Why I Left Teaching: Escaping Standardized Testing & Finding Joy

Why I Left Teaching: Escaping Standardized Testing & Finding Joy

Why I Left Teaching_featured image_bored teachers

author image_Stephanie KennellyThis article was written by Stephanie Kennelly - an elementary classroom teacher for ten years. She is currently taking a leave of absence to promote wellness in education. Stephanie loves practicing yoga and enjoying the outdoors in all of Minnesota’s seasons. Connect with her on Facebook, InstagramTwitter, or email: stephanie.kennelly@gmail.com.

My grandma was a teacher. My mom was a teacher. The only thing I can ever remember wanting to be was a teacher. I felt (and still feel) that it runs through my blood as a core piece of my identity. So, it may come as a shock that I am stepping away. I am leaving my job as a classroom teacher.

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The realization came as a slow and steady evolution. However, at the end of the path, the decision was ready made. Here is my story.

Last summer I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. To summarize, she walks the reader through a process of decluttering belongings by asking a question about each and every object. “Does it spark joy?”

This question bounced around in my head as I began to evaluate my life, growing busier with time clutter by the day. I thought, What if I applied the idea of spark joy… to my time? I began my courageous analysis.

I started journaling about every action I took throughout the day. I kept a diligent log for weeks. Then, I went back and looked at each and every item and asked, “Did it spark joy?” (For my purposes, I define joy as activities that keep me grounded in the present moment and contribute to my long-term wellness. However, this could be an entirely different blog post!)


With that definition of joy, I developed a rating scale.

1 = spark joy

0 = joy neutral

-1 = joy depleting

I determined that after adding up all of my numbers, I could with almost certainty predict the outcome of my day. High number, great day. Negative number, horrible day. It seems so obvious now, but at the time, it was a real revelation.

I set a new life purpose. Create days with a high joy value.

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How to begin?

Eliminate the -1

What could I do to completely cross joy depleting actions off my list? Example- The joy depleting errands through big box stores were replaced with Amazon delivery.

Transform -1 into 0

What could I do to change a joy depleting activity into a joy neutral activity? Example- While loading the dishwasher (-1), I started listening to audiobooks (1). In one simple step, I created a 0!

I was starting to make progress on the homefront. I was amazed that with very little effort, my days were increasing more joyful.

However, now I was faced with looking at my professional time.

Taking attendance: 0.

Facilitating Inquiry: 1.

ANYthing involving standardized tests: -1.

I was stunned at the results. A profession I thought I loved, left me with more days than I wanted to admit, in the negatives. I always had considered myself a positive person. I was confused. Had education changed? Had I changed? Were other teachers feeling this way?


Just to humor myself, I started crossing off all of the -1 activities from my list. Is it possible to create a day with mostly spark joy? If it were possible, what would it look like? As fast as my hand could write I began to journal about the vision.

I visualized joy being at the center of education. I visualized feeling full year round with minimal moments of depletion and exhaustion. I wanted to create a life that I didn’t need a vacation from. I extended the vision, not only to myself, but to every other teacher in the profession. What if we could create a system that held teacher and student wellness as the centerpiece for all decisions? What if.

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What if…

It was in that moment that my decision came ready made. This school year I committed to take daily action around the things that matter to me most. I began to notice a difference in my energy as I began using my strengths.

It was with a mixture of certainty and trepidation that I applied for my leave of absence. It shocked my family and co-workers. It shocked my students and parents. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer the question, “What will you do?” The best response I could come up with was, “Live my joy”. Because really- what else is there?

I dove in and began doing research. I found organizations and people that had similar missions. To bring wellness to teachers and students. To prioritize joy. To make time and space for personal growth and development. Things have to change in the field of education, or the high rate of burn out will leave our students stranded. I believe I can help bring that change.

So, here I am. My last day of school. I may be leaving the classroom, but I will always consider myself a teacher.


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  • Jenny

    Your story completely resonates with me. I considered myself a very passionate teacher, and taught in the classroom for nearly 10 years. I have since left the classroom but I continue to teach as a visiting artist at schools. Leaving the classroom was not an easy decision, but being able to joyfully share my passion with so many… worth it.

  • Suzi

    You are not selfish.

    Being a WHOLE person means examining areas of your human experience that are adding to or subtracting from your energy and spirit.

    Although teaching is both a profession and a calling, teaching isn’t about self-sacrifice and martyrdom. You are not a nun.

    What good teachers know is that the energy that we bring into the classroom is as important as our content and our pedagogy. It’s hard to give to students when you are physically, emotionally, and or professionally depleted.

    Find your joy.

  • Deb dEb

    It’s not selfish to want to enjoy your work. That was a mean comment. I’d rather have my child have a teacher that loves and is passionate about each and everyday than one who feels the system is sucking the life out of them.
    Hattie notes that the teacher makes the biggest difference in how students learn. Unhappy teacher equals unhappy students.

  • Dave

    Mike—you obviously don’t understand that having a teacher with a positive attitude is the most important component in the classroom. Standardized tests don’t really enhance learning, either.

  • MIke

    You are just selfish. Why does teaching have to be about you? Standardized testing helps students succeed in college and helps them with their logical thinking. To eliminate it from your life completely is an act driven purely by your own skewed vision of what you think teaching should be. Consider what is best for the students instead of only what brings you joy. Maybe you will realize this during your leave of absence.

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