By Xica Henley
Many of us experience teacher guilt, but can’t quite put our finger on it, name it, or acknowledge it. Shoot, I feel guilty putting the words to paper to even talk about this topic; however, I’m doing so because in order to be great and fulfill your true purpose/calling, you have to acknowledge the guilt, then release it. I know you’re asking, what is teacher guilt? Here is my definition: teacher guilt is the guilt you experience when you decide to leave one role or student group for a different one. It happens when you decide to leave the classroom for a leadership role or when you decide to leave the classroom to work with an organization that offers a more targeted support to the students you serve. The unfortunate thing about this guilt is, it prevents us from doing what helps us to most positively affect our students and education.
I’ve been in education for 14 years; however, in about year 5 or 6 I began to realize I was truly passionate about curriculum. I enjoyed creating projects, curriculum maps, lesson planning, reviewing standards, learning theory, and was particularly irritated with poorly written curriculum or curriculum that was not real or relatable to my students. At that point, I realized, it was time for me to leave the classroom, but the guilt set in.
Instead of feeling like I was moving on to impact my students and education in a different capacity, I felt like I was abandoning my students. I felt like I was abandoning the classroom. I felt like a quitter. Even worse, how would I respond to students who are accustomed to high teacher turnover when they ask, “Are you coming back next year,” and I have to tell them “no.” No matter how you try to explain to students your logic, they still feel abandoned and internalize that sense of abandonment. So, I stayed put. That guilt kept me in the classroom longer than I should have been there and led to the negative feelings and emotions that come when you feel stagnant in your career.
The thing is, staying put help assuage my teacher guilt, but remaining stagnant had a larger emotional impact on me. Although I tried to, I knew I wasn’t performing at best anymore. I didn’t believe I was having an impact anymore. I became the negative teacher in professional developments and meetings—but I knew that wasn’t who I was.
In year 8, I realized the guilt could no longer continue to hold me back. Over the years, I sat back, and I watched programs come and go and leaders come and go. I realized that these programs and changes would have a bigger impact on my students than I ever could if I remained in the classroom, and, just like that, I was done. I knew I would do my students just as much of a disservice if I did not follow my true calling and path. I knew I would impact more students if I worked with the teachers who taught my students and developed the curriculum my students used. After that, I sat down and completed a last minute application for my masters program, and that was all she wrote.
Don't Feel Guilty, Embrace Your Calling
I’m here to say, don’t feel guilty. Embrace your calling. No one feels guilty because they want to teach math instead of English—the same rule applies here. We all have so many gifts and talents, and in order for us to positively affect our students and education, we have to put those gifts and talents to work. Some of us are meant to take our knowledge and passion to work in education policy to have a hand in the policy written that impacts the classroom. Some of us are meant to coach teachers so those teachers can take that knowledge and expertise and transfer it to their classrooms. Some of us are meant to help students get to college and have to focus on post-secondary counseling. And, some of us are meant to be in the classroom to make sure that everything is implemented properly. The fact of the matter is, we all have different roles, and you should not experience guilt because you’ve realized that you will have a higher impact in one role, as opposed to another.
As for me, releasing that guilt and focusing on my calling has helped me become more driven, more focused, and I’m the ever-optimist. I am more fulfilled and I believe that I am making a bigger impact on the lives of students and in the field. So, just as I ended the conversations with my friends and colleagues, I’m ending this blog the same way. I ask you to release your teacher guilt and embrace your calling—whatever it may be. We all have a role in education, and it is crucial to acknowledge these roles and embrace them because that is the only way we will have the highest impact on our students.
Xica Henley is a 14 year education veteran. She has taught grades 6-12, was a teacher leader, and is currently a Dean of Instruction. She has earned a BA in English/Secondary Education, a Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies, a Masters in Teacher Leadership, and is currently completing her Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. Xica is a blogger and vlogger, and is currently launching her own educational consultancy company.
You can find Xica’s videos, blog, or contact her via her website www.xicahenley.com, and, if that’s your thing, you can follow her on IG: @xhenley_consulting.