Teacher Wellness

Is It Time to Move On?

Leaving a job is no easy decision. These five reflective activities can help you reach some clarity about your situation.

April 2, 2018

After I wrote “How to Divorce Your District,” I received dozens of emails from educators asking for advice on whether they should quit their job. They described being in situations similar to the one that I was in, and they shared dreams and ambitions.

Some people may feel like quitting a job is not an option—and for some, it may not be one. However, many of us are in situations where we could make a big change, such as quitting a job and finding a different one that could be better for us and for our families, and perhaps for the communities we want to serve.

I’ve coached and counseled many educators around this decision and have identified five activities that can help you get clarity on whether or not you should quit your job. These activities are best done in the sequence described here.  

1. Map Your Life Journey

Start with reflecting on where you are now—personally and professionally—by drawing a map of your life journey. Draw a line along which you place indicators for big changes or transitions, note highlights and low points, use symbols and words to add texture and meaning to your map.

When I did this activity, I noticed that one of my personal highpoints—when my son was born—also correlated to a phase when I felt most challenged as a teacher. Although I knew that the birth of my child was stressful for my work life, creating my map helped me see the tight connection between my diminishing sense of efficacy and joy as a teacher.

Sometimes a desire to quit a job has to do with this context of where we are in our life. Is it the job itself that you want to leave? Or are there other things going on that are useful to recognize that are impacting your feelings about your job?

2. Identify Your Feelings

Take time to identify and name the feelings you’re having about the job you’re considering leaving. This is an opportunity to distinguish between the position you’re in and the larger organizational context.

You may, for example, recognize that in your role as a classroom teacher you’re feeling frustrated, ineffective, or bored, but that you’re inspired by what’s happening in the curriculum department in your district’s central offices. You may realize that you’re tired of working with sixth graders and might feel energized by teaching high school. Or you may see that your exhaustion in your position is connected to the fatigue you feel around the constant changes at the district level.

After mapping your feelings about your position, also identify how you want to feel. What emotion are you craving more of in your work life? Contemplate core emotions such as anger or love, and use this helpful chart of more nuanced emotion words for core emotions to help you find more precise language to describe exactly how you’re feeling and how you want to feel.

3. Know Yourself—Even Better

Consider using reflective tools to provide further insight into who you are. Two of my favorites are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Gallup’s StrengthFinder. Begin with this free, online MBTI quiz. Myers-Briggs helps you understand your personality and can provide clarity on why you might not feel like the position you’re in is a good fit for you. StrengthFinder is not free (it costs about 20 bucks), but I have found it invaluable in helping people see how their strengths are used in their current job and in helping them think about other positions that might allow them to act on their strengths more.

4. Listen to Your Body

Our bodies are very honest with us. Sometimes they tell us loud and clear when we need to make a change in our lives. High levels of stress make our bodies work extra hard; our immune system weakens and we get sick.

If you find yourself frequently ill and suspect there’s a connection to the position or context that you’re in, you may just need to listen to what your body is telling you. Perhaps you don’t need to quit your job—maybe you need to acquire some additional coping mechanisms to manage stress. But your body may be trying to tell you that you need to make a big change. Listen to your body.

5. Write Your Resignation Letter

Finally, write your resignation letter. Explain why you’re leaving. Read it aloud to yourself. How does it feel to read your letter? Imagine the other person (your principal or supervisor) reading your letter. Imagine their reaction. What would it feel like to hand it over?

If you feel a tremendous relief after you go through this exercise, that’s a strong sign that you should quit your job. If you feel a lot of conflict, explore that conflict. Maybe you don’t actually need to quit. Maybe you simply need to have a conversation with your supervisor about your job. Maybe there are changes you could ask for within your current position that would keep you in it. Or maybe it’s clear that this isn’t the right position, school, or district for you.

Making a big change like quitting a job deserves a great deal of reflection. These activities can assist you in that process before you make a decision.

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