I quit my job as a math teacher to become a long-haul truck driver. The job is challenging and I miss my students, but I don’t see myself going back anytime soon.

  • Vanita Johnson had just turned 50 when she quit teaching to become a long-haul truck driver. 
  • She says the market was great when she first started, but rising costs are making things difficult.
  • Despite the challenges, she says trucking makes her feel “free as a bird.” 

This as-told-to essay is based on two conversations with Vanita Johnson, an independent long-haul truck driver based in Atlanta, Georgia, and a member of the nonprofit Women In Trucking Association. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I got my commercial driver’s license in November 2020, after 13 years in the education industry. 

I had just earned a sixth-grade math teaching position, after working as a substitute teacher and an administrative assistant, at the time when schools were deciding when they were going to go back, face to face, or whether they were going to go virtual. 

When they went virtual, I stepped down because I did not want to do my students a disservice. I could see more seasoned teachers than me were overwhelmed, and me being a first-year teacher, I was really overwhelmed. 

So, right before I turned 50 years old, I said “that’s it, I’m going to take the leap.”

I resigned and I followed a childhood dream of mine to become the driver of a tractor-trailer, something that had caught my eye as a little girl. My father would always take us on road trips, and I would look at those trucks in amazement and tell myself that one day I was going to drive one. 

It was a huge change. But I was so eager to do it that, if fear did reside, which I don’t recall it residing in me, I didn’t notice it at all. It was exciting to embark upon a transition such as that, especially being a woman. It was empowering to learn how to operate the equipment and to learn the different parts of the equipment under the hood.  

A turn for the worst 

When I started, I was my own boss, an owner-operator under my own authority. 

When I came into trucking, the market was excellent. The freight was plentiful, the rate per mile was unusually good, and the fuel price was good. Today, not so much. It’s taken a turn and it’s taken a turn for the worst for us owner-operators. 

Last year, the first thing I noticed was the rates were not as good, and that’s when fuel started to increase. Now, the freight is just not there and the rates are low, though seasoned people will say that the rates aren’t low, they’re back to normal now after the pandemic. But the fuel price is definitely not normal. 

I’ve just started working with a company until things turn around a little bit for me. It’s for financial reasons that I’m taking this decision. I’m going to give it a try and see what happens and go from there. 

If it doesn’t work, then I can always go back and finish being an owner-operator. 

Never say never, but I don’t see myself going back to teaching in the near future. I miss my children, so what I do is go back into the school system and educate them about a career in trucking. That gives me a fix because I love the youth, I love my students, I love that community. It gives me the fix that I need to be able to go back to them and see them, and then get back out there on the road for the other love that I have found in trucking. 

I love both things. I’m not going to say that I don’t miss it at times, but I don’t see myself going back anytime in the near future.

Windshield therapy

Vanita Johnson, a truck driver based in Atlanta, Georgia, poses with her white truck and a yellow visibility vest.

Vanita Johnson started her career as a truck driver as an owner-operator. Because of rising costs and low freight rates, she’s now taking a break from her own truck to work for a trucking company.

Courtesy of Vanita Johnson

There are challenges. For example, parking is an issue for us. You have to try and get off the road as early as possible to find a good parking spot. I’ve never had to park on an off-ramp or on-ramp, but sometimes, if it’s in the middle of the night, and I find the rest area and all the parking spots are taken, I will have to park on the little strip of road between the rest area and the highway.

Once I was out for two months before coming home, and I missed Thanksgiving, but I was out there just seeing my country that was so pretty.

My favorite part is the freedom of seeing the countryside and meeting all the cool people. 

It’s something about the window. I call it windshield therapy. When I worked in the office, I preferred to have a window so I could see outside. Now I have three windows around me and I can see everything. 

It’s just so cool to watch the terrain change as you go through the different states across the United States of America. 

I live down south, near Atlanta, Georgia, but I’ve taken a ride all the way to the state of Washington, New Mexico and Arizona and California and Colorado. It is just beautiful. There’s a lot of freedom in it. I feel free as a bird. I’m not caged.

Do you work as a truck driver and have a story to share? Email Bianca Giacobone 


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