Why I’m Leaving the Classroom

One of my seniors asked last week if the rumors were true and that I am retiring.

Clearly, this youngster either doesn’t understand what retirement is OR has grossly mis-estimated my age (I’m knocking on 37).

While I’d love it if teaching were such a lucrative career that I could retire before age 40, it is nonetheless true that I have made the choice to leave the classroom after this year.

For the last three years, I’ve tried to live up to the ideal that a teacher can lead without having to leave. In this hybrid role “half in, half out,” I’ve learned so much. I still believe that this model is the ideal: systems should afford teachers the opportunity to still lead their own classrooms while also being agents of change in their school or district. For the last three years, I’ve been in such a hybrid role, teaching in the afternoons two or three periods, but spending my mornings attempting to (and I think, successfully) influencing local policy related to teacher evaluations and professional development, as well as supporting teachers in their practice.

And these three “hybrid role” years have been the toughest three years of my career. My attention has been divided and never once have I had one full week where I felt like I was doing adequate service to both roles at the same time (I wrote recently about this, even doling out what I felt were the three key needs for a successful hybrid role). Trudging forward and never feeling successful at anything is not a great way to live from day to day, so I made the decision shortly after that post: in 2015-16, I needed to choose…one or the other, not both. The Both, for me personally, was too much, even if in principle it is exactly what I believe should eventually become systematized for teacher leadership and empowerment.

There are many teacher stories of “why I’m leaving” that circulate on social media, featuring overworked, unsupported, and under-appreciated teachers who make the painful decision to leave the profession altogether. That’s not where I am professionally. Even with standards and testing and new evaluations and unsupportive public policy, I still love teaching. However, whatever work I choose to do, I want to do it well. That’s the feeling I haven’t had these last few years in the split role. Others can and do find success inhabiting both roles simultaneously, and those others are capable of amazing things. For me, the split is not sustainable mentally or physically. One or the other; in or out. Two equally appealing options.

It was not an easy choice. Because of various things, my district ended up posting a full-time TOSA job for 2015-16, I applied for and was offered the position. Next year, I’ll be a full-time TOSA, focusing on building a K-12 new teacher induction program (where no formal new-teacher support has existed in the past) and developing teacher leadership systems in our district’s new pathways model, wherein among other things teachers in hybrid roles will be supported toward success. Simply put, my role is all about cultivating and empowering teachers. Little by little, despite the fear of the unknown, I’m getting more and more excited about the potential of what this job might be able to do.

And then I have days in the classroom like I had this last week, listening to my seniors (who for all intents and purposes are long since done with this school business) give each other feedback on their practice speeches for their culminating Senior Project presentations that they will do before a panel of community members. I heard in their statements things I had taught them; little things, probably not all that meaningful, but still, they were doing what I had taught them to do. It’s hard to explain that feeling.

Then after most of the period of sustained focus, the class gradually got a little rambunctious and I (only half-jokingly) threatened to slam their 18-year-old selves into a seating chart if they didn’t get their over-sized-kindergartener-behavior under control.

We laughed, the bell rang, they left.

I am definitely going to miss it.

17 thoughts on “Why I’m Leaving the Classroom

  1. Patrick Kearney


    You and I find ourselves in remarkably similar circumstances. If you would be willing to email me (pkearney@johnston.k12.ia.us) I would love to pick your brain a little about how you are approaching your new role. Good luck as you move forward.

    Patrick J. Kearney
    Johnston, Iowa

  2. Michelle

    I am finding myself entering into the “dual” role this year, for the first time. We’ll see how it goes….Good luck to you! We need strong leaders empowering new teachers!

    1. Mark Gardner Post author

      Good luck Michelle—I really do think the dual role is the ideal way to go…and it can be done. My challenge was boundaries and time management, which have not always been my strongest suit.

  3. Eva D.

    Congrats on making a tough decision. I hope you will continue to do this blog while you explore this new path. If so, it will be interesting to read about what you learn from mentoring others.

    1. Mark Gardner Post author

      Thanks… I look forward to the coaching/mentoring. I think there will be many parallel positive experiences to classroom teaching!

  4. Jodi Hufendick

    Congrats on your new position Mark! When I decided to leave the classroom last year it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made professionally, much harder than when I choose to leave the profession nearly ten years ago (that lasted a mere 2 school years). I wish you the best, but it is hard. I find myself literally jonesing for a classroom. I know you will be an amazing leader in this new role and it seems like a natural progression from your previous work. Have fun and I’m looking forward to our next discussion.

  5. Jessica Cuthbertson


    Wow! Your post really resonated with me and I feel we’ve been living parallel professional journeys for the past three years…and I too, am leaving the classroom next year to serve a full time “Teacher Leadership TOSA” with my school district after three years in a hybrid role. It is bittersweet for sure but I can completely identify with the need to focus on doing one thing well vs. “splitting time” (and often splitting brain power, energy, passion, etc.) in the two spheres of classroom teaching and leading.

    I wrote about my journey (looking both forward and back) here: http://teachingquality.org/content/blogs/jessica-cuthbertson/epilogue-and-foreword-living-scaling-teacher-leadership and would love your thoughts! Good luck in your new role next year!

    1. kathy miller

      Each of your roles sound very inspiring and proactive. However, I would like to hear from Mark Gardner and others stories that have been used for SGG.

  6. Tom White

    Good luck, Mark. I have the utmost respect for teachers who take the step into full-time leadership.

  7. Christina

    Yes, bittersweet to leave the classroom, but exciting opportunities await you! Your focused leadership is needed now more than ever!

  8. Christine Kaldahl

    I saw your post on the NBPTS site about your data. I would love to see a close up of some of the kinds of items you are tracking on your spreadsheet.


    I teach AP Language & Composition and I keep spreadsheets of data like test scores (PLAN, PSAT, ACT, some of the released m/c tests for the Lang exam).

    What you said in your post about how students grow as writers over the course of the year makes a lot of sense and I would like to track similar data points.

    I can be reached at ckaldahl@mpsomaha.org

    I am also a NBCT but mine is in Career & Technical Education/Communications. I’m also a journalism teacher.

  9. Nick

    Found myself reading this article and appreciating the self-honesty it must have taken to realize you had to make a choice to focus on one or the other. Having been out of the classroom for 5 years now to support new teachers, there isn’t a day where I don’t miss the student interactions I used to have. The new teachers in your district are the real winners here. Best of luck on the new adventure! Would love to collaborate and learn from you in the future.

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