Teaching: a break-up letter

Teaching: a break-up letter

Dear Teaching,

We’ve been together such a long time; I hardly know where I end and you begin.

My body beats to the rhythm of terms and bells – the long, cold slog to the end of the winter and the inevitable Christmas cold, the summer term that should be easier, but somehow never is, with its sweaty classrooms and echoes of frantic scribblings in in stifling gyms and halls – they are deep in my bones.

I have written a thousand dates on black boards and white boards and Smart boards. I have made resources on projector acetates and PowerPoint presentations and on YouTube videos. The first children that I taught are on the cusp of their thirties and may have children of their own.

I have grown up, fallen in love, got married, borne children, become who I am. All with you there, by my side. I hardly know who to be without you.

Lately, there have been some very rocky years. The old cliché might be to say that it is me, not you. The truth is, it’s both of us. We’ve grown apart, become different people. You have an ideal of me in your mind that is impossible to live up to. I no longer have the time or will to try.

I thought that if we saw less of each other, it would help. And it has, a little. But during the time we are apart, in every perfect moment with tiny hands and feet, in every joyful call for mummy – I am held hostage by you.

Littlest, holding mummy's hand


I’m still in love. The musty smells of books and paper, the bright young faces, the camaraderie of the staff room and warm tea on frost-bitten mornings. I depend on you for my sense of worth and so I have clung on far past the point when this was mutually beneficial– not in bravery or selflessness – but out of fear. Even when I know that staying is wrong, even when I know it hurts those I love the most, and you, I have not been able to let go.

Until now.

There is much I will regret. I wish we were parting on better terms. I wish I weren’t leaving students I admire and care for – half way through a gruelling and rigorous new GCSE. I wish I didn’t feel like this is a failure.

But there is also an overwhelming sense of relief; I don’t have to pretend any more. I don’t have to choose. Is there someone else?

Yes. My quality of life. My children.

I know I am lucky. You have given me so much. I wish I could be better for you – I always danced along a precipice –at my best, my highest point, there was constantly that sheer drop, centimetres away. My stomach always lurched at the threat of the fall. I could live with that, before. I could live with that constant sense that my mind was full to the brim. I could live with the work, the pressure, the marking. And now I can’t.

Because my mind is filled with cries in the night, and grazes to kiss, and curls to brush, and lunches to make, and adventures to have, and autism to face, and little hands seeking mine in the darkness.

And I cannot, will not, let those things spill out when my mind is overflowing, when I stumble at that precipice. There are some lines that cannot be crossed. Some sacrifices that should not be made.

I will support my son for every second of every appointment, every therapy that he needs – and I will not feel one jot of guilt for being there with him, nowehere else. I will hold my daughter all day when she is poorly, stroke her hair, and I will not think for one second of a pile of books that I should be marking. I will not miss out on more than two and a half hours of my children’s laughs, sighs and cuddles, every day, while I queue on a dreary motorway.

But I will miss you. I will miss being a teacher. I will miss belonging to the club and wearing my thirteen years like a badge of honour. I will miss my pupils.

But that is not enough.

Maybe one day, it might work again. I hope it might. Until then, take care – fight against those who want to change you for the worse, those who would seek to divide you from the joy you should inspire. If I can return one day, I want to greet you like an old friend, not an unwelcome necessity. I hope you can understand.

All my love,

Soon-no-longer-to-be Someone’s Teacher.

For other posts about teaching, you may wish to read:
Teaching: a family unfriendly profession

I am not a teacher


Teaching: a break-up letter - a look at why teachers may leave the profession.

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117 thoughts on “Teaching: a break-up letter

  1. This is so well written, I feel very much the same way it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone. I work in Early Years and for the past 12 years that’s all I’ve known. I want to ensure that my eldest daughter settles into school in Sept and that I can get her to appointments, I may return when both children are at school, but for now I’m mummy 🙂 x

    1. Just seen this a year on from when I was posted..I just wondered how you were getting on ? Lots of this rang true for me upon reading..I wonder sometimes about leaving but I do enjoy parts of the job and I’m unsure what else to do..although I work part time which gives me two days with the kids which is great sometimes you’re doing the same job on less hours so that’s still too much

      1. If you have left the teaching profession and are looking for new opportunities then contact didteach. We are a recruitment agency specialising in finding ex teachers new jobs in the corporate and charity sectors. We are currently looking for ex teachers in the Oxford area as we have a scientific client that is expanding rapidly

    2. I had my children late and I gave up work and I gave up stuff. We did not need a dress circle address, flash cars or investment property but we were old enough to be beyond social pressures and live how we wanted Our children were not dumped at child care etc etc. They had our focus. What is life but to nurture your young? They are now 11 and 13 and I just work a menial job to make ends meet so i
      can do the best job in the world- be a
      mother. I am in control of my children.i am
      there after school and for all holidays.
      Imagine how many jobs would be created
      if women brought up their own children
      and accepted they cannot do two jobs
      effectively Now in high school I see the
      kids with the full time working parents
      with little focus and social issues. I also
      struggle with teachers with babies who
      continually whinge about their pay while
      my daughter’s work is left unmarked and
      unplanned. When I try to engage as a
      parent as is supposedly the new direction
      now I am seen as a troublesome mother.
      You have one life follow your heart and remember that the biggest gift you can give your children is a full love tank.

      1. This comment is exceptionally judgemental, anti-feminist and short-sighted. Not all of us have the luxury of being able to give up work, nor should they be made to feel they should have to give up a career they’ve worked hard for. I believe a working mother can make you a strong role model to your children. Many women, and men, manage to work and parent very effectively! If all women who became mothers gave up their jobs, they’d be created for who exactly? Disgusting.

  2. This is such a sad letter, but it seems that this is definitely the right thing for you! I wish you all the best, I’mI’ll be following your journey the blog world takes you on 🙂 xxx

  3. wow, big news! the best decision for you. well done and don’t look back. life is far too short to spend it being miserable.

    enjoy your notice and the last few weeks with your students. it must be such a relief x

  4. Ahh lovely, exciting news. It must have been a hard decision to come to but lovely that you’ll be leaving knowing you’ll miss it…to get to the point of utter hatred with something is always, I think, more sad. #bigpinklink

  5. I found myself nodding my head and a lump in my throat reading this. I’m not a parent yet but I can only imagine how much harder this profession must be with children. I’ve worked with you and feel exactly the same love hate relationship with job as you do. I have wondered, too, about leaving teaching and can only admire and respect your honesty and bravery. The students will miss you but your children need you more. All the best x

    1. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment. Is this Maths Sarah? Good luck with your new ventures too if it is! x

  6. This genuinely brought me to tears. What a beautifully heartfelt letter!
    I’m glad you’re feeling relief at the decision and don’t doubt you will find fulfillment in your time with your children.
    (Incidentally, please note correct KS1 use of exclamation mark above – my son has been teaching me 😉

    1. Thanks for such a lovely comment. I am always keen to encourage proper (and restrained) use of the exclamation mark. 🙂

  7. Such a lovely and emotional letter and 13 years of teaching wow! It sounds like this is something that’s right for you and I guess no matter whenever you decide to leave there will always be that quilt, but you have to do what’s right for you and your family. Good luck with your new adventure x #KCACOLS

  8. Hello!
    This made me feel really emotional! I’ve only been a teacher 3 years and I’ve taken a whole year off to look after my baby and I and questioning whether to go back. You have taken the leap, but I just do not feel ready to give it all up yet! I was explaining to someone the other day that I actually miss greeting children in the morning and wishing them a ‘good morning, how was your weekend?’ and people look at me like I am nuts! I liked the overly cheery girls responses and the grumpy sulking grunts from the boys!
    One day I will be where you at at im sure! Good for you! You have done your bit and I’m sure if you choose to there will be new generation waiting should you want to teach again!

    1. Thank you for commenting. It is a very hard juggling act when you have children. There are those who can do it – but it’s too much for me. Good luck. x

  9. I feel for you. A very poignant letter but of course you have totally done the right thing. Well done for taking the step and enjoy the precious time with your children. As previous comments have said, you have so much to give in the future – should you wish to. Good luck #KCACOLS

  10. Even without the added complication of autism, to want to spend more time with your children is not something to be ashamed of. Not something to be looked down on. To be a parent is the most important ‘job’ we will ever do. To guide, protect, love and teach our children is an honour and a joy.

  11. Wow this is a powerful post. I’m sorry that you are having to make such a difficult choice and I think it’s a real shame that because of the pressures heaped on to you these days, you and many others like you are having to leave for the sake of their families. Soon there will be no-one left! I hope one day we will have a shift back to the days when teaching was more about imparting knowledge then pushing children through exams. Thanks for linking up, and good luck in your new full time job! 🙂 #bigpinklink

    1. Thank you. I think I will have to do some kind of work as we can’t afford for me not to. Hopefully some blogging things might take off! Thanks for having me ☺

  12. I left teaching in December and I still feel the relief of making that difficult decision every day. I had sadly come to dread the occupation rather than embracing the joy that it can bring and it was really having a negative impact on me. I do miss the aspect of supporting and encouraging children and celebrating their successes but I get to do this with my own child now and that is even more special to me. I have decided that I still need to have something and so have chosen a self-employed career option that has many similarities and skills, but without returning to the stresses and hours that wore me down. I wish you all the best and hope that you enjoy your time away whether it be for a short break or longer term.

    1. Thank you for commenting. It is good to hear of others who have done the same and found happiness and success ☺

  13. This is a fantastic post, really heart felt. I am so sorry that it’s come to this for you as really sound like one of the few good ones left in the education system

  14. Oh I am so sorry to read that you are now leaving teaching too. However, as a fellow former teacher and parent I understand the agonising and the guilt you will have felt at making that decision. I was very sad to leave teaching behind but I don’t regret it as I am now there for my children. Like you I hope to return to teaching one day but for now I want to focus on my children. The pressures on teachers today is crazy and until they recognise this they will continue to lose amazing teachers like yourself.

    This is such a powerful and heartbreaking read that I hope you will send it to all the newspapers!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting and your kind words. It was a hard decision. I don’t know about newspapers but it is Mumsnet Blog of the Day! ☺

  15. Well done on your decision. I know how tough it is to leave teaching, and I did it before children. I miss the daily contact with the children, the buzz and flow of the day. I do not miss the long hours, the pressure of paperwork deadlines nor writing reports. It was a more bitter end for me but I still understand the pull you feel. Enjoy your next chapter, and your time with your family.

  16. I am currently on maternity leave from my teaching job and I have no idea how I am going to juggle being a mum and a teacher but as the bread winner of the family I have no choice. I just hope my guilt doesn’t overwhelm me.

    1. There are people who do it and manage so don’t let my story fill you with dread. I have no support network and a very long commute and those are big factors too. Good luck. x

  17. I really enjoyed this. It struck a cord with me as it’s something I did after having children. I never looked back after leaving the classroom!

  18. Oh my goodness. You are so much braver than I. I’m still in teaching after 25 years and perhaps if I’d loved my job less then I wouldn’t be divorced and without children. All the very best in your new venture. They are lucky, lucky children.

    1. Thanks for commenting and your kind words. It’s a tough decision for anyone to face and there is much reward and satisfaction in dedicating yourself to teaching.

  19. This is wonderful. I don’t think any of the most important decisions in life are easy, but no matter what else you feel at this moment, at least you can feel secure in the knowledge that you are doing the right thing for YOU. #KCACOLS

  20. I don’t respond to these sorts of things, but with your letter, I felt I had no choice. I am in tears feeling every little thing that you talk about. It is the most amazing vocation in the world, but it very quickly becomes your life long husband, partner, lover….abuser. The strength it takes to walk away is phenomenal. I only wish I had the strength…😪

    1. Thanks so much for commenting. It has taken 3 years and many occasions when it nearly happened… It has got to the point where I *know* it is the right thing to do.

  21. What a very thought provoking post. I have a son who is just starting out as a teacher and I wonder if the males have the same feelings as you. We all need to find time for our family life but pressures of work not only just in teaching are making us and our kids miss precious time together. Good luck and wishes

    1. I think males can feel this way too. A lot depends on personal circumstances and support. I have no family, a long commute and a little boy just diagnosed with autism. These things pushed me too far. Thanks so much for your kind words.

  22. Wow! I could have written this.
    I am, well was a teacher for twelve years in total… I had to stop for my own sanity and for the sake of my family.

    I too am supporting my little man who is also on the spectrum (aged 6) and I too have a little lady (aged 2.5 going on 16) who also needs my attention.

    I just couldn’t do it anymore 🙁

  23. I don’t think people realise how tough teaching is, especially in the current climate. I have always felt that teaching is a vocation but at the moment it feels as though it’s being run like a business. The people at the top are forgetting that we are dealing with children not robots.
    I think you’re really brave in your decision. I’m being made redundant from my teaching post this summer. I’m hoping to find a new post, but if I don’t I’m not sure if I’ll be disappointed!

  24. You are making the right decision.Teaching sadly has become a profession that is all absorbing and draining does not fit in with any kind of normal life, let alone life with children who need your love and attention.
    I did go back to work 6 months after each of my children as we lived in London and could not afford our house without two salaries and I kept on working until I could take no more, just one and a half years from retirement. After a term of relief and improved mental health, I missed it and I went back to the same school to work as a supply teacher. I now have all the pleasure of teaching and little of the grief of meetings, assessments and planning etc etc that grind you down-I do have to mark in 3 colours but I can cope with that.
    Sometime in the future when you have done an excellent job as a mum you may go back to the job that you clearly love. For now though you are in the right place and if I had my chance again I would try to do the same. I still remember my daughter saying ‘Can you meet me from school like a real Mummy’.
    I was lucky; until they were 11 they were at the school where I taught so I didn’t miss important school moments but I missed a lot of important other moments which you won’t. So no regrets. Enjoy every minute. It goes so fast!

  25. Your letter rings so many bells with me. I now work part time as a Primary school teacher and would never return to full time unless it was unavoidable. The “guilt” element is so true, I felt guilty if I didn’t get all my planning and marking done at the weekend and guilty if I didn’t spend time with my family. I had to choose between being the best teacher I could be or the best Mum I could be. I chose the latter and have absolutely no regrets.

  26. Beautifully written. Out of five women I qualified with 22 years ago I am the only one still hanging on in there and it is by my finger nails. I too have to balance the demands of life with a child with ASD and the scales are so often not in his favour. It is soul destroying.

    Do you mind if I share with a friend who has just handed in her notice? I think it would help her to come to terms with her decision (in fact, I thought it might actually have been her writing this blog until you mentioned your son – that’s the only difference between you).

  27. This is such a moving piece and beautifully written. I can empathise with you as I embarked upon a similar journey two years ago. There is such emotion in this letter, You won’t regret it for a second x

  28. This is so beautifully written and sums up how a lot of teachers feel I think. I’m still holding on at the moment, but the profession has lost another talented teacher. Their loss is your children’s gain.

    1. I hope I can return one day. I do admit that it is partly teaching but lots to do with my personality and situation too. Thanks so much for your kind words and for commenting.

  29. I’ve often wondered how teachers cope when they have children. People think it’s a great job for a working mum because of the holidays/hours when that’s actually what makes it not so great! But now my youngest son (nearly 20) is thinking of going into teaching after his degree (he’d prefer sixth form age students) and I don’t know what to advise. All teachers I meet or read about just want to leave. Can it really be a good job for him out will he just end up as fed up as everyone else?

    1. There are those who cope with it and love it. There is much to recommend it too. Thanks for commenting.

      1. Thanks for your reply (I also meant to say how much I enjoyed reading your blog – even if I’m sad for you re the content).

  30. This is so beautifully written, I can’t even imagine how hard this decision was for you to make. I wish you all the best for the future and looking forward to reading more from you.
    Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday

  31. Wow great post, very touching at times. I’m sorry to see you’ve fallen out of love with your profession but hope you find something that makes you happy. All the best for the future xx #bigpinklinm

  32. Wow. I have never heard the perspective of a teacher leaving the profession before. This is powerful, sad, and hopeful all at the same time. I am wishing you the best with your children, who deserve you so…and I am wishing you the best if you ever decide to return to teaching. You have made an admirable and honest choice. Too many stay stuck in a tug of war that they cannot win out of fear, necessity, and a host of other reasons. Kudos to you for being able to analyze the situation and make the best choice for you and your family. #bigpinklink

  33. This is heartbreaking to read Danielle, that decision must have been so hard for you to make. I can see how hard it must be to manage a full time teaching job and look after 2 children. I hope that the weight on your shoulders has lifted, and you can now enjoy lots of lovely family time. Claire x

    1. I’m not even full-time! Still can’t cope 😑 There’s just too much pressure and too much marking. As a secondary English teacher I easily make up the hours off just in marking. Thanks so much for commenting. It was a tough one but really the only one to make for me right now. Thanks for commenting

  34. Wow emotional timea. I wrote a a similar letter 6yrs ago. Now coaching new teachers on wellbeing to try and reduce attrition rate

  35. What an emotional piece! I made that decision last year that my child and family were more important than the job, although I didn’t have as much love for mine as you clearly do for yours. #kcacols

  36. Beautifully written. I’m so glad #KCACOLS brought me here today. I have a similar story, 22 years of pharmacy, and my story is so similar…I left last December and now I’m returning to family and creativity and writing.

    I remember some very wise person saying, ‘No one will ever have an epitaph that reads ‘I wish I had worked more.’

    If you are able, choose love, choose life, choose family.

    I wish you all the best. #KCACOLS

  37. A very brave thing to do, such a sad letter too. I really hope it all works out for you 🙂 #KCACOLS

  38. Fabulous post and I totally get where you are coming from (I used to work in teacher training as opposed to being a teacher myself and my husband currently works in education).
    For what it’s worth, I think you’ve made the right decision!

    When the time is right, I’m sure you will find your way back to teaching again. It might be in a completely different capacity. Whatever happens, family is everything x


  39. You are just an incredible writer. This has emotion and heartbreak pouring out of every word. I am so sorry you’ve been left with no choice but to leave the profession you loved. But it seems like you’ve written this from a position of peace so to speak. #bigpinklink

    1. Thanks so much for such a lovely comment! Means quite a bit from a MADs and BiBs nominated writer! I have made peace, I think. Now I just need to find a way to pay the mortgage! 😉 Thanks so much.

  40. I love this post hun! I really hope you are happy with your decision but I really do think it will be best for you and your gorgeous family. Good luck with the new world of SAHM. Thank you for linking up to #spectrumsunday I hope you join me again this week xx

    1. Thank you – though I can’t afford to be a SAHM 🙁 Will need to do supply teaching and maybe tutoring, and even child-minding to survive. Will be linking on Monday 🙂

  41. A well-written piece – I’m sure you will perhaps do a little supply, some tutoring and perhaps retrain as an educational psychologist or coach/counsellor. Good luck on your journey! I worked as a link worker in high school in London for a decade and I’ve seen so many teachers – including those in senior positions – on the edge of not coping. Many described a gut-wrenching feeling as they came in to school on a Monday morning. Up late marking and in early to prepare. The boundary stretch and the changing expectations make conditions ripe for burnout. I think there is great wisdom in your decision! Health and happiness come first.

  42. Pingback: Blog Stars: The First Edition! - AbsolutelyPrabulous
  43. What a beautiful love letter to your family and your extended student family. The school community is losing a star obviously. But, there isn’t a better reason to say so long for now. Loved it.
    We are on #BlogStars together this month from Prabs.

  44. You are not giving up. It’s just a break. And the profession is becoming more and more demanding. It’s just ridiculous…When I left for my year off, I was so relieved to go. I am sure my situation is far from being as difficult as yours, but I am not looking forward to going back to school, even if I love teaching and the kids. I understand what you describe here. Good luck on your new journey! I am sure you will be fantastic!

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  46. This is such a familiar story and you have written this so well. I have known too many teachers break under the pressure of the job. It is very demanding. I used to teach whole classes then took time out for maternity leave. After that, I seriously considered never teaching again but luckily found a job teaching smaller groups/individuals. It suits me much better. There is always something that turns up to suit your needs at the time. I think you are doing the right thing for you and your family. You should never feel guilty for spending time with your own children. I hope you thoroughly enjoy every moment of your time away from teaching and that you are able to go back into it one day, if you decide that is the best thing for you.

  47. Your eloquent letter makes me feel sad, but I am so glad that you are able to make a life choice that is right for you. I have been in this career for 40 years, and am nearing retirement. I am single, but the changes you mentioned in your earlier post about observations, testing, reductions in pay etc. all are true of my situation. I am actually looking forward to retirement so I can reclaim my life. I am single and a veteran teacher, but still need to spend hours writing lesson plans and I still stress about observations from administrators who don’t truly know me or appreciate the type of teaching I want to practice. At one time, not so long ago, teaching was truly my life, and now, I find I am eagerly anticipating walking away with little sadness and lots of terrific memories of an earlier time in my career when I felt I truly mattered. The stress is palpable, and I am getting no younger. I hope that one day, when the time is right, you will be able to return, but if not, your motherhood is the most important career of all. I wish you well.

  48. Having briefly been a teacher, I can relate! It was like having two full time jobs and I lost some of the best years of my children’s lives. I’ve given it up now to spend more time with them, as you’re doing.

  49. I am walking away from teaching as well. And it is so hard to say goodbye. But I had already said goodbye over 20 years ago so I could stay at home and teach my own three children. I have never regretted that decision, but when I returned to teaching, this time at a private school, I was so overwhelmed by the increased demands and the over-the-top expectations, not to mention the encroachment of technology, that I stepped away. I am now, in my 60s, searching for a different occupation that doesn’t take over my whole life and won’t keep me awake at nights stressed out over all that is required and all I cannot possibly do for my students. I will miss working with children, but I have to choose mental health, physical health, and being available for my family. I wish you the best–you will love that you are going to spend the time with your own children.

  50. I”m feeling exactly the same as you describe and was so relieved to read this update… as I too intend to do the same. Feeling a bit nervous, but also very relieved at finally being able to make this decision.

  51. You are a wonderful writer! I read the previous post and I found myself thinking that you should quit and become a writer-then I read this one that you actually did quit. You will never regret making sacrifices to spend quality time with your children while they are young. Bravo for the courage because being a stay-at-home-mom isn’t exactly a picnic either! Lol! Both of my parents retired from the school district. My mom was a stay-at-home-mom until I was in 7th grade then went on to teach for 23 years. I know the sacrifices teachers make and I love and respect them so much. My great friend is a 3rd grade teacher in Compton, California here in the states and is the mother to 2 young kids and she struggles daily with not being enough for her students or children. Teachers do not get enough respect. Neither do mothers!!

  52. Thank you. It may be a while since you wrote it but I feel the same and nice not to be alone in this. I hope it worked out for you. 😀

  53. Good for you! I left 2 years ago after teaching for 20years. I wanted to take my little boy to school and be there for him at the end of the day and I didn’t want to spend all evening and weekend planning and marking. I Don’t regret it for a second, you will never get that precious time back with your little ones. Enjoy!

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