Toni's Class

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 15 2011

The Start

I get a lot of questions about quitting the law.  “How could you do it?”  “Were you scared?”  “Do you think you could go back?”  So the day before I gave my notice, I started writing about it.  Hopefully, some of my thoughts and feelings at the time will answer some of those questions.

Here is what I wrote the night before I gave my notice.  Note that at time I wrote this, I had an interest in pursuing a career in education, but had not yet committed to Teach for America.

Today is the day before my life starts.  [I have always had a flair for the dramatic.]  Tomorrow, I quit my lucrative legal career and embark upon the unknown.  I, somewhat seriously, refer to tomorrow as the day I will take my first risk.  Exciting stuff, huh?

I have been a practicing attorney for the last eight years.  I represent major insurance companies in coverage disputes and litigation, often involving large machinery breakdowns, alleged professional negligence, and employment liability.  I fill most days with studying insurance policies, reading and analyzing files, and conducting extensive factual investigations of insurance claims.  I will confess that although reading insurance policies may sound like pure hell to most people, I actually like it.  I get a little thrill when I start reading the policy and thinking about the interplay of the provisions.  I annotate my policies when I get to the endorsements, leaving strikethroughs and notes in the margins of the pages.  I leave colorful sticky tabs to help me navigate through the policy upon later readings.  I tease that insurance policies are like Scripture—different parts speak to you on subsequent readings and bring new insights each time.

Very little of my time involves going to court, but I relish those brief moments of action away from my desk.  Depositions, hearings and the ever-so-rare trials are the adrenaline rush that every litigator craves.  But these high-energy events also bring with them high expectations and high stress levels.  They are often preceded by countless hours and late nights of preparation.

So why am I leaving?  I believe I was meant to do more with my life.  The cliché that law is a jealous mistress is all too true.  Although my performance evaluations have always been extremely positive, the law tells me every year, “We are going to need more of your time.”  Well, I have no more time to give to the law.  I want to give my time to something else.

There are many things that compete for my time, and I have decided that a number of things are entitled to more of my time than the law.  First, my relationship with God should get more time than the law.  My husband, my family, and my friends should get more of my time than the law.  Serving others should get more of my time than the law.  In short, the law comes in sixth place, but I find that it easily occupies most of my time.  It’s time to change that.  It’s time that my time commitments match my values.  At the very least, if I am going to spend so much time on something, it should be I find meaningful.

So—what will I miss?  It’s hard to tell.  I do love that I work alongside of some of the best and brightest people imaginable.  I love that I have the opportunity to do intellectually challenging work.  But aside from that, I cannot think of much I will miss.  And the things I think I will miss, I hope I can find elsewhere in my future opportunities.  Join me on this journey!  I hope it is exciting and entertaining.

6 Responses

  1. Ray

    I can’t help wincing as I read this post. Please understand that teaching, especially during your first year, is incredibly time consuming and stressful. If you go into teaching expecting that it will be a break from the demands of a law career, you may find yourself disappointed with the realities of working in a classroom. Please think about your motives for entering teaching. It would not be fair to the students for you to leave mid-year.

    • tross01

      Thank you for reading my posts and for expressing your concern. Your comment leads me to think that perhaps I have not communicated what I intended. Please let me attempt to clarify.

      My goal is not to take a break from the demands of the law. I have known for some time that while there are parts of law practice I enjoy, the practice was something for which I had little passion. My goal is not to escape hard work, stress, or time-consuming efforts. My goal is to avoid hard work, stress, and time-consuming efforts that have little to no effect on issues that are personally important to me.

      I chose to leave my legal career, not so that I could take a break and relax a little, but rather so that I could focus that time, energy and extraordinary effort into something that would yield positive results in the lives of others. I am passionate about teaching and about eliminating the achievement gap. In fact, when I look at society on the whole, I can think of little more that could have such a transformational effect.

      I know that teaching will be challenging and difficult. I know that I will work harder than I have ever worked before, and I know that the stakes have never been higher. I also know that striving for work/life balance will be just as difficult as a teacher as it was as a lawyer. But I can assure you that I am committed to investing one hundred and ten percent into my students and no less. I am not interested in a break; I am interested in making a difference.

      None of my decisions were made lightly. A tremendous amount of self-reflection, literally over a number of years, led me to where I am today. While I understand that your concern stems from a single blog post, please know that there is significantly more to my story than the words you see on the page. I chose to share this part of my story here in hopes of encouraging people who may be similarly considering a career change. As I hope to post later this week, there will be times in a career change when other people will question you and your motives, so it is important to truly know yourself and believe in what you know about yourself.

      Thank you for your concern for me and my future students. I appreciate your offering the opportunity for me to clarify some things. I hope you will keep reading my posts and sharing your thoughts.

  2. Ray

    Thanks for clarifying. Sounds like you do have a realistic conception of how challenging teaching will be. I look forward to reading your blog in the future.

  3. '08

    “I do love that I work alongside of some of the best and brightest people imaginable. I love that I have the opportunity to do intellectually challenging work. But aside from that, I cannot think of much I will miss.”

    I wouldn’t underestimate how important these things might be to you, especially if you’re considering teaching for the long-haul. I loved my two years in the corps because I felt like I was really making a difference, I was surrounded by other bright people who shared my interests, and being a new teacher was very challenging. Now that I’m no longer in the corps (but still teaching) I’m a lot less satisfied with my job and will be making a transition soon. In short, I’m no longer surrounded by lots of bright people who push my thinking (nearly all of them left to go to law school, study on a Fulbright..) and I don’t find teaching to be intellectually stimulating. I loved the challenge at the beginning, but now that I’ve figured out how to manage my classroom, teach kids to add decimals, etc., there’s no longer the same excitement. Even though I know I make a difference for my students, I feel like I’ve had to give up everything to do so and it’s simply too high of a cost.

    It isn’t my intention to discourage you from your choice, especially as it seems you spent a lot of time weighing your options. I absolutely loved being a corps member and I’m so glad I had that experience. I truly hope you find it as rewarding and engaging as I did. Please remember though that even if around 65% of us stay for year 3, very few stay teaching long-term. If you really think you’re going to stay long-term, make sure you pace yourself and don’t let it become your whole life.

    Best of luck! I looking forward to reading about your experience!

    • tross01

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I love hearing from people who have been where I am going. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts.

  4. Jon

    Very inspiring post. Gives me hope for the future when I read about future teachers with passion. I just pray that you will find your renewel each day. God bless.

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Thoughts and Experiences of a Recovering Attorney

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Middle School
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