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Ending In Divorce: A Vocational Love Story

Each September, as my many of my teacher friends start a new school year, I can’t help but to spend a few minutes reflecting on my 25 years in education. This is the fifth year I’ve started the fall at home instead of in the classroom, and although I do occasionally miss certain aspects of school, quitting was the best thing I could have done for my sanity, overall health and happiness.

I’m sure my story is familiar to many, whether they’re teachers or not. I’m not the only one who got burned out by their job, or grew disillusioned by the way their profession developed. But as I’m in my annual “teaching career reflection session”, I thought it might be fitting to share a piece I wrote 4 years ago as I prepared to walk out of my room for the last time. In it, I liken my relationship to teaching (my room) to that of a married couple.

I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.  The day I say goodbye to my room.  We’ve been together for 25 years.  Even longer if you count the time we spent together before we made things official. 

We were together while my kids grew from toddlers to adults.  We were together through four Presidents.  We were together the day the planes crashed into the towers, and the day after the Philadelphia Eagles finally won the Super Bowl. 

We were together through sickness and in health, for richer and poorer;  like a married couple.  And like some married couples, I could see our divorce brewing years before it happened.  I feel like we’ve spent a lifetime together, but also like leaving brings total rebirth. 

We met in the fall of 1990 when I was a senior at Millersville University, studying music education.  I was assigned to do my student teaching in a school district about 16 miles northeast of there, in what would later become my room.  Back then it had a full wall of windows, and another wall covered oddly in pink felt.  I thought it looked great! 

Though trained to be a band director, I was really falling in love with teaching general music.  Thanks to a great co-operating teacher and a welcoming faculty, I managed to do a pretty good job.  I was sad to leave when the semester ended, but I had no choice. I was just a student teacher; what other professions might call an intern.

I moved on to other rooms in other districts, but still was wishing to be back where I started.  It took several years, but in 1996 we were reunited and I was given the job of general music teacher, in the same school and room where I student taught a few years before!

Over the next decade and a half my room and I were almost inseparable.  We worked long hours together, started lots of new projects, and created a laboratory for musical and creative thinking.  We raised literally thousands of kids, including the few dozen that went on to become successful professional musicians. 

It was very satisfying.  But it was also pretty intense.  Too intense.  I realized that I needed to strike a better balance between my room and the rest of my life.  I wanted to try, but our schedules and working conditions changed despite my protests, threatening to erode all we had accomplished together while dampening the development of our current kids.  We would need to work harder to achieve the same results. 

So we continued, business as usual, until I got sick from the over-effort.  While my room was being remodeled and upgraded as part of a school-wide construction project, I was being quickly torn down by an exhausted depression, with no plan for a rebuild.  Burnout is real.

Our relationship had to change, and it did.  I started pulling back, spending more time away.  I began to not always be fully present when we were together.  I sometimes lacked energy.  I constantly feared revisiting the intensity that had burned me in the past. 

We went on together though, still raising kids and doing our thing.  Our relationship remained very good, but the spark that made it special hadn’t returned.  It wasn’t going to. 

As we got older, our interests diverged.  We developed differing opinions on how to manage our programs.  We had major, philosophical disagreements about how to raise our kids.  I began to lose respect for that which I once loved. 

Besides our feelings towards each other, the daily demands of our relationship were unrelenting.  Our kids still needed the things that kids need, but we argued over whether or not we were giving them those things.  I didn’t think we were.  We were fully engaged on separate paths, and neither one of us was willing or able to change. 

As we labored on, I began to resent the time we had to spend together and started looking for something else.  Something that would provide the spark that once defined my room and I. 

I grew constantly more restless and less engaged.  Pretty sure our relationship was over, I needed to get away and clear my head.  So, in June 2017, I moved out.  We were separated for nearly nine months, about as long as a full school year.  That sabbatical was good for both of us and cemented in my mind what I needed to do.  Get a divorce. 

I know now why people say divorce is tricky.  It can take a while.  Both sides need certain things in order to get out of the relationship.  There are financial issues to address.  There’s a lot of stuff to sort through, divide up and pack.   

Our divorce becomes final only a few days from now and looking back on those 25 years, I’m not nearly as nostalgic or sentimental as I would typically be.  I think that’s a good sign.  Old, broken relationships can be too difficult to mend.  Sometimes it’s best just to appreciate them for what they were, and move on.

This piece first appeared on my personal blog, Five O’Clock Shadow. Follow me there for more stories (and occasional new posts), and also here at Wise & Shine. For my activities as a professional musician, visit

29 thoughts on “Ending In Divorce: A Vocational Love Story

      1. As a former educator myself, I can attest to the fact that you feel somewhat shell-shocked coming out of it, lol.

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Todd. A beautiful and poignant essay about how difficult it is to leave a profession you once loved. I think you’ve described the bittersweet aspects – capturing the parallels to leaving a long-term relationship perfectly. This stands out – and I hope it continues to fill you up over time: “We raised literally thousands of kids, including the few dozen that went on to become successful professional musicians.” You made a difference, you had impact. Cheers and congrats for all of that…and for knowing when it was time to say goodbye. 💕

    1. Thanks for saying that Victoria- as I get farther away from it it’s getting easier to remember how many great times there were. 🙂

  2. I’m glad it’s getting easier, that shows you made the right decision for you but 25 years is a long time. Congratulations on what’s sounds like a successful career. I’m sorry that you suffered the burn out felt by so many in our profession.
    I’m 20 years at the college this year. I’m still happy but am definitely aware of the changes taking place around me. You can see the signs of burnout all around. It’s important that we take the time to take care of ourselves, but the organisations need to be more aware of the impact their decisions are having on staff.

    Youre right, things have changed over the years and I know some of the pressures are national/local, but there have also been societal changes and teachers/educators are expected to keep going into classes, to manage those classes and deal with the changes but don’t necessarily get recognition or support for what they’re doing.

    I hope you’re now rebuilding and finding those sparks again.

      1. Regrettably it’s what I see around me. Plus I think Covid and lockdowns etc all changed our perceptions and tolerance levels. I feel more matter of fact now … if something happened, I’d just walk away and retire a few years early … but knowing I can do it, makes it easier. But for now, I keep returning 😁

        The one thing I would say that made me jealous was you had your own room. I’m in a different room for every class and we have a massive open plan workroom that’s all hot desking … we’ve lost our identity. Not even my own desk any more

      2. Wow! Yes, I was lucky to have my own room- it made for a very nice classroom environment.

  3. Time changes us so much, we start seeing new horizons and dreaming new dreams. With teaching you fulfill a certain need, prove something to yourself before embarking on a new adventure, meeting new you, starting another page of lifelong learning

  4. That’s a beautiful story Todd, even though sad, but I think it ended up well. Professions shape our way of life, well-being and also personality and you did the right thing for yourself and your family to quit your job as a teacher. It takes courage but it’s for the best. I hope you have no regrets.

  5. It does seem that for many, if not most, “teacher” becomes an identity rather than a vocation. Thank you for the thankless service you gave, and good on you for knowing when to move on!

  6. As the spouse of a teacher, I’ve seen some of these frustrations up close, but still out of the line of fire. I’m glad you were able to walk away. One thing I say to my wife all the time and I would say to you too: never forget the amazing positive impact you’ve had on your students. You’ve made a difference and that’s a pretty damn special thing to be able to say! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Your reflection on the deep bond formed with a profession is profoundly touching. Thank you for sharing such a personal journey, reminding us that every end is just a new beginning.

  8. Things have changed so much in schools, and the educators have had to bear the brunt of it, find ways through it, and stick it through. So many employers have been finding that to keep their employees they need to change how they treat their staff, and I’m sure schools still have a long way to go in learning this, for we see more and more teachers leaving. You made the right decision, for your mental health is the most important. We tend to chastise teachers for leaving students, but who is looking after the educator’s mental health? Good for you!

  9. Congratulations on your 25 years of service. I’m in year 23 and thinking about a divorce as well. Thank you for sharing your insights. Reading your piece, I feel as if I’ve walked and am walking a similar course. My resolve is not the same as it once was. I’m still giving my best but with limits. And I’m looking….

    1. Thanks for sharing that. Giving your best with limits is a great way to describe it and it was the most healthy thing to do in my case.

  10. What a brilliant piece and a great analogy, Todd. I love that you had the courage to leave a job that you clearly once loved and made such a difference. Thanks for sharing this story!

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