I quit teaching to work at Costco and I'm much happier. I never thought I'd leave my dream job, but these 5 things drove me out.

I quit teaching to work at Costco and I'm much happier. I never thought I'd leave my dream job, but these 5 things drove me out.
Janelle Schuurman.Courtesy of Janelle Schuurman
  • Janelle Schuurman taught elementary school for 11 years before quitting. She now works at Costco.
  • She says that while teaching was her passion, she couldn't get past certain parts of the job.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Janelle Schuurman, a 35-year-old former teacher from Michigan. It's been edited for length and clarity.

I was a teacher for 11 years. I dreamt of being a teacher since the time I was in kindergarten. I actually remember thinking, "I'll just stay here until I'm old enough to be the teacher."

But I reached my breaking point in 2022, and now I work at Costco because I got so burned out from teaching elementary school.

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Looking back at what was once my dream career, these are the five things I found to be the most difficult about being a teacher in America.

1. The job never ends

If you think teachers have a cushy schedule because they technically work 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and then leave and they have both evenings and the summer off, you're wrong.


The job never ends, honestly. Every day you have to spend so much time after school preparing for the next day, and there are always extra things you need to be doing. I would typically be at school for 10 to 12 hours a day and then do 20 hours of work per week outside of my contracted hours just to stay on top of things.

By the time I reached the end of my teaching career, I started to feel like summers weren't even long enough to recharge from the school year, especially when I spent so much of the summer planning for the next school year. It felt like I had a few weeks off instead of a few months.

2. I didn't feel supported

I think the work environment used to be different for teachers. Class sizes used to be more reasonable, and I used to feel more supported, but that's not how it is anymore.

When I left, I had 29 students in one class and no support staff, like teachers' aides. Ideally, classes shouldn't be bigger than 20 to 22 students, especially in elementary school.

One of my former coworkers told me that 25 years ago her biggest classes were 24 kids, and she would have a paraprofessional assistant for every student over that.


I think decreased funding for public schools plays a role in this.

3. I didn't feel safe

I didn't sign up to dive in front of bullets when I chose education as a career. I thought I was going to change the world, not put my life on the line.

I remember the day after the Uvalde shooting, I just felt terrified. When there are these seemingly constant mass shootings, it's hard for teachers to feel safe.

I never thought I'd be worried about my safety as a teacher — but by the end of my teaching career, I was thinking about my safety and the safety of my students constantly. Every teacher in my school had a walkie-talkie in case they had to call for help. Just knowing that was a possibility was horrifying.

4. I resented the concept of 'focus on the outcome versus the income'

We have this phrase in teaching: Focus on the outcome versus the income. The whole idea behind this is just the guilt-tripping of teachers generally.


Society tells teachers: You're making a difference! It doesn't matter that you can barely make ends meet! This is your passion! The kids need you! If you only care about the money, you shouldn't have been a teacher in the first place! Do it for the kids!

But the reality is teachers are people, too. We should be able to make a living doing the work we want to do, but so many of us aren't.

I was lucky enough to be able to pay my bills while teaching, but I know many who left because they couldn't afford being paid such a low salary.

5. Parents' and politicians' backseat driving was exhausting

Everyone seems to think they know about teaching just because they were once a student. There are so many opinions from people outside of the school, like parents and politicians.

Some people think we should teach math a certain way or avoid certain subjects. Others think we should ban some books and focus on others. It's exhausting. Teachers know what they're doing, and they need to be allowed to use their expertise.


If we want to solve the crisis of not having enough teachers in this country, these things need to change. Otherwise, more teachers might follow in my footsteps and leave their dream careers.

Now I'm happy at Costco because I'm paid fairly and have access to benefits like great insurance. Even though this was the right choice for me, I never thought I'd leave teaching.