Guest Article Written By: James Tapankov
There IS a life outside teaching – but it is probably nothing like you think it is.
Back in February 2013, Robyn approached me to write an article about my transition from teaching in schools, and to share any advice I had for teachers who were curious about leaving the profession. That article can be found here: (The Dark Side Ain’t Half Bad). I would suggest you read it first before you go on.
The reason I’m following it up is that Robyn recently wrote an article about the extreme growth of searches she has encountered lately by teachers interested in “alternatives to teaching”. I can’t touch on what everyone else is thinking when they search this out, but I CAN tell you from my own perspective and maybe,
If I had to boil it down to one word as to why I left teaching it would be this: freedom.
As a teacher, lead teacher and district coordinator, what I found is that even though my roles had more freedom in terms of movement and direction, I was always bound to follow someone else’s expectations – parents, principals, school boards, curriculum, etc. If I wanted to keep my job, I had to toe the line with them and keep them happy. It turns out that, for me, I could only do this for so long. This was also true when I worked for companies in the private sector.
Because for me, freedom and passion are intimately connected. If I am passionate about something, I need the freedom to pursue it as I see fit and shape it in my own image. It sounds like I’m comparing myself to God, and that’s probably going way too far. But it would NOT be going too far to say that if I was to be passionate about something, I decided I would have to create a world that gave me the freedom, to succeed or fail, I desired.
In my current world, I am an owner of a so-so consulting company and co-owner of a growing commercial cleaning company. I chose where I want to work, whom I hire, where I go and deal with the outcomes. If I don’t like a client, I let them go. If I want to go for lunch with someone and talk about business, I can without someone looking at me funny. I can build my life the way I want.
I can say that financially, it has been INCREDIBLY difficult at certain times. I had to cash in a portion of my teaching pension at one point just to keep things going. It will be some time before, financially, I reap any real windfalls from my decision. That cruise my wife (and I!) would like to go on with our 4 kids is definitely going to have to wait.
Freedom also requires acceptance of its possible consequences. Success is NOT guaranteed, nor should it be.
I certainly agree with Robyn on the idea that teachers need to be passionate about their roles in education. If you are looking to leave teaching because you think the private sector will solve all the bureaucratic issues you struggle with as a teacher, think again. Often, you will be trading one set of problems for another, and you may end up wishing for the problems you had as a teacher as opposed to where you end up. Entering the private sector is no magic bullet. And be aware that the longer you are away from teaching, the tougher it will be to get back in if you change your mind.
There is ONE way I would return to the teaching world. It would be to run an entrepreneurial program at a high school to share what I’ve learned. Because THAT would be something I would be passionate about – helping students who need to build their own worlds, their own destinies, and be responsible for the outcomes.
One more thing – currently, our cleaning business provides jobs for nearly 20 people. These folks pay their bills, take care of their families, and live their lives based on working for us. That’s a huge responsibility as an owner, and I feel humbled and grateful that our company can provide these opportunities for them.
So, when do I think someone should leave teaching?
You should leave teaching because you, personally, want to contribute to society in a different way – your way.
James Tapankov, BPE/BEd, was a teacher in Alberta for a dozen years before moving to the private sector, working with schools, companies and organizations to help them use technology to collaborate at a distance. Since 2008, he has worked across Western Canada and is passionate about helping people use virtual meetings to learn, meet and share with meaning. He is also married and a proud father of 4 children, who all do their best to teach him patience and understanding.