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How to decide whether to leave teaching

Ditch the pros and cons list

Heart on a stick with a black background

Pros and cons of staying in teaching

Most teachers contemplating a career change have a pros and cons list for leaving teaching or staying and making it work for you.

Maybe you’ve written your pros and cons down, or perhaps it’s just a jumble of thoughts that spill out whenever you’re trying to get some clarity. 

Your pros and cons list for staying might look something like this…

Possible pros for staying:

  • Summers off

  • Retirement pension

  • Some days are really good

  • Stable and decent salary

  • Impacting young people

  • Being good at my job, etc...

Possible cons for staying:

  • Stress

  • Too much work

  • I'm always tired or sick

  • Not connecting with my students anymore

  • Not having enough time for my family or hobbies, etc…

Sure a pros and cons list is a good starting point. It helps you sort out your feelings about teaching and consider all the factors. 

But a pros and cons list will only take you so far, and here’s why.

Pros and cons are an either/or trap

Binary decision-making gets you stuck in a rut. Swinging back and forth between staying and leaving can become a repetitive cycle of hashing out the same arguments over and over again. 

Big, real-life decisions like whether to keep teaching or move on require nuance and creativity, not just a yes or no answer.

The pros and cons of leaving are just predictions

You haven't lived through the change yet, so all you can do is imagine what might happen, often based on assumptions. Your brain might conjure up all sorts of future scenarios that aren't necessarily accurate.

Maybe you imagine the pros and cons of leaving to be something like this…

Possible pros of leaving:

  • Less stress

  • Not as much work

  • I'll be healthier and happier

  • I'll have more time to do what I enjoy

  • New experiences

  • Using my skills and strengths elsewhere, etc...

Possible cons of leaving:

  • Letting other people down

  • Taking a salary cut

  • Losing my pension and health insurance

  • Never seeing my colleagues anymore

  • My next job won’t be as fulfilling, etc…

Yes these things could happen. But something entirely different could happen too!

Pros and cons don't account for the fear factor

Lists don’t give weight to the emotions that come with such a big decision. Their whole premise is to use your head 🧠 to make a “rational” decision based on concrete factors.

Well you’ve got a heart too! ❤️ And every time you think about leaving, some BIG feelings get kicked up: sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness, confusion, etc…

And then there’s the FEAR. A whooooole lotta fear.

Fear of letting other people down.

Fear of losing your financial security.

Fear of making the “wrong choice.”

Fear of missing out on another career.

Fear of failing at another career.

Fear of losing your identity.

Fear of disruptions caused by change.

Fear of missing your students.

The list goes on.

What's a pros and cons list supposed to do with all this fear?!

A better way to make a decision about a career change

Pros and cons lists will limit how much clarity you can get about whether to leave teaching.

Try these strategies instead…

Explore alternative career possibilities

Rather than comparing teaching to a vague unknown, list specific career options that intrigue you.

Dive deep into exploring these possibilities through online research and conversations with people in those fields.

Pretend you’re investigating a mystery (because other careers are a mystery, am I right?), and gather all the intel you can find.

The more you understand your options, the more confident you'll feel about your decision.

Address your fear head-on

Your fear lurks behind the rational facade of pros and cons. Shine a light on it by recognizing when fear-driven thoughts pop up.

Fear might sound like:

  • “Ahem, what makes you think you can do that?”

  • “Stop being ridiculous.”

  • “But your students need you.”

Understanding your fears helps you keep them in check, so that you can do what's right for you.

How is your pros and cons list helping/not helping you?

Share in the comments below or email me at I love hearing from you!

Ready to go deeper than your pros and cons list?

Step 1: Take my quiz: Should I stay in the classroom or should I quit teaching for a new perspective on the question you've been trying to answer for ages.

Step 2: Check out my 60 minute Career Clarity Consult. It will help you make sense of the jumble of thoughts in your mind, understand how your own version of fear makes it harder to decide about teaching, and clarify what's right for you.

Laura with glasses and long brown hair standing in front of a spring shrub

I'm Laura, a career transformation coach for teachers feeling stuck.

I help you explore career possibilities beyond the classroom so that you can make a confident choice about what's next, based on your strengths, values, and what you want most for your life.

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