at home. They come first.
You also have husbands, wives, or significant others at home and your obligation to them should trump anything else outside of your household.
If your reason(s) for quitting teaching is connected to your family, do not feel guilty. Your first obligation is to them. Period!
I was able to put my own teacher guilt to rest when I thought about the three bundles of joy that I’ve been blessed to rear.
They deserve a mom at her best just like my students deserve a teacher at her best. Under the circumstances, both couldn’t get the best of me.
So, I stepped aside for my birth children and for my students so that another teacher who could give them what they needed could step in.
4. Managing Teacher Guilt: Know that YOU are replaceable.
I know it’s hard to imagine. But, you are replaceable. That is the God-honest truth.
I want you to listen to this. I heard this just a couple of days ago and it bears sharing. Even irreplaceable teachers are replaceable.
Did you hear that? Even an irreplaceable teacher… So you could be the best teacher in the world, and you are still replaceable. Everyone is replaceable.
What we often think is, “Oh, there’s no one else that can do this job, the way that I do this job.”
Stop and think about that. That is a little bit arrogant on your part.
Although you are an awesome teacher, although you showed up and have impacted the lives of children, you’re not the only one that can do that. You are replaceable.
Even though you’re irreplaceable, you are replaceable.
5. Managing Teacher Guilt: Know that You have done a lot of good.
You did a lot of good for the time that you were in your students’ lives. As their teacher, you did your part. Believe that you sowed seeds that will eventually bloom. You may or may not get to see that bloom, but you sowed the seed.
Sometimes we don’t get to see the whole process of a plant growing. You may have been the sower. Someone else will come behind you and water the seed and see that student grow.
You may have even been blessed enough to have done some watering. But someone else might come along and actually see your students bloom.
You just have to believe that for the time that you were in your children’s (students’) lives, you did the part that was assigned to you.
That is enough! If you did your part, and you did your part well, so the next person can come behind you and pick up where you left off, you did well. And that is for sure enough.
6. The next teacher will be a professional.
Whoever comes behind you will also be a professional. Trust that just like whatever that district did to find you that they will find the next professional as well.
This person will pick up where you left off. They will build upon the work that you did.
The next teacher will be just as much a professional as you. They may or may not have as much experience as you. But know that they will be qualified to do what they need to do in order to continue to work with students.
7. Manage Teacher Guilt: Focus on what’s next.
You have to focus on what’s next. It can help you deal with whatever feelings of guilt you are having surrounding quitting teaching.
What can you do now to show up for other people that will not cause you to sacrifice your health, whether it’s physical or mental, or your family?
I attend a church with a lot of retirees. Many of them mentor young students. They are so rewarded by giving back to the kids in their community in this way.
And they get to do this when they want to. They get to show up how they want to. It’s a win-win situation.
Another cool thing is that they are still impacting lives. They may not be in the classroom every day, but they are still showing up. They are still helping people.
Just because you choose to quit teaching as you know it, doesn’t mean that you have to stop helping people. I hope you understand that.
We all have to get to the point where we are able to show up for other people without sacrificing ourselves and the people who count on us.
8. Make a plan for your future before quitting teaching.
Make a plan for your future where you are living your dream. Asked yourself, “What sets my heart on fire.”
For me. It was teaching. However, when I was deciding if I was going to be quitting teaching, I had to ask myself, “What hurts my heart?” And it was teaching too. LOL!
When I really sat down to do the work for myself, I understood that teaching set my heart on fire. It brings me so much joy to work with students.
And, not just any students. I like working with students who have learning differences.
I like helping them to connect the dots and seeing the light bulb go off.
For me, there is nothing like working with a child who is not reading well and then seeing them just flow right on through a passage.
What I realized though, even though I was a teacher teaching in the traditional sense, I wasn’t living my dream. It didn’t set my heart on fire when I was in that setting.
This is mainly because I wasn’t able to do what I knew needed to be done to be able to experience a child who couldn’t read before my class flowing through a passage after having been in my class.
It took me taking myself out of that particular environment and creating an environment where I focused on what was needed and how it was needed.
I started seeing tremendous growth in the students that I worked with. This types of growth, I had never seen while working in public education.
I realized that although I had left teaching, teaching was still for me. There’s no other job, no other career change that I wanted.
I love teaching. I also like this little business person I get to be as I run my little school.
It’s so funny. Although I’ve started a school (a WHOLE school) and gotten it accredited, I still think of myself as just a teacher. I am just now learning to embrace that I am an entrepreneur.
But I also realized that so many skills that I have as a teacher, are actually transferable to other jobs. It was those skills that enabled me to actually start my own school.
By starting a school, I created my own environment where I could continue to do what set my heart on fire.
So, the big question for you is, “What sets your heart on fire”
Now, if you are like me teaching is in your blood.
If you want to explore how to start a school of your own, I wrote a detailed blog on how to start a school with the steps you should take. You can read it here once you’ve finished this.
9. Manage Teacher Guilt: Practice letting go.
In the words of Elsa, “Feel it. Don’t conceal it, and just let it go.” I’m sure you know the rest of the words.
But seriously, emotions are a part of life and whether or not we should feel them, we do. The same way we get rid of fear- feeling it and moving past it is the same way we get rid of this guilt.
Feel it and then let it go. It is not yours to hold on to my dear friend. Let it go!
10. Consider how you left your teaching position.
How did leave? If you left the right way, you should not feel any guilt.
If you left in the middle of the year, did you just pick up and one day not show back up? Or, did you plan for it, even a little bit?
Did you let your supervisors or your principal know? I am sure you did. Did you map out whatever lessons needed to be mapped out? Did you find your own substitute?
When I left teaching in the middle of the year, I was able to actually select the person who became my long-term substitute. As a matter of fact, we had a sit-down meeting before I actually left.
We talked in detail about what I had covered and where I thought she needed to go. I told her everything she needed to know to successfully take on the task of completing the school year.
I talked about my different students and their individual goals and needs. Lastly, I made sure all of my paperwork was up-to-date.
That made all the difference for her picking up where I left off. I didn’t just willy-nilly leave. I cared enough to make sure that the next person had as much information as I could give.
If you leave like that you have nothing to feel guilty about. And if you were one of the ones who completed the year and just did not renew your contract, did you work your butt off until that very last day?
I bet you did.
You have nothing to feel guilty about if you strategically left your post. You did what you had to do to hand the baton off to the next person. This is why you should not feel guilty about quitting teaching.
11. Are you sure quitting teaching is right for you?
Are you someone who is currently thinking about leaving? And are you already having these emotions of guilt? If so, the question that I would ask myself is if it is really time for me to leave.
I am one of those people who believe there is a season for everything. Even though we may feel uncomfortable, it may not always be the right time to leave.
I would really evaluate if it’s truly your time to go.
12. Ultimately, you are not responsible for your students.
You are not your students’ world. Oh, I know I just crushed you. But be honest. They have parents, and you know those co-workers that you love so much. They are adults who can take care of themselves.
You are not ultimately responsible for your students. You’re certainly not responsible for your co-workers. They are adults who can make decisions for themselves and who can advocate for themselves.
Let the guilt go. If nothing else I’ve written so far resonates with you, please remember that you are not your students’ parents. The buck doesn’t stop with you.
13. You gave above and beyond before quitting teaching.
Don’t feel guilty because more than likely, you gave above and beyond what your district or your school ever paid you to do. Most teachers never just do what is required. Not even the ones who are not as great.
Most teachers go above and beyond. So give yourself a break. No matter the amount of time you’ve worked with students, I bet you’ve worked your butt off. Some days I am sure you felt not so great because you felt like other people didn’t see that. Right?
But that didn’t matter because you put your big girl and boy pants back on. You showed up the next day, and still gave more than what you were being paid for.
That my dear is why you should not feel guilty.
14. Manage Teacher Guilt: Talk to someone.
Sometimes we just need to talk it out. If none of the other ways have resonated with you, you might need to get counseling. I am sure once you sit yourself down and talk to somebody you will feel better.
It may not even have to be a professional yet. Maybe it could be a friend; maybe it can be somebody from your church.
Maybe it does need to be a counselor and there are affordable options If you are really feeling that much guilt, I say talk it out.
15. Teaching is not your identity.
Brace yourself- this one may come as a shock. Teaching is not your identity.
It is a part of who you are. But it’s not who you are in totality. There are so many more things to you. There is just so much more to you than JUST being a teacher.
As much as I love teaching. And I told you, I am a teacher through and through. I understand that who I am as a person is not wrapped up in the action of teaching or the title of teacher.
There’s so much more to me. There is so much more to you too. I don’t mean to minimize it, because it’s a wonderful profession, right?
But even if I can’t do it, my world will not be destroyed. Even if I have to give it up, I will happily move on. You must too.
Wrap-Up Teacher Guilt Over Leaving Teaching
Please know that I tackled this subject because I discovered the agony some teachers were having over it. I know in my heart of hearts that many more teachers are facing these feelings as well. I truly feel you deserve to do what is best for you without guilt.
Move on with your life and find out what it is that makes you happy. Once you do, pursue it with all your heart.
Do you have any ways or other information that will help teachers deal with the guilt that is sometimes associated when they leave the teaching profession? If you do, please contribute to the conversation below.
Such an informative post, thank you for sharing! The stress teachers endure on the job is often overlooked, even more so when they are thinking about leaving the profession. I loved the reassuring and hopeful nature of this post.
Thank you so much!! Many people really do overlook the stress and sad to say many teachers at one time did as well. Most of them are just now starting to put themselves and their families first. I for sure want them to know that it’s ok to do that.
This was very helpful not just for teachers but many other professions too. If something doesnt serve you its good to think what you want to spend your time to
Right! I think it is the best way to live a happy life.
I’m not a teacher but I thought this was a really well thought out entry. Mentioning the one “you have done a lot of good” stood out the most because I can see how some teachers may not always feel the appreciation they truly deserve, and not that they are looking for a pat on the back, but I think we tend to forget that teachers typically spend the most time with our kids outside of ourselves and that’s a full time obligation. I respect the profession so much!
I agree with you 100%!!