But I Feel Guilty...If I Leave the Classroom
Experiencing the emotion of guilt when leaving the classroom is common for transitioning teachers. Guilt of abandoning one's calling and the financial guilt of losing a stable income are two of the top causes. Teachers also experience guilt related to leaving students and colleagues behind in pursuit of their own wellbeing. Crystal Gross shares her own teacher transition journey and the feelings she experienced associated with guilt.
The Great Teacher Resignation
All right, so before we get started, I have a disclaimer. This is what Ali and I call a moon landing interview. There might be a bit of static or moments of unclear audio because our guest is working on the weekend from her classroom. And like all the amazing teachers out there she is just making do with the resources she has. And we are super thankful for a creative mind like hers to make this interview happen. Alright, let's get started on this episode about guilt. I think we've all felt it before. Hi, Crystal. Oh, look at you.
Are you in the classroom right now?
Well, I really appreciate your professionalism like that is. That's awesome. Yes. Well, Crystal, it's so nice to meet you. I'm Ali, I'm glad to have you today.
Thank you for the opportunity.
So before I introduce Crystal, I want every listener out there to think about their first year of teaching and who was that person they leaned on to keep their head above water? Okay, everybody has that person? Okay, well, the first person I'm about to introduce to you was that person for me. And my first year teaching was really hard, you really are trying to keep your head above water. And this person grew to be one of my greatest friends of all, Crystal Gross. And Crystal Gross is an early literacy support teacher. Though she is back in the classroom, she stepped away for five years and returned after finding a new calling - coaching teachers. Crystal also works closely with the Garland Area Alliance of Black School Educators who are dedicated to improving educational opportunities for all students with a focus on African American students. So Crystal, thanks for hopping on this podcast with us today.
It's so great to meet you, Crystal. And I'm really looking forward to talking about this difficult topic, teacher guilt or guilt in general. So we're interested in starting off today with this question, can you share your experience with teacher guilt when you were considering leaving the classroom?
Yeah, so I kind of posted it on your Instagram, but it was definitely guilt there, like I knew was gonna put my household in a financial bind, leaving that teacher salary behind at the time I stopped was a contract graphic designer. So my income was the only steady stable income that we had, we were dependent on it. So it was a burden. And it just kept me in a classroom longer than I really want it to be. Because I just knew that financially, we could not really afford for me not to be teaching. Also, just like me, as a Christian, I really felt like that. That was my calling. And God had put that on my heart. I was supposed to be a teacher. That's what I felt like, the whole time I was growing up as a kid. And then just not wanting to do it anymore was just even more guilt because I felt like that was me going against God. I wasn't doing the will that he happened my life. So there was that guilt on the religious side for me. And then also, I didn't feel any kind of like, I don't know, 100% support, by my spouse at the time. So I was like, Okay, maybe this decision is a little contrived, even though it felt like something I needed to do something that was going to be natural for me to do. I just felt like, okay, maybe this is not what I'm supposed to do leave the classroom. And it also like Jodi said, I was at this school, or I opened the school and the school was really near and dear to my heart. I had been there for five years. Just the guilt of leaving all the families I had made connections with, all the kids that I had come to love. The staff that I love, like a second family. That guilt held me in the classroom longer than I needed to be as well.
There was a lot there, Crystal and thank you so much for sharing all those things that you went through. I mean, I can relate on so many levels. Most importantly, I think for me was the college. I felt like I would really love teaching and once I started doing it, I loved it even more than I thought I would and I you know I never evaluated myself. I mean, I guess I did but I think I was good teacher and I was hard to leave just like I imagined it was hard when you decided to step out to leave, because the pressure of thinking that this is what you're supposed to do. And this is what you should do really weighed heavily on me like, it sounds like it did for you. JoDee, did you have any similar emotions to what Crystal shared?
Yeah, so, you know, based on like our listeners sending us we've been kind of compiling all of these reasons, that people feel guilty. And one of those was like, leaving the kids. Another one was leaving the people around you. And so that was something I really struggled with was was the people like, I felt guilty, because I felt like I was doing them wrong, like I was doing something wrong, that it was going to cause tension in our relationships, you know, with students and families. But then also there are people in the building that you really trust and you have cared about, and that have guided you through your your teacher experience that have helped you become a better teacher. And then I was leaving them. And I felt like a disappointment. But like, the guilt just felt like I was doing something bad to people I love. And that was really challenging for me. The financial part of it, yeah, there's definitely a risk to that. My husband's a financial advisor. So he was able to basically calculate how much we could survive without an income because I didn't have a job. When I left teaching. He was like, This is how long we have until we have to like eat away at our savings. And as it grew closer to like that window closing, that guilt just started to grow. Because I was thinking, okay, that means sacrifices, and I felt it would be my fault. If that were to happen.
Yeah, definitely bouncing off of what you said, JoDee, I think the the steady income weighs on a lot of teachers, because that's a reliable income. And the other part of that is you may be relying on a pension later on. And so you're wondering, well, do I do I give that up? Or what are my options, or I wish I would have done the investment plan when I first started. So those are things that I know, weigh on a lot of a lot of teachers, a lot of families when they're making those tough decisions. And it sounds like you went through a lot of those things that we all three of us did. We all went through. Yeah, thinking those things through.
Something I remember about Garland, though, was because we started at the same district was they gave us financial advisors. Do you remember that? We I think we had, what was that guy's name? I don't remember his name. Yes, your he was like, Oh, my gosh, he was like, so slick. He was like the slickest dude around. And they the district had like a relationship with some sort of big financial organization that helped teachers kind of plan longer, long term financial goals. I've never worked for a single district that did that where an advisor actually like came in and talk to you. Yeah, I've never had that happen before. So I think that that experience was really unique. So when you don't have that, it's like, Well, who do you go to to talk about retirement or long term financial goals?
I'm wondering Crystal, in your case, what helped you address the guilt?
I think it was just me, knowing that I had to do what was best for me. When I finally came to the realization that, like, we're just gonna have to pray and God's gonna make our way. Like, I just had to really just make sure I was doing what was best for me, because at the end of the day, like, this was my livelihood. This was my career. This was my sanity, this was my mental health. So when I just like really took a step back and say, You know what, I have to do what's right for me what I know to be right and what I know that I need to do right now. And like JoDee said, I came back to education, even though I'm not a classroom teacher, like, I came back to it. But it's just, I think that was really what what did it for me, knowing that I needed to do what was best for me.
Yeah, one of the things that I talk a lot about with my other teacher friends is I've gone in and out of teaching, because of my marriage to my husband who is in the military. So sometimes, like we move and I can't get a job right away, or I have to wait a year or something. And so I didn't necessarily feel the burnout that some teachers feel when they're getting ready to leave the classroom. And I think that helped me but I can definitely see an educator. And I don't know if yours was burnout, or there's sounds like there are a lot of variables, but if you leave for a couple of years, or for a year or two, that might be the break that you need, and then you come back into education in a different way. It may not be a classroom teacher, it may be with a nonprofit or another organization, but I think as teachers, we somehow end up still connected to education. It sounds like that was something that you that worked for you. So addressing the guilt definitely heard you on doing what's best for me. And I think that's really important for our listeners to hear that if you're not healthy, I know JoDee has talked a lot about her journey and what she went through. And my journey was different. But also, you have to take care of yourself. If you're not looking out for you. There's not that many people that are going to. Your spouse you can lean on, but you have to be the one and I know that all three of us did make that decision. JoDee, do you want to share a little bit more?
Yeah, I wanted to say that one of the reasons that teachers feel guilty leaving is because they might be doing something for themselves. And so teachers, from the start of the day are doing things for others all day long. And it's not just the classroom, you're doing things for your coworkers, you're doing things for families, you're doing things for the community. And so they feel guilty because they're going to be doing something for themselves. And thinking of themselves first isn't usually what they do. That's usually not what they're wired to do. So there's a guilt about, well, I want to do something for myself, and I shouldn't feel guilty for doing that.
Right. And I will say Ali too when I left teaching, I never, I still was a part of education. I felt like, I went to I was the nanny, I went and did program coordinator or after school program. I have a band school with enrollment and administration. So I was still kind of in education, I guess it's kind of where I felt the most comfortable. And then I did go back to the classroom. But that burnout, like you talked about, I got the burnout, the second time I went, which is why I'm now coaching.
That's awesome. And I'm sure that all of those different experiences that you had outside of a traditional classroom, I imagine they must have helped you when you went back into the classroom. So I'm wondering, could you tell us a little bit about what hats you wear now? And how did leaving the classroom help you find those new hats?
Actually, after that I went back to Carver so I started at Carver with God I left Carver to do other things that came back to Carver there was a lady they call him instructional support teachers, but she did the upper grades. She actually last year was like you should apply for this job and open up some positions. I think you'd be great. And I looked at her like, I don't know like I have this like biggest fear of talking in front of my peers. I'm good at in the classroom with kids, but in front of my peers. I'm just like, oh my god, so nervous. Right. But I went out I took a leap of faith I prayed about it. I took a leap of faith, and I got the job. So now that I'm here, they call me an elementary support literacy teacher or literacy support teacher but actually, it's an instructional coach is what it is. If I was in any other district, that would be the name. But I'm is really really honing in on the pre K there's two foundations skids for phonics, though, that's what I'm doing now. Just coaching teachers with literacy, making sure that our babies are getting that foundational skills that they need. Because they are teachers I've been there I've taught that going and they come up. And their kids do not have time to see phonics, we do not they don't have time to analyze data. They don't have time to time to teach that they have time to teach comprehension. And we really want to get those kids ready for a comprehension when they get to third grade. And so that's what I'm hoping to do on my campus.
I think that's like a mindset shift that teachers have to have you teach every day and you feel like you don't know anything, because everybody's piling new things on you. And then when you get to like a position like an instructional coach, and you see educators who need to learn the things that are ingrained in you at this point, you think, oh, wait, I do know about something. I do know a little bit about literacy. You know, like, I remember when I was like mentoring teachers, I was thinking, well, what what am what are they gonna learn for me? And then you you watch their instruction, you're like, hmm, okay, I can, I can see some strategies that you may need to learn. And it's something that comes natural at some point in your career, where you're like, these strategies are super natural to me, but then somebody needs to learn them. So I'm glad to know that Crystal is in a position of that nature, because it is the most critical part of a child's early education. So when you can have when you have new teachers who don't know those critical reading strategies, somebody's got to teach them.
I wish I had Crystal when I was trying to teach my five year old during the pandemic. Because I was a high school teacher and I've taught one or two kids who maybe couldn't really read my high school but most of them could. So it was really a struggle for me because I didn't have that background. So I can imagine that teachers who are newer or even teachers who haven't had to focus on that can really benefit from having an instructional coach that was a classroom teacher that had that firsthand knowledge, which most of them are, but sounds like you bring a lot to your school district. And they're really lucky to have you.
So now you're, you're also you're like you're involved in your school. But you've also are involved in other organizations outside of your school such as the Garland Area Alliance of Black School Educators, what made you decide to tap into other leadership roles beyond what you do in, you know, under the roof of the building you work in?
Well, Garland ISD, when I was first here, I knew about, we call it GAABSE. It's a local affiliate of the state tap there with this TAABSE, which is an affiliate of the national NAABSE. So I knew about it, I was a part of it, I wasn't doing a lot in organization, just basically saying I'm in GAABSE, when I came back to garland ISD, I had an opportunity to be on the executive board, in charge of membership. And so I just took that opportunity and ran with it. But also, I just really believe in what they're doing. The district is really behind this organization. I mean, all the way to the top from the superintendent to HR. Like everybody's really involved and really supporting this organization, because they see it in Garland ISD that there's just this disproportionality for the Black and Brown students. It's not just the African American students, it's the Hispanic students as well. And JoDee, you know, my heart for Hispanic students is like, my heart for African American students, like I just really feel like we all deserve, they all deserve equitable education. And we need to get the same rights and the same opportunities as the more fluent in the white students here.
Something you should know about Crystal is that when I when we were teaching together, I was a first grade Spanish Immersion teacher, and Crystal was mono English, English teacher, but she still studied Spanish to be able to talk to my students, we actually went to a Spanish language school in Mexico together. And she really had an eye for how to reach the audiences within our school. And one of those was she learned another language just to make everybody feel inclusive. And I thought that was really awesome. And on my part, I learned English to talk to her kids.
Well, what you said just strikes me so much, because representation matters. And we need more Black and Latino educators because we need to have that representation for the students and I love the organization that you're involved with. I'm so happy to hear that you are able to support them because it sounds like the work is really important. And honestly that work is never going to be done.
Keep doing it every day. Well, Crystal, it has been such a pleasure to have you today as a guest and I want to let our listeners know that if they want to connect with you if you want to connect with Crystal you can find her on Twitter at CGROSS2018. Or see what Garland Area Alliance of Black School Educators is doing on Twitter at GarlandABSE.