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'This year, I quit teaching after 15 years. It was the right decision, but I still feel guilty.'

Earlier this year I stepped out of the classroom for the last time after a decade and a half teaching high school students. It was the right decision for me for many reasons, but that doesn’t stop me feeling guilty about leaving.

The NSW Department of Education teacher’s strike this week brings that feeling of guilt to the forefront.

I got into teaching to inspire young people, and for the most part, I felt like I was able to do that, especially at the beginning. But during my time as a teacher, my health and wellbeing increasingly started to suffer.

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It started off small - school holiday periods when I would just flop down exhausted and inevitably come down with some sort of sickness (because I had suddenly stopped the frantic pace I’d been working at). I’d recover and then refresh for a new school term, ready to do it all over again.

Administration tasks started to increase, requiring extra time in an already busy schedule of classes, meetings, lesson prep and marking. That started to eat into the time to properly prepare for lessons, which is so central to the core business of a teacher. 

I began to find that I was less and less prepared and this affected my ability to manage my classroom.

I was feeling frazzled and overwhelmed on a regular basis. I would be so mentally tired after a day at school that I could only do my marking and lesson prep at nighttime - after doing the mum role to my own kids plus regular home duties - I was also having to set the alarm for 5am to get up and do more work before school.

My tolerance levels were impacted, and I became snappy and frustrated in the classroom. By the end, I was getting teary in the bathroom at school and feeling really burnt out.

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The decision to leave teaching wasn’t sudden for me, it was a long time coming. 

Like anyone in any job, I would go through periods of feeling unsatisfied, but those would usually pass reasonably quickly. Then this feeling became more prolonged, I just couldn’t shake it, so I made the decision to step away.

For me, this was the right decision - if I couldn’t be the enthusiastic, inspirational teacher that I had always aimed to be, then it wasn’t fair on the students. They didn’t deserve the uninspired, disheartened person I had become.

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In many ways I feel it was a selfish decision, but I had to put myself and my mental health first. I left feeling demoralised and in desperate need of a change.

Since leaving the profession, the NSW Teacher’s Federation released the 'More Than Thanks' TV commercial. Every time I see that commercial I feel a pang of guilt - sometimes I even look away or leave the room. Guilt for letting the students down and leaving them behind, and guilt for putting extra pressure on my teaching colleagues by contributing to the teacher shortages.

I have no desire to return to the classroom, but students need teachers. They deserve teachers who want to be there and can do their job well.

I don’t want students to suffer nor do I want my teaching colleagues to get to the point that I got to - neither group deserves that. 

Something has to change and I hope the voices of the thousands of teachers striking this week will be heard.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image is a stock photo from Getty.

Feature Image: Getty.

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