As Told To Veronica Wells-Puoane
Why Olesha Quit: I Was Exhausted
Photo provided by Olesha Haskett
Olesha Haskett, 36, was a teacher in the DMV area. From 2014 to earlier this year, she taught everything from second to sixth grade. But the demands of the pandemic, physical and mental exhaustion and a desire to focus on her boudoir photography business, Oh Experience, caused her to quit. Check out her story below.
I got into the field because I was doing non-profit work. I realized that a lot of my clients could not read, they could not write. Some of them could barely write their names. I dealt with a lot of older Black seniors and young people. It was a recurring thing.
I thought, ‘This is crazy. How is this working? How do you not know how to do these basic things?’
I wanted to be a part of the solution so I did a program where you could transfer from one field into education. It’s a crash course in education. They certify you and then once you get that certification they’re supposed to help you find a job. I ended up working in PG County, Maryland.
I started to consider leaving in 2019, before the pandemic.
I had been saying that I was tired for a while, mentally exhausted. There were so many things that were happening. It felt as if it was a revolving door of ‘This is what we’re going to try to do.’ But where’s the follow through?
I had a management style for my kids and they understood how things went when they came to my room. But in other classrooms it was different. That back and forth, the changing and having other people on your team, new personalities. It was a lot to juggle. I had four classes–which is over 100 families. So dealing with a team of three and then the admin team, it was a lot.
Where’s the follow through?
I was disillusioned before that but when the pandemic came, everyone was scrambling to really figure out what was happening. Luckily for me, my babies, my students were already on computers because they had changed our curriculum.
It was the stress. The year prior I was supposed to only teach one grade level. Then they told me 2-3 weeks before school started that I was going to be teaching 40-80 students. It doubled my workload. Luckily, I already knew these students but it was a transition that I wasn’t prepared for. That really put a sour taste in my mouth.
It was a lot. It was a lot for the students, it was a lot for me. It was extremely stressful.
I realized I just wasn’t happy. It wasn’t something I really wanted to do.
My body was hurting because we were out of school so I had to retrofit my space to have a desk and two monitors. I’m used to standing up, walking around and helping in class. But now I’m sitting at a computer for five-six hours a day. And that doesn’t include the time I’m spending in meetings.
My elbow, my shoulder, my back --all those parts of my body were in pain because they were moving in ways I don’t normally move. I couldn’t get up. The students had to stay in their space and I had to stay in my space.
Then, they told us in April, you’re going back to school but the kids won’t be there. Later, they told us the kids were coming back.
I felt like they didn’t care about teachers. They kept sending us things about self care but the way they went about it, it was just horrible.
Mentally, I was exhausted. Physically I was exhausted. And I just knew that I could not keep this up. I knew this school year, I would have eighty students. I would have to see all of those babies. I wasn’t comfortable with that because trying to get the 5-10 students that I had to wear a mask and follow through with washing their hands--I knew I couldn't do that 80x. It’s just not going to work. I knew I would get sick.
My parents are older. Knowing that we love to hug--at school. I love them. But this was going to be a problem.
Without the pandemic, I probably would have lasted for one more year. I was honestly waiting for my children who I had from sixth grade to leave. 2020 was their last year with me anyway. I’d had them since fourth grade. For me, seeing them go through was a big thing.
I knew I would get sick.
I was very apathetic about it. It is what it is. They wanted me to stay. I knew–for what I was doing with my business–I could not stay and run my business how I wanted to. I had been saying to myself, there are certain things that are going to come up and you’re going to have to ask someone to take off. And you might not even have that time to take off. I asked myself can you do this and still do your business and the answer was no.
They did ask me to stay. And they asked could they think about it. I was like, I don’t really know what you need to think about. That was kind of odd. I thought me telling my principal that I was leaving was enough. But they brought me back in and said, ‘You didn’t fill out the information through the county, so we assumed you were still thinking about it.’ I put my resignation in that same day.
The other side
There’s a phrase that teachers make more minute to minute decisions than a surgeon. I really feel that. I didn’t realize how much time I was spending watching others, making sure nobody was doing anything “special.” So now, not having my head on a swivel, I realize that was a lot of mental work I was doing.
I don’t eat as much because I was using so much brain power, I was eating constantly. Sometimes I even forget to eat.
One thing I love is that I can go home to my parents and not have to worry about when I’m going to come home. I feel less stressed.
Even taking a walk during the day. Which is something I wasn’t able to do previously. I didn’t have the time.
How to quit
The first thing is you have to have a plan. Figure out how to bring money in or if you have savings, figure out how long you can live off that. One thing I did was write down what are the bare minimum things I have to pay. And what are the things I love to do, the things that make me happy. Also, have an emergency fund because things happen.
Make sure that you know what it is you actually want to do. Don’t just leave because it’s stressful. If it’s a health concern, then of course, leave. But have a strategic plan. Do you have to move in with someone? Do you have to go back home? What does that look like for you. Be real with yourself. Sometimes we get caught up in, ‘I’m just going to leave.’ But how is that going to work for you? What are you going to be able to do? And if it doesn’t work, how much time are you going to give yourself to take a break and then go back and find something that you love to do?
I can go home to my parents.
Black women and The Great Resignation
We are tired. Physically, mentally exhausted. Especially having to codeswitch. It’s taxing. A lot of people think that if you’re doing something physically demanding that’s enough to be tired. But the mental stamina it takes to go through hoops to make sure you’re saying something “right,” to make sure they don’t think you’re being aggressive. That has taken a toll on us. And we can see that we can be happier if we’re working at home or creating things that we feel good about. Other people also want to see us happy and will buy things that we make.
We’ve had the time to realize that we’ve really had a lot of stress on us and we don’t want to do that anymore. It’s a breath of fresh air.