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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

What It's Like Leaving the Classroom

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I have so many feels right now.

In less than two weeks, I'm going to start my new job doing professional development fulltime for my state teachers union.

Which means that for the first time in 13 years, I will not be greeting students on the first day of school.

I am so excited to start my new job. I think I'm going to have a real opportunity to have a big impact on improving professional learning for the members of my union.

I am so terrified to be going into a job that is so different from what I was doing before. PD was a professional hobby, but now I'm going to do it nonstop? What if it's better as a hobby?

And I am so sad to know that I won't be spending every day with the kids any more, who have always made teaching such a great job to have.

I know there are people out there in similar positions, whether you've gone the fulltime consultant route, or you joined district-level administration, or you've gone to a non-profit, or you've gone to work for a publisher or a tech startup. Does the weird feeling of being out of the classroom ever go away? Was it worth leaving the classroom? Have you been able to have the impact that you wanted to? Do you want to go back? Do you plan to go back at some point? Do you lose relevance at some point if you're out of the classroom too long?

Advice and support appreciated. I'd love to hear what you're doing, and what compelled you to leave.

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Cheryl T's picture

I've been doing instructional technology support for many years. I'm lucky because I still get to co-teach and model the use of edtech in classrooms. The weird feeling of not having a classroom left me after year 2, but I still miss it sometimes...

Though I don't have my own classroom, I often plan and teach lessons in classrooms in my districts. I believe that keeps my skills relevant. And I get to impact many, many more students (and teachers) than I would if I stayed in the classroom.

I loved having my own room with my own students, but I am lucky to work with excellent educators and their students year after year. It also helps me understand what types of PD I need to develop and offer to my teachers.

My bit of advice to people who do PD would be : never get so far away from the classroom that you forget what teaching involves, how children learn, and how best to engage and enrich young minds. Get into a classroom once in a while and teach. It really is something that professional developers should be required to do from time to time to stay sharp.

Have fun!

jvreif66's picture


You describe my thoughts exactly. After 18 years of teaching I am starting as an Associate Principal. I feel empowered in my interaction with the staff and in meetings. I know I am already doing important work, and mostly learning as much as possible from my colleges. But I am very concerned about missing the daily interaction with the same group of students. I will need to make an active effort to get into the classrooms and build relationships with students. Best of luck in your new adventure!

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

All of those are great questions, Dan. The answers are no, sometimes, sort of, depends on the day, maybe, and I hope not. :-)

Honestly though, the thing I've had to keep in my mind and heart (I've been out of the secondary classroom for 13 years), is that there's no single best way to be an educator. During different seasons of our lives, different paths make more or less sense for different folks. I love doing PD full-time, but I do a lot of different kinds- online, face-to-face, school based individual, plus graduate classes. That variety keeps it interesting. I also find that, the longer I'm away from my own high school classroom, the harder I have to work to really hear what colleagues are saying about the reality of teaching today. I make an incredible effort to get into any classroom that I can- as a parent volunteer, as a coach, as an observer, whatever- so I can stay in touch.

Are there days I want to go back? Sure. But there are more days where I thank my lucky stars that I can be in service to the teachers and leaders who serve kids every day. Good luck- you'll be great.

Lina Raffaelli's picture
Lina Raffaelli
Former Community Engagement Intern at Edutopia

I can imagine that along with this transition comes a smorgasbord of emotions. (Ha, I've been looking for an opportunity to use that little gem of a vocab word). While I don't have the experience of leaving the classroom, I know that life changes, whether big or small, are always a little nerve-wracking. Here's a quote I've always liked:

"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." --George Bernard Shaw

Sounds like you have a positive attitude and are excited to be making an impact for educators, let that excitement be what carries and motivates you. Best of luck on your new endeavor!

Gerald's picture

Having done the same thing four times I understand. If you are able to co-teach that is a great opportunity. I was not able to do that so I found other ways to teach children. Note that teaching adults is not the same as teaching children. I now teach snowboard lessons to get my "teacher fix".

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

I've been thinking about the same move for a few years now. Ideally i would like to teach kids part-time and teach teachers/adults the other half. The right job hasn't come along yet. I do predict that I will have the same questions. Good Luck Dan!! keep us posted.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I'll be waiting to hear an update on your situation, Dan, particularly all your feels as you navigate this new position.

Gaetan, you hit on something that I think about a lot: it's not easy for teachers to be both leaders/trainers/presenters and still be active in the classroom. Right now I'm doing both, continuing to teach full time, and I know I can't keep up the pace for long. But teaching part time so often brings the stresses of full time, which makes combining it with outside work very difficult. Ideally, our profession would honor teacher leaders by creating positions that make it possible for us to do both, especially since it's difficult to be trusted as a trainer if one is not currently in the classroom. Time to reinvent our career ladder!

Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Teacher/leader & techie at independent, alternative, therapeutic high school

Allll the feels. I think about this too and I'm still in the classroom, albeit not as much as I used to be. I agree with your recent blog post over on your site that the impact factor is so, so appealing.

I agree with Cheryl about finding ways to stay connected to students, even just for an hour every month, just to keep perspective. Nothing like an hour with the kiddos to keep you humble.

Also wondering if we should look critically at the fact that PD/consulting/support positions are often so distanced from actual students. What would it look like if facetime with actual students was required for those types of jobs? Food for thought...

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Thanks, everybody. Taking the weekend to recharge with my family, then start the new job on Tuesday!

Teacher Suzy's picture
Teacher Suzy
Teacher and TinkerEd founder

I miss the kiddos and classroom for sure, but I do some volunteering and some tutoring to keep my need to teach at bay. I also stay connected with teachers in classrooms, which I love. I have my own startup (I won startup weekend EDU and kept going with my idea as a personal challenge and it is something I feel passionate about.) I live in the knowledge that one day, I know I can go back into the classroom if I decide to. In your new job you will still be very much connected to both teachers and students and your work will be invaluable in helping both students and teachers to succeed. I think it sounds like an amazing opportunity. Good luck and go for it! :-)

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