At the end of the school year in 2019, after a heartbreaking conversation with a student’s parent, I wiped my tears and submitted my resignation from my job as a part-time science teacher in the Boston public schools after many years of deliberating over whether I should stay or go. I loved my students, but I finally had to put myself first. I had had enough of the late-night lesson planning, constant stress, and lack of sleep.
I was not alone. Even before the pandemic, we teachers knew our profession was in crisis. Currently, teachers are facing low pay; lack of resources; parental hostility or indifference; contentious laws about what we can, cannot, or must teach or say in the classroom; and so much more, causing high turnover and steady attrition among our most senior educators.
Like so many other former teachers, I found hope in the shiny offices of budding education technology companies. In ed tech, those of us who left the classroom aspire to escape the expectations from students, parents, and administrators that we could solve every problem plaguing education—along with the expectation that we should also be caregivers.
What I imagined my life would be like outside the classroom was partly right. Today, no student or parent asks me to help them heal from generations of trauma while I am simultaneously trying to figure out how to heal from my own. As a child immigrant myself, I am no longer continuously triggered as I research how to integrate trauma-informed teaching into my classroom, focusing on the healing of my students who were primarily immigrants or other children of immigrants. I can now focus on my own well-being.
But the problems that drove me out of the classroom have not gone away. I’m happy to sing the praises of what I do, but let’s have an honest conversation here: Leaving the classroom isn’t a total solution. I’m still in education and I still have to respond to its problems, albeit in a different form. So why am I writing this? My goal here is not to deter my fellow educators from coming over to ed tech but to clarify what my life is like on the other side.
At the end of the day, I turn off my laptop and live life. I have time for myself. I see my friends regularly. I cook dinner every night. I have hobbies.
As a teacher, I dealt with administrators’ demands, late nights completing inane paperwork and regular reports for people (like parents) who weren’t pleased with what I had to say. Now, instead of administrators, I have managers and senior leaders. Depending on what my team and department are working on and the time of year, I still navigate long hours, resource shortages, impossible deadlines, and understaffing. Sometimes, I must block my calendar to ensure I have time for a restroom break. Sometimes, I endure meetings over topics that could have been resolved in quick emails. Sound familiar?
I’ve also lost the consolations and joys of the classroom. Even after a difficult teaching day, I could often calm down by thinking about one of my students chuckling in my science class over the absurdity of photosynthesis or the importance of triangles in architecture. But today, “my students” form rows in a never-ending spreadsheet. Occasionally, I imagine what it would be like to have student #16,953 in my class. Would #16,953 and #16,954 laugh when learning about the water cycle? Idle thoughts like these get me through hours of data analytics.
Every winter when I was a teacher, I dreaded cramming as much content as I could into the brains of my 30 students as we approached the annual high-stakes exams. Now, I have 30 million students, and the stakes are higher than ever for them to be able to pass. I feel the weight of every word as I write an email to a sick content producer to ask when they will finish the next step in the production process.
And I was wrong when I thought my days of sobbing about my job were over. I’m brought to tears every time we have to rewrite and whitewash the history of science because some states’ stringent laws against critical race theory require me to erase the contribution of non-Western cultures to science or include the development of pseudoscientific racism. I am deeply saddened that a generation of students may need to wait until college, if even then, before they learn that a group of Roman and Greek philosophers did not magically create the natural sciences.
Despite these challenges, I will never go back to teaching science in a K-12 classroom. I didn’t sell out by going corporate. Ed tech is filled with former educators. I love my peers and co-workers; they understand when I roll my eyes during a meeting. We share our classroom war stories and our joyful moments.
And here’s the amazing thing: At the end of the day, I turn off my laptop and live life. I have time for myself. I see my friends regularly. I cook dinner every night. I have hobbies. My salary reflects my many years of experience and advanced degree. I can afford mental health therapy, psychiatry, dentistry, and vision appointments, all while making a positive difference in the lives of teachers and students—though in a different way. I would not give up any of these things.
If you’re a teacher considering a career shift, I encourage you to explore all your options, rather than feeling the only one is to join us in ed tech. Know what you are giving up and what you are gaining in any new career. Make decisions with open eyes, an open mind, and an open heart.
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A version of this article appeared in the April 26, 2023 edition of Education Week as I Quit Teaching for Ed Tech