I just hung up the phone from making a reservation with a nice guy from Kansas City. He happens to live next door to the fire station that my brother works at. It’s a small world, and it got me thinking. I live in St. Augustine, Florida now and manage a Bed and Breakfast. It’s pirate themed, family friendly, small, and in the heart of downtown. St. Augustine is “America’s oldest city” and a romantic, scenic town on the east coast. I walk or ride my bike everywhere and meet people from all over the world. I’m happy. But then again, I have been happy and I have loved every job I’ve had… ever since I quit teaching.
Teaching was a struggle. I toughed it out for 5 years, dealing with stress and anxiety primarily as a result from not being able to prevent behavior problems. I saw other teachers handle the daily stress and unwanted behaviors with grace, rolling it off their shoulders. But I would lie awake all night long. My head would spin with every scenario, every assigned seat, how I would arrange the lesson and supplies, trying to prevent and discipline the behaviors that interrupted the classroom. My teacher friends seemed to just accept that “they’re kids” and this is normal. But I couldn’t. I was striving for a smooth and seamless classroom with professionalism and I never achieved it. My lessons suffered, the good kids suffered, and I just had to quit. During the 4th year I was at a new and more crowded school. I faced up to 35 ninth graders with only a few minutes break before the next group flooded in. To survive that year I sought a counselor. I was in fear of having a breakdown or crying in the classroom and I wanted to keep it together. I knew of many first year teachers that would break down. My mom is a wonderful teacher and I remember when she described hearing a first year teacher sniffling in the bathroom. She quietly walked out to leave the young girl in peace. I vowed I would always be calm and strong and not be that girl.
It’s no surprise though. The national turnover rate for teachers is 50 percent….. meaning half of all teachers quit within the first 5 years. So I lucked out when the counselor I found during my 4th year was a former teacher herself. She asked questions, determined I was capable, and told me to stick it out for one more year. I knew she was right. I didn’t want the new school and tougher group of kids to scare me away, but there were also financial incentives. I would have vested retirement after my 5th year, and I would get some student loan forgiveness if I could survive one more final year. So I did, but I also created two new side businesses (selling artwork and Beachbody coaching) to start building a new income and preparing for the future.
Once that last day of teaching was over, all of my life improved. Some people were worried how I would support myself and I ignored them. They didn’t know the low that I had gotten to and they wouldn’t understand anyway. Later on I was telling someone my story, and he said “Was it the kinda thing where you would jump off a cliff before doing that job another day?” I smiled and nodded my head yes. His comparison was more literal than he or I said out loud….. something told me he had been there and we both knew it was no joke.
So what did I do next? Everything! I road tripped the West Coast, attended conferences in Portland and Las Vegas. I flew to New York and the East coast. I got rid of all my belongings and rented a room in Kansas City. I worked two part time jobs in Kansas City. Then after 9 months I quit those jobs and traveled another 6 months all over the East Coast and the state of Florida. I stayed in Boston for a month, visited friends, made new friends, met a new guy, then I got a couple jobs in Daytona Beach, before getting hired here and promoted to manager. During that time I drove through the Everglades, saw wild alligator, flew an airplane over Marathon Island and the 7 mile bridge, kayaked across the state of Missouri, kayaked around islands, went sailing on the Atlantic for a day, was given a precious shark tooth, took a dance lesson, and made jewelry and hair braids and connected with tons of travelers.
I’ve been supporting myself financially from 3 things: art, Beachbody, but mostly from the part time jobs I have been working along the way. Occasionally I will sell a painting or art print online, and weekly I get a paycheck from Beachbody that might just buy groceries or it might pay a few bills. The bulk of my income over the last 3 years now has been part time work. When I quit teaching I remember saying a few times “I’d work at Mcdonalds before I would ever become a teacher again.” What has surprised me the most though, is how much I have thoroughly enjoyed every job I have had. The first 2 jobs were in Kansas City, both just randoms I found through Craigslist. They were office jobs that paid 10 or 11 dollars per hour. Seemingly entry level and low pay, they both turned out to be viable long term career choices. One federal government job with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the other as a Manager for a storage company with an excellent on site apartment for free. Yeah, free! And guess what? I turned both jobs down when they offered long term full time employment. I no longer had the fear of unemployment, or the fear of being low income, knowing that my teaching experience pretty much guaranteed me any job I applied for.
So I floated away in a kayak, drove to Florida, and got more part time jobs when I ran out of money 6 months later. And I LOVED both of those jobs too! One at a College for Chiropractors working the library desk, and the other playing games and doing art projects with families at a beachside resort. I have left every job on good terms, being honest about my side business with Beachbody and the possibility of future travel.
So currently, I manage this B&B with enthusiasm. At each job I have worked with professionalism, been punctual, and able to manage others as needed. I have acted as a leader and taken initiative where allowed. I’m extremely organized and polite. My 5 years of teaching experience is ingrained in every action I take and every task I complete. It was like my boot camp for life. And it prepared me for ANYTHING. Seriously, nothing surprises me now, and I feel like I can handle anything that happens with competence. I feel fearless. And it is because of teaching. As for income, I could have matched or surpassed my teacher pay at any of these ”entry level” jobs. Staying with them and accepting full time pay, working my way up the ladder, was doable within less than a year at any of them.
As for my mental and emotional perspective, things have changed too. During teaching and when I first left teaching, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what I had been through. I looked at the perfect teachers I knew and struggled to accept my own unique experience. Now that it has been 2 or 3 years though, I realize how greatly the whole experience has improved my quality of life. I can look back and understand and be grateful. Teaching kids just wasn’t for me. I excelled at a lot of things when I was a teacher and I left with good references, but the daily stress and anxiety were more than I could handle. I’m happier each year and with each new experience, with a perspective and wisdom from the outside that guides me on my journeys. Cheers to all the awesome teachers I know that kick ass in the classroom, and if you decide that you just can’t do it anymore, know that the world is full of opportunity and you are qualified to do anything. You’ve been through boot camp and survived. At the very least…..you can always teach again if you decide to go back. That’s what I told people that kept asking “concerned” questions about my life choices. For those of you that aren’t teachers but still feel trapped in a career you dislike, I encourage you to make a change. Chances are you’ll find something, or many things, that are just as great or better 🙂
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