The kids have gone home, desks and chairs have been stacked, and the classroom has been torn down.
But this year it was different.
About a month ago, I made the decision to give up teaching.
It wasn't an easy decision.
I spent months discussing it with my husband, often in tears, trying to figure out if it was the right move for me. I talked to family, friends, and a couple of trusted coworkers. As much as I knew that it was what I wanted to do, I needed to hear from others that it was what I should do.
I agonized over this. Part of me felt guilty at the thought of leaving. I know that I'm good at what I do. At the same time, I wasn't happy. Sure there were days that made me think, "I can do this another year." But those days seemed to be the exception, not the rule.
I know you've all read the rants about the teachers who had just had enough and wrote a letter of resignation outlining all of the issues that we, as teachers, deal with on a daily basis.
I'm not going to be one of them.
Were there issues? Absolutely. Was this last class the easiest group to work with? Absolutely not.
Did those ultimately end up being the determining factors in my decision? Nope.
For almost as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. At the end of 3rd grade, my teacher had leftover worksheets and told us that we could take some home for the summer. Obviously, I jumped on the offer. I was determined to teach my sister (who was going to be starting kindergarten in the fall) how to multiply. I was going to do it. (Spoiler: I failed.)
My senior year of high school, I served as a peer facilitator and spent time tutoring and assisting in a kindergarten classroom and a 3rd grade classroom.
In college, I would spend summers and weekends scouring garage sales for books and games and furniture for my someday classroom. By the time I graduated, I had acquired tubs and tubs of resources for lower elementary.
When I was hired on as a literacy coach the fall after I graduated, I jumped at the opportunity to move to a 6th grade position when one opened up midyear. With the help of family and friends, I gutted and completely redecorated my new classroom in 3 days.
But, there was something else.
When I was about 9, my grandma bought me my first camera, a little point and shoot Nikon film camera. It wasn't anything fancy, but I was obsessed. (Somewhere there are prints from my first roll of film which included lots of shots of her wicker furniture and other exciting subjects.)
In junior high, I was the queen of the disposable camera. Any trip, any concert I went to, I had a camera.
My junior year of high school, I joined the yearbook staff. I loved taking photographs for my spreads, and because I
As graduation drew near, I debated what my major would be. I loved desktop publishing, but it didn't seem like a career with high demand (Good call.). In one of my classes, we took career inventories to see which jobs best fit our skills. Photography was suggested, but hardly anyone makes money taking pictures. Teaching was something that I loved, and teaching was a "normal" job, so teaching it was.
When I graduated from high school, I had one goal with my graduation money: a DSLR camera.
It was everything.
When I finally bought it, I was so excited that I carried it around in my purse everywhere I went. (Which in retrospect, was a terrible idea.)
I started shooting everything.
In 2008, I had my first paid shoot, an engagement session. I was so proud of myself. (Looking back, it was awful.) Gradually, family and friends began to contact me for shoots, but still, it was just a hobby.
Over the next few years, I came to the realization that I had a business and started treating it that way. I worked out of my home on weekends and over summer vacation. While it was a nice source of additional income, it wasn't my job and it would probably just remain a work from home business.
Then, in the fall of 2013, I got a call from my uncle. He had been in town visiting and had been wandering around the property of his old grade school (which had been sitting abandoned for several years). He told me that he met the guy who bought the building and that the new owner was going to turn it into an art center, full of artists and their studios. Knowing that business had picked up, he told me to get in touch with the owner and set up a meeting. A studio seemed completely unrealistic, but curiosity got the best of us, and we decided to at least check it out. About a month later, we signed the lease and became the first official tenants of the building.
The studio opened in January of 2014, after several months of serious renovations. It was an incredible feeling to see my name on the wall of my studio.
For the next two years, I balanced life between the studio and school. About a year ago, we bought a new house, which put me farther from the studio. As a result of the distance and trying to have a work-life balance with school, I started spending more and more time running my business from home, and less time at my beautiful studio.
Which brings us back to present.
I can't keep doing both. It's too much.
And as much as I hate to say it, my heart isn't in teaching anymore. It may be a passing phase. It may be that in a few years I'll find myself back in a classroom, but for now, when I introduce myself to someone new and they ask what I do for a living, I won't answer that I'm a teacher. Instead, my answer will be that I'm a portrait photographer.
For the first time in the last 23 years, my life won't be bound by the school calendar. We're taking a vacation at the end of September. That's never been an option. This is the first time that I've left school at the end of the year and didn't start feeling the mental countdown to the start of the next school year.
It's also the first time that as I left the school on the last day after packing up my classroom, I cried. I cried the whole way home. I cried when I got home and then again when my husband came home. I'm crying again now as I type this.
It is hard.
It is so much harder than I thought it would be.
But I have to do this for me.
We always tell our students they can be anything they want to be and we encourage them to follow their dreams, but do we follow that advice ourselves?
I need to start practicing what I preach.
There are many things I love and will miss about teaching, but ultimately, I need to follow my dreams and fully explore my own potential.
Life is too short to wonder, "What if?"
It's time to actually find out.