I’ve been teaching for eight years. For the last three, I have been a full-time teacher and a Teachers Pay Teachers seller. After this school year, however, Teachers Pay Teachers will be my full-time job. I’m quitting teaching.
This is not a sudden decision on my part. It’s actually something I’ve been working toward for a long time. It’s been the primary motivator for my Teachers Pay Teachers business, in fact.
I know there are many of you out there, especially after this long school year, who are considering quitting teaching. You might be curious about how someone else managed to do it, so this post is for you.
In this post, I try to explain completely why I’m quitting teaching, how I arrived at the decision to finally do so, and how I’m managing it financially. I wanted to put it all out on the table, in case it helps anyone else.
That said, this is a long post. I tried to include a summary at the end that focuses on the big, important questions you might have. Before that summary is the long-winded tale of how I went from graduating college to quitting my career.
If you want the whole story, keep reading.
Quitting Teaching: Why I Started Teaching in the First Place (2013-2016)
I think it’s important in understanding my story to know that I did not go into teaching with a burning desire to teach.
As a kid, I did not play “school.” I didn’t study teaching books for fun, and I never volunteered to babysit growing up. Teaching wasn’t my dream.
I was simply a girl who loved reading, did well in English class, wanted a stable career with benefits, and who didn’t mind the sound of summers off. Teaching seemed like the logical choice for majors when I started filling out college applications.
Teaching seemed like a good backup, but I thought I would “figure it out” in college. Then, after a couple of years of gen ed classes, I felt too deep into college to switch majors. Not that I had any idea about what I would even switch to. What else does one do when reading is her best skill, right?
When I landed my first teaching job, I burst into tears from happiness. I was excited to be able to pay my own bills. After graduation, many of my peers struggled to land their first teaching contract, but I had done it. I was proud of myself and happy to not let down my parents.
It wasn’t until my first day of teaching that I realized how bad of a fit teaching was for me.
Where I Went Wrong
The bell rang. The door shut. And suddenly a roomful of sullen teenagers was staring at me, waiting. The realization that I had made a horrible mistake hit me like lightning. I had wasted my college years, passively working on a degree I felt totally neutral about.
During school, I made the easy choices without ever thinking about what being a teacher would actually be like. I had envisioned the teaching positions I had seen throughout my life–experienced honors and AP teachers working with high-achieving students.
But I was a completely unprepared first-year teacher, thrown into a room of at-risk students with no curriculum, no support. Worse, my district hired me during the first year of a district-wide pay freeze, after Act 10 (leaving unions in Wisconsin with little power), and with no chance of ever receiving tenure or a bump in benefits.
Staring at my first class ever, I just wanted to leave. I wanted to walk out the door and redo the last five years of my life.
It Did Get A Little Better
Obviously, I didn’t run. I did the best I could and survived my first year. I told myself that the job only sucked because I was inexperienced and unprepared. It would get better.
For the first few years of teaching, I told myself that my struggles were due to my own inadequacies. This was partially true. I learned how to relate to my students better. My classroom management improved. I learned to plan lessons more efficiently.
I didn’t love my job, but I thought that I could grow to love it.
And I did get better at it. Teaching did become less stressful year over year as I gained experience, grew my collection of quality lessons, and learned classroom management. I hit my stride, found some work-life balance, and counted down to summers.
Quitting Teaching: The Financial Tipping Point (2016)
As I said, I was hired during the first year of a district-wide pay freeze. That pay freeze lasted five years.
Our insurance costs went up every year, as did the general cost of living, but heading into my fifth year of teaching, I was still earning the salary of a first-year teacher.
I did everything I could to help myself financially. I bought a foreclosed condo (the mortgage was cheaper than the rent I had been paying) and moved into it with a roommate to split the bills. My mortgage was my only debt and I tracked my expenses. I cut everything I could.
But there’s a point in which you just can’t cut any further. Unless I wanted to move back in with my parents, it was clear that I couldn’t cut costs any more–I needed more income. Even though I worked a second job in the summer, that was clearly not enough.
At this point, I had made peace with my job. I did love my coworkers and my students; I love my school still. But I was growing bitter and angry over my checks.
I knew I could switch districts for a pay increase, but I didn’t want to leave my school or take on a long commute.
Looking for More Work
I started applying for part-time jobs. One place didn’t hire me because I was a teacher–the manager told me there was no way I had the time to teach and do a part-time job. She didn’t understand that I needed the part-time job because I taught. It was a catch-22.
A friend of a friend during this time had opened up a comic shop in town. We hung out there occasionally and I convinced the owner to hire me for odd jobs around the shop. I ended up working a couple of hours a week doing his eBay orders of collectibles. It was an extra $200 a month, which maybe isn’t much to many, but it helped me at the time.
Some months I was just a little shy of paying for my expenses, so I had started accruing some credit card debt. I knew I needed to tackle that beast before it got out of hand.
At this point, I was working a full-time and a part-time job, plus a summer job, and it still wasn’t filling in the gaps. Maybe I could have done more hours, but I was single with a dog to care for. Roy–the dog–is my baby, and I already felt immense guilt for the time he spent alone.
The End of the Pay Freeze Didn’t Help
In year four of teaching for me, the district finally took steps to address the pay freeze. I went to the board meetings as they discussed their work on the new salary schedule. When the final draft was revealed, it was a letdown.
The yearly pay increases had decreased from about $3000 a year prior to the freeze to $1500 a year. There were no more pay increases for graduate credits; you had to obtain the full master’s degree to get the next education-based pay level. (My district also was not paying for our tuition, aside from a small credit.)
I could have lived with this–1500 a year would still have been a huge help to me–but they were not giving us credit for “time served” under the pay freeze. We would start where we already were. I would enter my fifth year of teaching with a first-year teaching salary, and only after that year (my sixth) would I start to see annual pay increases.
Further Education Would Only Add Debt
After this meeting, I approached one of the board members to clarify that I would not be bumped up the schedule according to my experience in the district.
“I was thinking about possibly going back to school, but if I’m still on a first-year salary, I don’t think I can do that,” I had said.
The school board member looked at me and literally laughed out loud.
“Oh, no,” she said, “you can’t go back to school on that salary.”
At that moment, any ideas I had ever had about pursuing teaching further was put to rest. I was not going to invest more money into a profession that was not interested in investing in me.
That left me with few options. Without further education, I couldn’t really switch roles in education or pursue the career path further. I was stuck in this career. My only option was to leave or accept poor pay forever.
But I had no idea how. I couldn’t afford to keep teaching, but I also couldn’t afford not to teach. Mortgages and dog kibble don’t pay for themselves, and my only real work experience as an adult was being a teacher and working at a renaissance faire (my summer gig).
Not exactly in-demand skills.
Enter Teachers Pay Teachers (2017-2018)
During my fifth year of teaching, I made two big decisions that would dramatically change my situation:
- I started dating my now-fiance, Blake
- I started selling on Teachers Pay Teachers
The latter was mostly on a whim. I monitored a computer class–essentially a study hall–for a semester. I was to take attendance, help students with questions, unlock tests for them, but otherwise, the computer walked students through the course. This essentially worked as extra prep time for me.
I decided to use the extra planning time to overhaul a unit that really bothered me–our district’s African American unit. My time teaching with diverse students had kindled within me an understanding of the importance of diverse and engaging literature. Our curriculum was short on both.
I talk about my unit overhaul in more depth over here, but as I created all new materials from scratch, I decided I might as well make them “Teachers Pay Teachers worthy.” After all, if I needed these resources, someone else might too.
Creating TPT-ready resources was more of a personal challenge to keep away boredom during those computer classes. I began researching how other Teachers Pay Teachers sellers created their resources and packaged their material. I also worked really hard on making a unit that I thought would engage my students.
The First Sale (2018)
My first resource was an ambitious 40-page workbook. It took me two months. I started over several times.
I wasn’t expecting to make a fortune on Teachers Pay Teachers. However, I thought an occasional $10 here and there would be nice. I would be able to buy myself a coffee occasionally on Fridays (I had stopped going out for lunch or coffee with my coworkers by this point because I couldn’t afford it).
I uploaded that first resource and moved on to making more materials for the rest of the unit.
A couple of days later… it sold! I couldn’t believe it even as I stared at the notification on my phone. I ran down the hall to tell a coworker that my product had sold, wondered if I would come across as full of myself or greedy, thought better of it, and then ran back to my own classroom to celebrate privately.
Looking at my phone again, I couldn’t believe it. I had made money while teaching. I had made money without taking on another job or abandoning my dog alone for more hours. Immediately, I jumped on to Teachers Pay Teachers and paid the $60 for the premium membership.
It was a risk, I figured, but I hoped that it was a calculated one. Maybe before the end of the year, I could pay myself back.
Quitting Teaching: Realizing It Was Possible (2018-2019)
I was on fire after my first Teachers Pay Teachers sale, and I had a unit to finish. My second sale came about a week after my first. I uploaded pieces of my new unit as I finished them. My store grew quicker than I could believe.
By September of the next school year, I had hit my first $1000 month. I had spent the summer working on my store and listening to podcasts from full-time TPT sellers. I knew some people did Teachers Pay Teachers full time, but seeing $1000 on my dashboard convinced me that I could do that too.
At this point in my teaching career (year 6), my take-home pay was about $2000 a month. I did the math. In order for my new business to match that, I would need to average about $4000 a month (that way I could pay myself, pay taxes, and cover business expenses).
I had grown to that first $1000 month so quickly, that $4000 didn’t sound impossible. After all, I had gone years teaching full-time with no salary increases. My TPT income was growing at a much, much faster rate than that.
I was all-in. On weekend, I awoke early to devote myself to my store. I quit working at the comic shop to have more time for Teachers Pay Teachers. After coming home from a long day at school, I sat down and worked on my own business for a few more hours.
I read everything I could about SEO, Pinterest strategy, and began posting to Instagram every day. Teachers Pay Teachers changed me.
Quitting Teaching: Preparation (2019-2020)
As soon as I had a clear strategy for quitting teaching–using Teaches Pay Teachers to replace my salary–I worked on growing my business religiously. Since I planned on Teachers Pay Teachers replacing my salary–not adding to it–I have not allowed myself to use my profits for bills or new expenses.
Instead, I have been purposely underpaying myself. I first used the new income to pay off my credit card debt. Then, I began to use some of it to start a retirement account external to my job.
To avoid lifestyle creep, I created a rule for myself. I would only use Teachers Pay Teachers income for additional savings or retirement contribution–not for lifestyle inflation.
I’ve used a Profit First system to manage my business finances and to decide how much to defer to taxes, how much to pay myself monthly, and how much to reinvest in my business.
I didn’t set a date for when I would be quitting teaching. I decided to just work as hard as I could to make the numbers work out as soon as I could.
TpT Improved My Finances AND My Teaching
To my surprise, my new passion for Teachers Pay Teachers has actually benefited my actual teaching. I talk about this more in this post, but working hard on TPT pushed me to try new things, create more, and become a better teacher overall.
My district, however, didn’t improve during this time. I was now on a third-year teacher salary for my district (even though it was my seventh year teaching).
They took our amazing health insurance away this year and gave us one of the nation’s worst ranking healthcare providers in its place. (Only a few months later, of course, a global pandemic would begin.)
Even with my minor pay increases, our healthcare costs increased, pretty much wiping out any financial increases I saw.
Quitting Teaching: The Decision (2020)
I decided that I was quitting teaching–come hell or high water–this past September.
The pandemic threw everyone for a loop. I know that some Teachers Pay Teachers panicked–suddenly teachers didn’t need their printable worksheets anymore.
But I didn’t. Using Profit First meant that I could still pay myself a little extra every month. Sales would eventually rebound. And, with my school shut down, I had more time to work on my business.
I used the extra time at home to add a digital course to my business.
During this time, Blake and I also got engaged, which might be helpful information later.
Meanwhile, my district had assured us all that we would be starting the 2020-2021 school year virtually. We all signed our contracts in June with this understanding, feeling supported by the district. I and many of my colleagues spend the summer preparing all-virtual lessons.
I had several phone calls with colleagues. While I wouldn’t consider myself Covid paranoid, I was cautious. I spent the summer close to home and socially distancing myself.
Our building is very old. Sometimes the water doesn’t get hot, our air ventilation systems are ancient, some of our staff was pregnant or otherwise vulnerable. When we’re not in a pandemic, my classroom is so small it can only hold twenty students; there’s no space for distancing.
Virtual teaching felt the safest and most common-sense option when there were so many unknowns. The vast majority of us wanted to teach virtually, at least until vaccinations were available or the district had made building improvements.
At the last minute, the district switched stances on us. With only a week or two before school starting, we were told we would be returning in a hybrid model–teaching in-person and virtual students simultaneously.
Us Teachers Felt Blindsided
The union reacted and the district pushed the start of school back a couple of weeks to sort things out.
My colleagues and I panicked. Many high-risk teachers only agreed to return because we were virtual. But they now found themselves locked into contracts with a $3,000 exit fee.
Colleagues with aging parents spend hundreds of dollars of their own money to erect plexiglass shields around their desks.
Our new technology still had not arrived due to pandemic delays, and there was no time for training on how to use any of it. Half of us used Zoom while the other half used Google Meet because we had no direction from the district.
Meanwhile, the shooting of Jacob Blake turned our city into a riot zone. My school–which sat in the middle of the riots–was damaged. Rioters smashed nearly every window on the first floor. That meant starting the school year unable to open boarded-up windows.
There was a host of problems with returning in-person in our district. Us teachers had been led to believe that we would be virtual; the district was unprepared to keep staff and students safe.
Many Of Us Felt Betrayed by the District
But a group of parents used a combination of large donations, email campaigns, and bombarding school board meetings to get the district to reopen.
I’m lucky. I’m young and healthy. It would have been one thing if the district told me to come in and teach so that my coworkers in their 60s could stay home and teach virtually. But they expected every staff member to be physically present.
Many quit. Many found teaching jobs at other districts that were starting virtually.
During the second week of school, the district cancelled classes due to a sub shortage. The district emailed us to let us know that from now on, we would need a doctor’s note for any sick day taken.
At this point, between the extra teaching demands of the panic, the anxiety of not knowing what teaching was even going to look like, and feeling so completely disregarded by my district, I wept on my balcony.
Every year, I thought about quitting. And here I was again–locked into a contract with an employer who didn’t care about me or my colleagues. I felt like a fool for believing my district cared at all for our well-being.
This was not the first time that I had felt unappreciated by my district. I knew that in a heartbeat, I could be replaced by a sub or an even cheaper first-year teacher, and the loss would not bother the district. But I couldn’t do it anymore.
I told Blake that no matter what, I was quitting teaching this year. (He told me to quit that minute, but I wasn’t that brave.) It was September. I had less than nine months to make a plan to leave.
Quitting Teaching: The Plan (2020-present)
I’ve already made it clear that my plan for quitting teaching relied heavily on my Teachers Pay Teachers business. While the pandemic did throw off my numbers for a little while, I’m still optimistic overall.
I added digital resources to my store, which have helped. And I did have my best back-to-school season yet. Plus, my new TPT Profitability course is adding to my overall bottom line.
So the most important part of my plan for quitting teaching is to continue expanding my Teachers Pay Teachers business. Right now, I can’t look at the numbers and honestly say that my Teachers Pay Teachers business will completely replace my teacher’s salary next year.
However, I have saved a personal emergency fund for myself for six months. I’ve also been creating a six-month emergency fund for my Teachers Pay Teachers business. So even if I don’t make a penny during the 2021-2022 school year, my TpT business will still be able to match my teaching checks for six months.
Plus, my TpT business isn’t matching my salary yet, but it’s close and my business is growing every month. I’m hopeful that soon my business will not only match, but exceed, my teaching salary.
However, as I thought about quitting teaching and relying solely on TpT, I did start to panic a little bit. What if, after a few years of being out of the classroom, I lost my edge? What if districts banned TpT resources or the website disappeared?
Rational or not, the idea of relying solely on Teachers Pay Teachers for income for the rest of my life scares me. Even if my fears are irrational, having a backup plan seems like a good idea. It would ease my worries and provide an alternative route to making money that isn’t going back to teaching.
So I enrolled in a web programmer associate’s degree program. At my local technical college, it’s much cheaper than a master’s in education would be, plus, thanks to the pandemic, I can do the whole program online and asynchronously.
I started classes this semester (spring) and should finish by spring or summer of next year.
I’m also open to subbing in the fall. Subbing would allow me to stay connected with my colleagues and the teaching community in general. Plus, if I sub for one or two days a week, the extra income can help fill in any financial gaps or help me add to my retirement.
The only other issue with quitting teaching is insurance. My benefits from this year will continue until the end of August, and at the end of October, I’ll be able to marry Blake and jump onto his insurance.
That leaves just two months for me to figure out.
Quitting Teaching: A Summary
This next section is just a quick outline of my quitting teaching plan. I broke it up into questions that I think other teachers might have.
Why am I quitting teaching?
Firstly, teaching just isn’t a perfect match for me. I never dreamed about being a teacher. I just didn’t know what else to do “when I was all grown up.” There are many things about teaching I enjoy: curriculum planning, reading, and discussing ideas with students. But there are many things I don’t like about the job, too.
I hate repeating myself and having to hold my bladder. There are days when work is exhausting, stressful, and feels pointless. And the more I grow my business, the more I would rather do that. I get excited to blog, create products, and learn more about running a business.
Teaching, ultimately, just leaves me drained.
But also, quitting teaching is a financial decision. We know teachers don’t make much, and as I’m getting older, my priorities are changing. I want to earn more. I believe that there is more opportunity in my business (and maybe through pursuing a new career altogether) than there is in continuing this career path.
Lastly, if I quit teaching, I’ll have opportunities for other things in my life. I want to travel more, and it would be nice to be able to book tickets during non-peak seasons and to not have to write lesson plans for while I’m gone. If Blake and I have kids, working for myself will give me income and the freedom to be a mom.
Quitting teaching will also give me time to pursue other interests: marathon training, painting, writing, a new degree. I’ll have much more control and freedom over how I spend my time.
How much money do I need to earn?
My teaching take-home is about $2000 a month, which means my business will need to generate about $48,000 a year to match that after taxes and expenses. I think I can do this in 2022, looking at my numbers and growth over the last few years.
Plus, quitting teaching will allow me to pour more time into my business. More time could definitely mean faster growth.
What if I don’t meet those numbers?
If I fall a little short, I have a personal and business emergency fund to cover costs.
I’m also working on an associate’s degree. If I somehow exhaust all of my emergency savings, by then I should be done with the degree and can start a new career.
I am also planning on subbing for my previous school one or two days a week. Subbing will help make sure all of my personal costs are covered, keep me in touch with the teaching community, and allow me to see and catch up with my coworkers.
What about retirement?
Good question. The Profit First model of accounting allows for quarterly bonuses, which I don’t factor into my “salary” from my business. The majority of this the first year will definitely need to be put into an IRA for myself.
Honestly, I think my retirement will just take a hit for a year. I won’t be able to contribute as much, but I hope that with time, my TpT earnings will far outpace what my teaching earnings would have ever done.
I might not grow my retirement much over the next year, but I think long term I’ll be able to contribute more. Plus, if I do sub once a week, I can use some of that income for additional retirement contributions.
What about insurance?
My last school year ends in June of 2021. My insurance benefits will last through August. I’ll marry Blake in October and jump onto his insurance in November.
That just leaves three months without insurance. I plan on looking into the Affordable Care Act marketplace when the time comes to see if I can get coverage for those three months, even if it might be more expensive than I would like.
I realize that I am lucky to have this option. Not everyone has a spouse or a spouse whose job will provide such benefits.
Will I still be able to grow the business if I’m not teaching?
I’ll admit that this is a fear of mine: that once I’m out of the classroom, I’ll lose touch and my new products won’t be as good.
However, I do have years of experience to draw on, and right now I have more ideas for resources than I have time for. I think it will be awhile before I run out of much-needed resources to create.
Plus, I’m not losing my community. I’m already planning on making some resources for my current colleagues over the summer that I’ll also sell. I have my community through my email and Instagram that I can poll for ideas, also.
There are many, many TpT sellers who sell full-time and have been out of the classroom for a long time. If they can do it, I must believe that I can too.
Am I a bad person for quitting teaching?
This is another hangup I’ve been grappling with. However, I refuse to suffer financially or emotionally over a profession. I don’t want to give up all of my working years to a job I kind of like, even if it helps others.
Now that I’m getting married, and Blake and I are talking about the future, I also feel like I need to think of him and our future family. If I can take this leap, I think we’ll be better off financially for it in the long run.
If we have children, I’ll have the flexibility to be home with them, volunteer for field trips, do all the “mom things,” and still be able to bring in a full-time income.
I gave my community eight years, and I did my best. I’m proud of the work I’ve done as a teacher, and I’ll continue to help teachers with my business. My role in education isn’t disappearing; it’s just going to look a little different.
Quitting Teaching: Final Words
There are a lot of unknowns ahead of me. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have reservations or fears about quitting my job.
When I look around, however, I see a lot of teachers who got “stuck” in their careers. They’ve known for decades that they wanted to do something else, but they just never pulled the trigger. I don’t want to become one of them.
I have a lifetime teaching license here in Wisconsin. If I want to go back to teaching, I can. But I’m ready to take a leap and take a chance on myself. I’m ready to do something brave.
Teaching is lit. There is no career like this one. No other career will challenge you to grow in the ways that this one does; no other career will teach you the empathy that this one can. I won’t simply walk away from teaching and never think twice; it’s impossible.
This career changes you forever. I will always be grateful and glad for the time I spent teaching. Teaching has shown me the world through hundreds of different perspectives; it’s changed me fundamentally.
But for me, personally, it is not a “forever” career, and I’m ready for the next phase of my life.