Why I Left the Classroom––and Why I am Returning

Marcia DeSalvo is a teacher leader at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School, completing her Principal Certification. She recently returned to education after taking a brief hiatus. Here Marcia recounts what made her leave, why she returned, and the many lessons she learned along the way. Here’s her story. 

I shut my computer down on June 14, the day after my team graduated every senior for the second year in a row. 

I was exhausted. 

My 8th year of teaching was a tumultuous one. I attended the first day of school, but promptly went out on maternity leave (note to self: don’t get pregnant in December!). And while I juggled the emotional hurdles of being a first-time Mom, I also juggled the emotional hurdles of leaving my classroom and beloved students in the hands of a less-than-worthy substitute. I had spent the summer taping lectures and making detailed plans of every day of my maternity leave, but quickly realized that once you are out of your room, there is little you can actually control (heads up to any future parent control freaks). By November I could no longer watch my classroom self-destruct from a distance. Mom guilt is real, but so is teacher guilt. So at 9 weeks, with my baby barely able to hold his head up, I returned to the classroom. 

IMG_2437
Jack at 9 weeks old.

The rest of the year was about surviving.

The rest of the year was about surviving. 

In truth, it was a wonderful year. I was proficient on all my observations. Several of my kids passed the AP exam. ALL of my seniors graduated. Some days I even showered before work. 

But by June 14, I was dead tired. I felt like I could sleep for a lifetime.

I felt like I could sleep for a lifetime.

To be clear, this wasn’t my normal end-of-year exhaustion. After eight years of teaching, I had developed a rhythm for my summer recovery.  I took a true hiatus for 8-14 days. This was usually on a beach—and during this time I didn’t check (or respond to) email, I didn’t pick up any book related to teaching, and I never set an alarm. Typically after two weeks of doing nothing, I felt refreshed and was mentally ready (and capable) to start thinking about the new school year. Nothing excites me more than planning bulletin boards, lessons, or school supply shopping. (Can you say Type A?)

But this exhaustion was different. I needed a real break, and by late July, no planning had happened. No excitement had surfaced. And I hadn’t bought a single school supply. Yikes

My husband was the first to notice.

For a long time teaching: my classroom, my kids had been my everything. Other than my own family, it was the most important thing in my life. So it’s obvious why my husband recognized that something wasn’t “right.”

When we attempted to talk about it, I had few words. I couldn’t pinpoint what had “gone wrong” because I felt numb.

While I may have thought I “escaped” Post Partum Depression—I wholeheartedly believe it hit me in July. I recognize it’s fairly rare for PPD to creep up on you when your child is 10 months old, but I’m convinced this is what happened to me.  After all, I didn’t have time to deal with PPD before July because I was teaching. 

I spent my summer snuggling my baby as often as I could, giving him ALL three meals, putting him down for naps, taking for him for long walks, going to story hours, and snapping lots of pictures.

IMG_0510
Jack during one of our summer story hour trips.

All the things I couldn’t do, from November-June, when I left the house at 6AM and didn’t roll in until 6PM. I felt I had missed so much; for my classroom, for my seniors, for my school. I was determined to use June, July and August to soak up every moment.

As summer began to wind down, the thought of leaving him, and all those snuggles behind was terrifying. I had to find some kind of work-life-balance. I knew I was an exceptional teacher, but I needed to be an exceptional mom. The guilt was paralyzing. I felt that if I was going to a great mom, my teaching would suffer. In my mind, I couldn’t be the mom AND teacher I wanted to be. One would have to give. Having it all–isn’t so easy–you know. 

In my mind, I couldn’t be the mom AND teacher I wanted to be. One would have to give. Having it all–isn’t so easy, you know.

Then a very unexpected opportunity found me. It boasted of work from home opportunities and less day-to-day stress. It sounded too good to be true. Here was the work-life balance I needed. Most importantly, since I wouldn’t be teaching, there would be less day-to-day guilt. 

IMG_3673
Leaving this cutie everyday isn’t easy.

On my 30th birthday, I sent a letter of resignation and made the call to my principal. I paced through the whole phone call and found it nearly impossible to say “I’m resigning.” That was probably sign #1 that I shouldn’t have left. 

Sign #2 came a week later. After chatting with my friend (who happened to be the recruitment coordinator) about the lack of candidates to fill my position, I sent a text to my principal suggesting that if they worked out the schedule, I’d be willing to teach my AP and Honors classes, you know to “help” out the school. 

Sign #3 came when my former AP and supervisor contacted me asking when I was coming to get my stuff. New teachers were slated to start on August 19th, and here it was the 16th and I hadn’t moved a single thing. I didn’t want to deal with it. Packing up and moving out made it real.

Sign #4 came on what would have been the first day of school. I felt like such a fraud.  A sellout. I wasn’t a Marketing and Program Coordinator—I was a teacher. I shouldn’t have been in an office, I was supposed to be in my classroom. What was I doing? 

Around November (two months in at the new job), my heart felt completely empty. The newness of the job was gone, and my world was still largely defined by my previous life. I marked the weeks by the school events that once navigated my life, and boy, was I missing them. 

I took a hiatus from Social Media so I could avoid any former colleagues and their posts (they almost always had to do with school). The trouble with that was one of my roles at my new position was managing the social media accounts.  So I was on it ALL day long.

In January, I connected with a colleague who asked me to come and participate in the Senior mock interviews. I gladly accepted. But as the visit got closer, the excitement and anxiety engulfed me. I had been purposely avoiding going back to visit because I feared the emotions I would face if I entered those halls. I helped build this place, I wasn’t a “visitor.”  What happened if my former students were angry with me? I couldn’t handle that. Worse, I knew leaving this time would be harder than when I moved out.  

The visit was exceptional. It felt so good to be back.

But I felt sick to my stomach when I walked out of the building. I held back tears the entire drive to my office. God, did I miss it. My students. My  colleagues. The bells. My classroom. The sound of students laughing through the halls. Even the weird smells coming from the cafeteria. I missed it all. 

I missed it all.

It had been the first time I was forced to face my regret. 

My guilt. 

My mistake. 

Up until that point I faked how good things were going whenever friends, family, or former colleagues asked. Even that day, when my principal asked me how I was, I lied. I talked little of the position but boasted of the freedom I had on the weekends, how wonderful it was to not be bogged down by lesson planning or grading, or how little day-to-day stress I felt. Avoiding talking about how deeply I missed teaching made it slightly easier to mask and deal with. Out of sight, out of mind. 

But on this Thursday afternoon there was no hiding. I was staring it right in the face and was forced to deal with it. That night when my husband asked how my visit went, the tears flowed.

I still can’t pinpoint why I left. Why I didn’t listen to my gut? Why I didn’t realize it wasn’t what I wanted.?

Maybe I finally hit the burnout so many teachers experience. Maybe it was the myriad of life changes happening in my personal life. Maybe I really did have PPD. Or maybe I just needed a break—a hiatus—a sabbatical. A year later, I rack my brain constantly for the answer. A year later, I still don’t have one. Luckily, I can pinpoint exactly why I returned. 

Luckily, I can pinpoint exactly why I returned. 

Teaching remains one of the greatest loves of my life. It’s what I do, but it’s also who I am. Without it, my purpose was missing. I’m a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend when I’m fulfilled, happy and living a life of purpose.

The students, the staff, the mission, the hope that exists in the walls and halls of MBACS gives me that purpose. Every. Single. Day. 

Whether I want it or not—I have purpose, and my job makes a difference in the lives of my students and families. 

Whether I want it or not—I have purpose, and my job makes a difference in the lives of my students and families.

So when the opportunity to come back in April popped up, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I knew where I belonged. And I felt lucky to be going home. 

Anyone who knows me understands that I hate to admitting to all of this. I’m not the type to “bare my soul” especially in a public forum. True to form, the “know-it-all” in me, hates to making mistakes. For giving up what I once had. For quitting. For leaving when the kids, my colleagues, and the profession needed me most. 

For leaving when the kids, my colleagues, and the profession needed me most.

But if I hadn’t left, I wonder if I would have learned the lessons I so desperately needed. Things I know (and believe) now that I didn’t a year ago: 

  1. I can be a leader without having to be front and center. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and the good ones find a way to lead: from the front, the middle, and back. Having a title doesn’t make you a leader. That comes from within. 
  2. I can get results and be effective without dedicating every waking moment to teaching. I’m allowed to go to sleep at 9PM on a school night. I’m allowed to go apple picking in the fall on a Sunday! I’m allowed to plan a vacation on spring break! I’m allowed to not be tied to my computer all weekend. I’ll be a better teacher when I give myself a break once in a while. 
  3. I can be a great mom AND wife, AND still plan meaningful instruction. I must make balance a priority.
  4. Kids are incredibly resilient and understanding. I worried they’d be so angry with me when I returned, but they weren’t. They understood and respected my decision when I left, but they also made sure I knew how happy they were when I returned. 
  5. My school is better off with me in it, than without. I ignored so many clues that I was valued, that my contributions mattered, that I had an impact, that I made a real difference. I wasn’t just a number. I wasn’t easily replaceable. Leaving finally helped me realize me how much I mattered to my students, my colleagues, and my school.
  6. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it. I should have said I was burnt out. I should have mentioned I needed a break. I should have asked for help. I never did. I won’t make that mistake again. 
  7. Everything happens for a reason.
  8. I’m really lucky. I was super lucky to find an opportunity to leave the classroom when I felt that was the right move for my family. I was even luckier to be able to return to a place I love so much with open arms. I’m lucky to have such caring and supportive coworkers, administrators, and students. I’m lucky to have the support and backing of my family and friends, especially my husband and my mom. I’m lucky to have learned such a great lesson, and to finally have the courage to take the next step in my educational journey: getting my principal certification. I’m lucky to have a platform to share my story.

In a few days, the bells will start ringing again. My feet will be tired, my hand numb from writing comments on essays, and my back will hurt from lugging books and papers back and forth. I probably will only get to use the bathroom twice a day, and sometimes I’ll have to skip lunch. I’ll spend entirely too much money on pencils, highlighters, notebooks, and other supplies my kids need but can’t afford. Like all teachers I know, I won’t make as much money as I deserve. Some days will be great, others won’t. But I’m back where I belong, and I’ve never been happier (or more excited) for the school year to begin.

 

1 thought on “Why I Left the Classroom––and Why I am Returning

  1. Oh Marcia, I’m so so so glad you made your way back. Beautiful blogpost, and a beautiful description of what makes us crazy education people so in love with our jobs! Keep writing, old friend! Your words are beautiful. Much love.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close