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Leaning In

For 15 years and some change—15 days’ worth of change, to be exact, I have had the best job in the world.

I am a teacher.

And for almost all of those days, my job has never felt like a job. I never tell people I am at work, or that I am going to work. I tell people where I really feel like I am: I am at school. I am going to school. Because my job (almost) never feels like work.

I hang out with kids all day long, and when I’m not hanging out with kids, I get to clown with and plan with and laugh with and do life with my friends. Other teachers. The coolest adults on the planet. People who get me. People who know what I do. People who know how I feel. People who struggle how I struggle.

If you’re not a teacher, what I am saying won’t make sense to you. You likely have a job—and you go to work. And then you come home. You might even tell people that you “have to work.” It’s been rare in my 15 years and 15 school days as a teacher that I have said that I “have” to do anything. You see, I have a “get to” job. Watch this video ( for more on that.

Until today, that is. Today, I am closing my classroom door for the last time. Today, I am turning my students over to another teacher, and I am closing a chapter of my life that I never thought I would actually close. Today, I am going to define myself, for the first time in my adult life, as something other than a teacher.

And, guys? I’m freaking terrified. There are lots of things I don’t know about life, but the biggest one I don’t know is who I am without a group of teenagers to share my days with, and come Wednesday morning, that’s going to be me.

You see, I am going unscripted. Not something I am good at.

I am a teacher without a classroom.

Listen, if you know me at all, you know I am a professional basket case. I say this jokingly—and I say it often, but I am serious. It is the truth. I worry about things I don’t even know about yet. I worry about things that may or may not happen. I worry about things that have no chance of ever happening. As I said to a friend the other night: the thought of not worrying? Makes me worry. Go ahead and laugh. It’s fine. I’ll just be over here worrying.

Today, when the door to B2-422 closes and locks for the last time, when the lights shut off for the last time, and when I see my name on the plate outside the door for the last time, I will be closing a chapter and starting a new one. A scary one. An uncertain one.

One that I absolutely have to start.

Next Monday, for the first time in my adult life, I am going to work.

And I am having a really freaking hard time with that. Like, ridiculously hard. Like….crying big, ugly alligator tears hard. Like, panic attacks at three in the morning hard. Like, do you think they’ll let me rescind my resignation—don’t be ridiculous hard.

In life, sometimes—in fact, almost all of the time, the hardest thing and the right thing are the same thing.

This is no exception.

In July, when I met with my new boss—I have a boss now, not a principal (how weird is that?)—and when I talked with her about what I was looking for IF I was going to make a change like this and when I hit it off with her and with the person who will become my immediate supervisor in a way that I wasn’t really expecting, and she was able to tell me that she wanted me to be a part of their family, I knew that it was time.

You see, like many of us, I’ve struggled with self-love for a long time. I’ve struggled to see my own worth, my own value, and the importance of my contributions to the world. Because I am a fairly conflict-averse person, and because I don’t usually mind many things—where we eat, what we do on any given day, what we watch on TV, stuff like that, I tend to defer to others. This bleeds into too many areas of my life, and I have allowed that to be the case, both personally and professionally for far too long.

Last winter, I published a book. A really freaking good one—look at me loving myself! Celebrating my own accomplishments! This is something new I’m trying out and I like it!

It felt like I was walking around naked in front of everyone I knew. Several incredible people read it, including my new boss, my new supervisor, and every member of the team that I will begin serving in leadership in ten days. Talk about feeling exposed. Suddenly, people asked me what I thought about some pretty important things, and they also cared about the answer.

Suddenly, my habit of deferring, of fading into the background and being “just a teacher who built great relationships with kids” was something people wanted to know how I did. They needed to know about my superpower. They needed to know how it was possible for me to have kids beg to stay with me and not be placed with another teacher. They needed to know how I managed to get kids who hated school and every teacher around them to love me.

Guys, it’s simple. Loving students and loving teachers isn’t hard. Treat them like people and they will love you back. Love them first and they will love you back. Don’t make them earn your respect. Make it a given—if they break your trust, share with them how they can earn it back. Celebrate their wins, embrace their struggles, love their differences, and above all, like them. Genuinely like them. Ask how they are doing and love on them the way you would want someone to love on you. Be a human in front of them. If you screw up, own it. Apologize to them when you do something wrong. Model the behavior you expect.

This isn’t hard.

And yet.

I’m afraid to leave the classroom because of the unknown. I’m afraid because I have felt the pull of the universe for a pretty long time now, and for the first time ever, I am leaning into the pull instead of away from it. I am betting on myself in a way that I have never had the guts to do before. Because I deserve the great. The great life. The great love. The great career. The great big happy. All of it. And so do you—this took me 38.4ish years to figure out, so if you’re younger than I am and you’re still struggling with that, let me save you some time. You deserve it all, too. You’re welcome. Now go lean into something. Accept the great.

You see, staying in a classroom, for me, at this point in my career, would be the ultimate act of deferring to others.

And I simply cannot do that any longer.

Starting next Monday, I will be supporting six thousand brand new teachers and over forty thousand teachers in their first three years in the profession

all over the United States for an organization that believes in the magic of teaching and wants this profession to continue the way it should so that our students can have the very best of what they deserve. And they believe in me to help provide that. Frankly, I believe in me to help provide that.

So, while I am crying these big, ugly alligator tears and closing the door on the best 15 years and 15 school days of my life, what I can say is this: leaving teaching is the most incredible, important act of self-love that I have ever committed. And I am so damn proud of myself for having the guts to lean forward instead of back.

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Susan Leis Atwell
Susan Leis Atwell
Aug 18, 2021

as always - you are brutally honest with yourself AND us . . . . you will accomplish whatever you want in YOUR own way !!!!! I have to LOL though because I used to be a worrier - same as you - it took me years to figure out how much TIME I was wasting . . I just literally said to myself "Stop It - Stop It Right Now" and for about 95% of the time - it works - but I get it . . . I really get it. You will do GREAT things for an industry (for lack of a better term) that needs to get back to the basics of teaching children/young adults …

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