Feeling burned out and tired? Thinking of taking a break from teaching for a while, even if for just a sweet moment?
For many educators, taking a break from teaching is an opportunity to re-energize one’s batteries, pursue further education, start a business, take care of family, or devote more efforts towards a hobby. Yes, extended time off from work is an attainable goal, even for teachers.
A big issue preventing many from taking a break from teaching~and I’m talking about a time frame of a year here~ is MONEY!
How in the H-E double hockey sticks can you manage a WHOLE YEAR with no steady paycheck?!
It’s just a dream, don’t ‘ya think?
Or maybe it’s only doable by those stay-at-home suburban housewife types with the rich doctor husbands, uh?
I used to think that way, too.
While I understand taking a break from teaching, especially a whole year, is financially easier for some, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible for everyone else.
Some of us just have to plan a little harder and longer, but it is possible.
And I’m living proof of that!
Taking a Year Off from Teaching: How I Got to This Point
A few years ago, I landed a job at a school with amazing kids and endless resources. It would be considered a “dream job” for many.
But you know what?
I was beyond bored and extremely uninspired.
Despite a beautiful campus, supportive parents, and the most amazing kids EVER, I was not fulfilled.
The school’s curriculum was all over the place, the people in charge didn’t know how to fix it, and the scripted lessons drove me crazy! At this point in my teaching career, I’d seen and done a lot and so I had high expectations for this new place.
How would this experience add to my teaching repertoire?
Sadly, it didn’t, and I wasn’t okay with just drumming along. I needed more.
After being abroad for so long, working in schools that allowed a great deal of teaching flexibility and autonomy, I felt as if my hands were tied.
And slowly, as each day and week passed, my mind started to wonder once again to the entrepreneurial goals that I had set for myself a few years before.
This time I was ready to do it!
But how could I take a break from teaching and when would I do it?
My husband didn’t have full-time employment at the time (He’s a high school teacher now, yeah!), so I was the breadwinner. He was working part-time, and that helped, but we really needed my paycheck to pay the bills.
But I said, you know what, screw it! Life’s too short!
We had saved quite a bit during our time abroad. But that money was for “important stuff”.
“Why not invest some of that money into myself, for at most a year?”, I thought.
After talking things over with my husband, we made our choice. We decided to take some of those funds and invest them into my online business. That money would also be used to keep us afloat for a year.
Through years of investing our money with Vanguard, money that was gaining interest and benefiting from the power of time, we had saved enough to live very modestly for a year without working a 9-5.
My husband would keep his part-time job, and I would work part-time if needed. I’m a registered tax preparer so tax season would also be a good opportunity to bring in more cash if necessary.
I was nervous to take the leap and quit. My future was uncertain, but I thought, “It’s now or never. This is my chance!”
Some people are probably thinking that this is “first-world people’s problems” (my Honduran husband loves that phrase), but nonetheless, it was significant to me, and that’s what matters.
The biggest hurdle to get over was fear, and I refused to let fear control me.
Don’t let fear control you.
What are Your Reasons for Taking a Break from Teaching?
I’d worked in education for 15 years and have fond memories, but I had a HUGE desire to explore life after teaching elementary school, not waiting to do so until I am 60 or 70 years old.
Needing a break from the same thing year after year is perfectly normal.
Just don’t expect everyone to understand your decision or be supportive. A good number of folks will be haters!
But it’s your life, so take control of the reigns, and leave all the nay-sayers behind.
I told my school that I would be going to school to pursue further studies; that was my reason.
What’s your reason?
Maybe you want to…
- Improve your mental and physical health.
- Take care of your newborn.
- Care for an aged or disabled relative.
- Relax and recover just from feeling burned out and/or uninspired (that was me!)
I’ve heard people comment, “I’ll never quit my teaching job. What in the world would I do?”
To me, those people have no life outside of their job. I can think of a million things that I want to pursue outside of my formal career.
Though part of my teaching job defined me, it represented only a tiny fraction of my life and what’s important to me.
Financial Considerations When Taking a Break From Teaching
Before you take the leap to take a break from teaching, it’s necessary to get your financial house in order.
- Will you have enough money to take care of yourself and family for that time? Save up until you have enough. This may take a few years, but it’ll be well worth it. Having kids makes things harder, but it’s not impossible. There are a ton of stay-at-home teacher moms (and a few dads) sacrificing a paycheck to be home with their kids. They’re making it work. This guy talks about how to successfully live on one-income.
- What health insurance options are available to you? Speak with the Human Resources department at your school or district to inquire about how health insurance works for those taking a break from the classroom. Could you get insurance through your partner’s employer? Also investigate the Affordable Care Act to see if you’re eligible.
- How should you handle your retirement funds with TRS? If you know for sure you’ll return to your previous job, don’t touch your pension money. Research the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) to determine the best decisions to make regarding your saved funds. Plan a sit down with Human Resources to discuss your specific situation. Will you be penalized financially for taking a break from teaching? Those types of answers you must know!
Taking a Sabbatical from Teaching
Before jumping the gun here, first find out if your district offers and if you’re eligible to take a sabbatical from teaching. A sabbatical is a welcome opportunity for many teachers.
A sabbatical is very different from just quitting your teaching job and returning at some unforeseen date.
With a sabbatical, your time away from the classroom is…
- defined (example, one year).
- formally agreed upon (in writing) between you and the employer.
- paid or unpaid (for teachers, almost always unpaid).
- based on the condition that you will resume your position after the defined period.
If you quit without taking a sabbatical, your job isn’t guaranteed. You may even find it hard to get back into the same district you left. Research, investigate, and PLAN your exit (and potential return) as much as possible.
If you decide to go the sabbatical route, that’s great! That means that you probably enjoy working at your school and have nice colleagues.
In saying that, when speaking with the principal about your leave, let her/him know how much you enjoy the school and community but need to take take away for “personal reasons” or whatever reason you feel comfortable sharing.
Position your wording so that she/he is aware that this sabbatical time is not personal and you look forward to returning.
Can You Take a Break from Teaching?
Yes, you can take a break from teaching, but you may have to plan long and hard, but it’s possible!
Here are some tips to get you on the right track:
1. Get into the right mindset.
Are you serious about this much-needed break or are you just talking? If you’re serious, it’s time to make a plan and take actionable steps. Taking an extended break from teaching (or any job for that matter) is very much a mental transition.
You’re so accustomed to working that you maybe can’t see yourself not holding down a formal job for a while. That takes mental preparation, so get your mind right!
2. Get your finances in order.
Do you have enough money saved to take a year off from teaching? If not, how many months or years do you need to save until you’re ready?
Take actionable steps and save a certain amount of money each month towards your “taking a year off from teaching” goal.
If you live in a two-earner household, can you live off of one paycheck during this time period?
Though my husband and I planned to use our savings and his part-time job to stay afloat for a year, coincidentally, he ended up getting a high school teaching job for the following school year.
We were stoked because we didn’t think he would be hired so quickly after completing his teaching alternative certification program!
We have since been living primarily off of that one teaching income.
If you have a partner, maybe you can do the same. My husband doesn’t make much as a high school teacher, but with frugal living, we make it work.
If that’s not happening for you, but you really need a break from teaching, get a side hustle.
Tutoring pays well or you can substitute teach (the flexibility allows you to work when you want!). Teaching English online is also a popular option that gives you the privilege of working from home!
3. Surround yourself with a supportive team.
Is your spouse onboard? Your kids? Those are the people who matter the most. If you don’t have that support, be your own biggest supporter.
And know that I’m one of your biggest supporters, too!
How Do I Explain My Break from Teaching on a Resume?
The dreaded year gap in a resume scares people away from the possibility of ever taking time off from work to pursue other things.
As someone who has “been there, done that”, I haven’t found it to be a really big deal UNLESS of course you’re not strategic in how you craft your resume.
That’s the secret.
If it’s only a year or two, explain to potential employers that you took time off for…
- Family/Personal reasons
- Medical reasons
- Educational purposes (be prepared for hiring committees to ask you more about this one).
For sabbatical leaves, explaining a break from teaching, even a year off, shouldn’t be a problem.
How Do I Stay Marketable During My Time Away From Teaching?
That depends on what your end goals are.
Will you return to teaching? Are you headed towards a completely different career? Undecided?
If you think you’ll return to teaching, keep yourself marketable by following these rules:
- Stay up-to-date with your professional development (PD) hours if you have a teaching certificate. If you’re no longer with a district and can’t access paid PD, you may have to pay for your own hours. SimpleK12 lets you do so from home!
- Get competitive certifications to make yourself more marketable once you return to the classroom. ESL, bilingual, special education, and high school math/science are “in-demand” areas in many states. These licenses will help you stand out, especially if you’re in a saturated field like elementary education.
- Obtain letters of recommendation, references, and contact information from administration before you head off into the sunset. You never know.
- Lucky enough to get an interview but nervous about explaining that lengthy break? Don’t worry, my friend. The same commitment and enthusiasm that got you your first teaching job will help you land that same job now. Just be yourself but ready to explain what you achieved and learned during your break/year off (if asked). The hiring committee may see your experiences outside of the classroom a plus.
If the only factor a school or district is going to consider for passing you up for a job is a one-year gap or other significant break, I say good riddance to ’em.
They’re doing you a favor, really.
Life happens, and they should understand that.
Taking a break from teaching is possible folks!
It does take time, preparation, and some coins, but it’s not impossible, and I’m proof of that!
I took a year off to venture into other realms, and I’m happy doing so.
What’s your why? Why do you want to take a break from teaching? Whatever it is, let it be your motivation.
They say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
You know who says that?
People who don’t stay outside of their comfort zone long enough to push toward something greater.
If you want to take a break from teaching, you can find a way to do it. Planning and preparation are key, so start today!
What’s your biggest obstacle to taking a break from teaching?
Until next time…