Maybe This Year – A Retired Teacher’s Advice for the First Days of School

As a new school year begins, I wanted to share a reflection from Marsha Pincus, a retired high school English teacher who worked in Philadelphia public schools for 34 years. Here’s an excerpt from a longer piece on her blog, Her Own Terms:

I retired from full-time teaching six years ago, but the lessons I have learned and the people I have encountered remain with me. I carry their stories in my heart. 

Six years out, here is what I know.

Even in the darkest moments there is always a light shining through to the classroom. Even the angriest, most defiant child harbors a spark of possibility buried in his despair. Human beings have the capacity for enormous resilience.

I have been given one of the greatest gifts any teacher can be given — the privilege to continue to know so many students after they left my classroom. I have been to their college graduations and their weddings. I have seen them earn graduate degrees, become teachers and principals, businessmen and community leaders. I have seen them with their own children and watched as they’ve become role models for other young people in their communities.

I have also been to funerals — more than I want to remember. But such is life in all of its complexity.

Every child, no matter how old or seemingly jaded, starts the school year with the hope that maybe this year will be the one.

Maybe this year I will finally love school like I once did, when I was little and the teacher put smiley faces on my papers and my mother packed me lunch in my Peter Pan lunch box. 

Maybe this year, people will see me for who I am and value what’s inside of me. 

Maybe this year, I will connect with a teacher who will help me understand the ways to realize the dreams I barely let myself imagine except late at night, right before I fall asleep. 

Maybe this year.

Marsha’s essay reminds me of how important it is for teachers to have empathy. This can be easy to forget, or overlook, when there’s so much on teachers’ plates already, especially in the beginning of the school year.

I should know. Looking back on seven years in the classroom, I realize how much better of a teacher I would have been had I focused less on Getting Things Done, and more on helping my students feel seen and heard.

I think Marsha shows the way empathy can help teachers see their roles more clearly.

For more of Marsha’s story — including how many times her car’s been broken into, and the many nicknames she’s had throughout her teaching career — please read her full essay. You should also check out her portfolio on teaching Macbeth on Inside Teaching, a great resource that features units for all class subjects.

Oh, and one more thing –

I’d like to wish all you returning teachers the best for this school year. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself on the first days of school! :)

Related

First Day of School – Talking Back to Harry Wong (Teacher in a Strange Land)

Teaching Is Not a Business (New York Times)

Everything He Needs to Know, He Learned in 4T.

Money Talks, Teachers Walk: Low Pay Is Yet Another Reason Why Teachers Quit

A recent Vox article highlights how little teachers make for their education and experience.

Citing a new report from the Center for American Progress, Libby Nelson writes:

Nationally, average salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years’ experience is $44,900…. In 18 states, teachers with a graduate degree and 10 years in the classroom still make less than $45,000 per year.

As sad as my pay stubs from teaching seemed, these figures made me realize that the average teacher in the U.S. is even more poorly paid than I was.

It gets worse: According to the report, teachers in some states are still making less than $40,000 with a bachelor’s and 10 years of experience.

americanprogress.org

To underscore this point, Nelson points out that “[t]he average teacher in South Dakota with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years of experience earns $33,600 per year  — less than the average South Dakotan auto-repair worker.”

Some of my readers’ stories support these depressing statistics:

Becky Hollibaugh, a teacher with credits beyond her master’s, wrote:

I am in SD [South Dakota] and we are at the bottom of the barrel for pay. I have my master’s plus 45 additional graduate hours after the master’s and my salary is still only $40,000.

Melanie, another reader, wondered whether she should leave teaching for a higher paid job at a CVS store:

While I was in college, I was a shift manager at CVS.  I have recently gotten in touch with my old store managers and I have been given a window of opportunity to become a store manager myself, starting out at $10,000 more a year than what I make now with my master’s in education.

To add my own story: I have less than one year of experience  at my current job, but I get paid about the same as I did as a teacher with 7 years of experience. And my current work is much less stressful than teaching, partly because I no longer have to do unpaid work at home.

Yes, Teacher Appreciation Day is nice, and the intrinsic rewards of teaching are wonderful, but they only go so far.

The Center for American Progress finds that the children of mid-career teachers in some states qualify for federal assistance programs, and that more than 20 percent of teachers in 11 states rely on income from working second jobs during the school year.

As I’ve said before, teachers aren’t saints. They shouldn’t be expected to take vows of poverty, or to do their jobs just “for the kids.” Isn’t it absurd that so many are paying a personal price for doing such vital work?

We all benefit from investing in teachers. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on universal pre-k, we get at least $8 back in increased earnings, lowered spending and reduced crime. Other research shows that states with better educated workers have stronger economies, and that higher levels of education also correlate with improved health and lower mortality rates.  What better returns could you ask for?

As long as low teacher pay persists, however, we can expect more people do their own cost-benefit analysis, like I did, and quit.

Related

Mid- and Late-Career Teachers Struggle with Paltry Incomes (Center for American Progress)

Teachers Get an Appreciation Week; Lawyers Take Home $70,000 More Per Year (Vox)

Last Year, Hedge Fund Managers Earned More than Double Every Kindergarten Teacher Combined (Vox)

Why Teachers’ Salaries Should Be Doubled — Now (The Answer Sheet)

The Teacher Salary Project

Life After Teaching, Part Five: Why I Don’t Need Summers Off Anymore

Even though I left teaching last summer, I didn’t find a new, non-teaching job until September.

That means, for the first time in seven years, school’s out — but I’m working full-time.

I do get a little misty-eyed seeing the adventures my teacher friends on Facebook are having…

But on the whole, I’m OK with “losing” my summers (and all the other long breaks in the school year) because I’ve gained so much in return.

Here’s why leaving teaching to work year-round at a “real” job has been worth it to me:

I get to “sleep in.”

Sleeping In

School started right before 8:00. That meant getting up around 6:30 every day. I think I hated this ritual almost as much as my students did. Now I roll out of bed at the very luxurious 7:45 to get to work by 9:00. Sure the commute can be more crowded, but the extra sleep is glorious.

I get treated like a professional. 

handshake-256

Even though I haven’t finished a full year as a professional writer, I feel so much more appreciated and respected than I ever did in my seven years teaching. My opinion is valued. People thank me for the work I do and notice when the quality of my work is good. When I make a mistake, it feels like just that — not that I’m a bad person. It is much, much easier for me to accept and manage setbacks or changes. I haven’t had a truly bad day on the job.

I don’t have to grade essays.

This week's grading

My old colleagues and I used to joke about the stacks of ungraded papers we carried everywhere — home, the doctor’s office, jury duty, kids’ soccer games and on every vacation before June. I would feel guilty when I didn’t bring grading with me, and when I brought it but avoided the work. Shedding the emotional and physical weight of Ungraded Papers has been freeing.

I get nights and weekends to myself.

relaxing panda

Not only am I essay-free, but I also don’t have to plan lessons, submit lesson plans, or make and grade exams anymore. Unlike previous summers, I’m not taking grad classes, writing curriculum, or preparing to teach a new course, either. Now I relax after dinner and enjoy the whole weekend, including Sundays!

To be fair, I loved the courses I took for my master’s in English, and I would get excited about planning for a new year.  So yes, I am sad about losing these experiences, but I’m willing to accept the loss.

I still get lots of vacation time. 

vacation-with-your-pet-1

I think of it this way: instead of two months off, I have two days and five nights of vacation every week, plus the paid time off from my job. And now that my breaks are more evenly distributed, I don’t need the weeks and months away from work as much as I used to.

Did I mention no grading?

Teachers (especially English teachers!), I know you get what a big deal this is.

Some non-teachers like to point out that teachers get paid a full salary for ten months of work. But the truth is that teachers do at least twelve months of work in ten months! That’s why they need the summer to recover — physically, emotionally and spiritually.

One year after leaving teaching, I am happier, calmer and more well rested than I’ve been in a long time. And I’m even more convinced that teachers richly deserve every day of the summer and more.

Related

Life After Teaching, Part Four: Five Little Things I Look Forward to at My Desk Job

Life After Teaching, Part Three: Yup, I Joined the Club.

Life After Teaching, Part Two: Four Reasons Why I Miss Teaching

Life After Teaching, Part One: Four Reasons Why I’m Better Off

Teachers Definitely Get Summers Off. And That’s OK. (Paul Bruno)

What People Think a Teacher’s Summer Is Like Vs. What It’s Really Like (BuzzFeed)

My Interview with Marie Ardito, a Veteran Teacher Turned Retiree Advocate

marie pic 2 001Marie Ardito spent 31 years in the classroom, where she taught first through eighth grade, spending most of her career as a reading specialist.

When it came time for her to retire, though, it didn’t quite happen.

After two months off, Marie began a new career helping others like her. She’s now an information coordinator for MA Retirees United (MRU), a nonprofit group that educates public sector workers about their retirement rights and benefits. Before that, she was the executive director of another retirement group.

When I read about Marie in a recent New York Times article about “second-act” careers for retired workers, I knew I had to reach out to her. In the article, she says,

 “One of the things that drives me crazy is the comment, ‘I can’t do anything but teach.’ I say, ‘If you can relate to kids, normally you can relate to anyone.’ The skills are transferable.”

This is exactly what I’ve come to realize in my own second-act career as a writer — and what I’ve tried to communicate through posts like Five Skills Teachers Have that Employers Want.

Marie was kind enough to speak with me about her career path and share her take on what teachers have to offer in the workplace. Here are some highlights from our phone conversation.

What made you interested in helping retirees?

Basically I loved teaching. When I was thinking long-range, I knew I had to put some teaching into my retirement. My first thought had been to develop a seminar I would do for seniors, and then a neighbor of mine told me to catch them before retirement. And so I looked at what I had done, saw that I could adapt it, and developed a “Preparing for Retirement” seminar that I started doing years before retirement.

I’m not saying that all of my retirement is teaching — it isn’t. Ever since I was a kid of 16, I’ve had an interest in older people. I had worked in a nursing home, and thought that that was an age group that I someday wanted to reach out to.

I feel that my experience as a teacher enables me to do an excellent job with presenting issues, whether it’s preparing for retirement, living in retirement as an informed retiree, or understanding social security and Medicare, which are all seminars that I do. It enables me to present it in an understandable way, and I feel I’ve gone beyond teaching to a new way of life.

How did you get your current job?

I had been approached by Kathy Kelly  (who was, at the time, the president of the American Federation of Teachers in Massachussetts) to help form a retirement group. So we talked, and MRU was born. We started with a couple of hundred members, and now we have close to 2,500.

So your work after teaching came about because you were approached by people based on work you were already doing.

Yes, and I think this happens a lot to people. What I find over the years, dealing with several members, is that when they’re asked to do something that’s outside the teaching profession, sometimes they’re reluctant. I’ve had them call me and say, “Well, what do I know about that particular thing?”

I know for myself, when I initially took the first job, I was thinking, “I’ve got to speak at board of directors meetings; I’ve got to speak at chapter meetings.” So I think that there’s always a little bit of fear of the unknown and questioning whether you’re really up to the task, but I think what those who have either retired from the teaching profession or are thinking of moving on to something else very often don’t realize, is that the skills that we’ve developed as teachers are so marketable and transferable.

I feel really strongly about this too, based on my own experience with changing careers. So what helped you gain confidence? How can we convince more teachers to be proud of the skills they’ve acquired and help them communicate all that they have to offer to employers?

I think sometimes we forget what we’ve taught. I can remember repeatedly saying to students no matter what age level, grade or subject I was teaching, “There are no stupid questions in my classroom.” And I think that we as educators who have said something similar to that — “Don’t be afraid to ask a question,” or “Don’t be afraid to try something” — I think we don’t hear ourselves when it comes to our own personal life. We look for the safe and the sound and the tried and the true and then realize that maybe putting your feet in the cold water could turn out to be a great adventure.

That’s something I’m still learning, too. In my new career as a writer, I’ve realized all those things that I said to my kids about good writing — they still apply, and I’m still learning them.

Yeah — I can remember, back when I first started teaching, putting bulletin boards up with sayings, and I can remember the saying, “It’s better to try and fail than fail to try.” I think that that’s something we have to learn — that yeah, you might fall on your face, but you can fall eight times or 80 times, but just get up and just keep moving.

And I don’t feel this is limited to teachers. I think people don’t think about what they might like to do — whether it’s retirement or changing careers — and the fact that they can do something else.

As part of one of my 12 hour-long seminars, I used to hold up a peanut. You know, the kind you eat at the ballpark — the double peanut? I’d say to them [the retirees], “I used to be fascinated when I was a kid learning about George Washington Carver.” And I said, “He took this stupid little peanut and came up with 300 different uses for it! Somehow or another, I kinda think big ol’ us must have more than one use — more than one thing that we can do.”

You mentioned your presentation skills earlier. What other skills from teaching have helped you be successful at your job?

I’m involved a lot with legislative issues, and I think the research skills I developed both as a student and as a teacher have been absolutely invaluable. I also worked in different systems, different buildings, so I think that another one of the skills that I’ve found invaluable is to adjust to change. I think every teacher has a little of that, because every year you get a new group of kids.

So what other skills do you think teachers have that set them apart?

It depends on the field they want to change to. I bumped into a woman who worked at an inpatient hospital. She was a retired teacher, and her people skills, her computer skills and her organizational skills helped her. She revamped the whole admissions process for them, and she just got a promotion to some other department.

As someone who successfully transitioned into a new career after retirement, what advice do you have for older teachers who want to begin a new career?

I think you have to have confidence in yourself. You’ve got nothing to get discouraged about, because there is one job out there for you. If you don’t let somebody deflate your balloon, and you believe in you, age is just a number! Especially as teachers, I think we become so engrossed in kids that we forget ourselves. Everybody, no matter what their profession is, has to think, “I can do it!” Like I used to tell the kids at school, “Do the impossible.”

Age is a number, and if you’re bogged down by a number, shame on you! And if someone asks me, “How old are you?”, I have to do the math, because I don’t stop to think how old I am.

You’ve got to have curiosity and always want to know more. Try something new. I don’t care if you’re 65; you can still get a job. If I believe I’ve got something to give, if I can sell myself, they’re going to grab me at 65. It’s attitude.

My Most Popular Post, One Year Later.

It’s been exactly one year since I asked Rose, a former high school biology teacher, to share why she’s better off after leaving teaching. On its first day, the post had seven “likes” and comments on Facebook.

Today, the post has nearly 300 Facebook shares and 60 comments from readers.

How the heck did this happen?

To answer this question, I looked at the top searches that lead to my blog:

1. life after teaching

2. leaving teaching

3. jobs after teaching

If you enter any of these searches in Google, this blog is currently among the first two results.
Yeah, I’m surprised, too!

And based on the comments the post has gotten, I’ve learned that most of my readers are looking for positive stories about leaving teaching, and specific advice about how to make the transition themselves.

Here are some other things I’ve learned from readers of my most popular post:

Some college teachers have it hard, too — especially adjuncts.

When I was teaching high school English, sometimes I would daydream about being a professor. I imagined that all my students would be responsible and eager to learn because they actually wanted to be there, and that I wouldn’t have to deal with many of the issues that made teaching high school exhausting.

Not so much, according to these community college professors:

Martha Kennedy: “In the past five years, I’ve endured near-physical assaults, open insults, complaints, acting out in the middle of class, argument after argument…More and more I feel that I’m chasing after my students (with Blackboard, with social media, with emails) almost BEGGING them to learn, to get their work in on time, to give me something to grade — no WONDER they feel like they do me a favor when they turn in their homework. I never thought I would feel this way and a little part of my heart is broken because I do feel this way…

madmav7492: “My students are resistant to learning, resistant to working, and generally believe they deserve an ‘A’ for no other reason than they exist. While I don’t deal with the bureaucratic b.s, I have to deal with people who believe the course should be catered to them and what they want to do, when they want to do it…

Some teachers in other countries have problems similar to the ones American teachers have.

MakaOku, a teacher from South Africa, wrote: “There are 50 students cramped in a single class, no resources, discipline is impossible,parents are also impossible…”

Steven, a teacher in the UK, wrote: “...I’ve taught maths for the last eight years but have decided enough is enough. Poorly thought through government initiatives, lack of resources, poor student behaviour and lack of sympathy from management have led to this decision…

And the stress of the job is taking an alarming toll on teachers’ health.

A few of the conditions that readers reported:

- stress-induced migraines

- anxiety

- depression

- abdominal pains

- cold sweats

- exhaustion

But perhaps the most heartbreaking story came from Jack Smith, Latin:

I love teaching, but lately I hate being a teacher. Things really changed for me after a fight in my classroom left me with a broken spine and partially paralyzed. I underwent 13 procedures, and I can walk again, but I’m in constant pain. My sons were just 4 and 6, and I’ve never had the chance to even play sports with them because of it. At any rate, after my injury, the school system basically punished me, and now 5 years later, they’re saying that my performance isn’t what it should be…

So what’s going on here? Isn’t teaching supposed to reward, not punish, those who sacrifice so much for their students? What’s driving this growing search for Life After Teaching?

I think Poodlepal gets at the root of the problem. A veteran teacher at both public and private schools, she writes:

…Teachers are the villains; no bad grade is ever earned, no disciplinary action is ever warranted. It is the parents, kids and administrators against you. I no longer have the will to fight a three-enemy war…

Teachers, does this struggle sound familiar? If you are still happy with teaching, how do you stay motivated? And what do you do to take care of yourself?

Check out the original post for the full conversation.

Related:

How to Keep Teachers Happy (this blog)

Milestones and Mohammed’s Radio (Martha Kennedy)

Why I Quit Teaching to Become a Bartender (Patrick Anderson, Jr.)

How to Break a Teacher (21st Century Cynic)

Countdown to Lift-Off

Teachers, take heart! In less than two months, you’ll be free.

Free to trade your teacher bag for a beach bag, or better yet, a fanny pack…

fanny pack

Don’t forget matching bangles.

swap your textbooks for a beach read or a glossy magazine…

beachreading

Just you, David Sedaris, and the sea…

ditch your gradebook for your journal, sketchpad, passport (or all three!) …

passport book

Time to add new stamps to your collection!

trade school projects for home projects…

garden-bounty

A little gardening, perhaps?

– And those hours of grading?

Poof!

How about hours of Netflix watching, sunbathing or sitting in a coffee shop to just…
you know, drink coffee?

No grading to see here!

No grading to see here!

Don’t you feel lighter already? :)

And for another boost to cap off Teacher Appreciation Week, check out Thank-a-teacher.org.

It’s an app for sending teachers thank-you notes created by engineering students at Olin College!

I discovered it via Twitter amid all the #thankateacher tweets.

From the website:

“We want more people to look back and thank their teachers; they put a lot of energy into helping us get to where we are today.”

Amen! And let’s keep the good vibes going: please send me any thank-you notes you’ve received. I’d love to publish them!

 

A Reader Asks: Should I Quit Teaching if I Can Make More Working at CVS?

Melanie is a fifth-grade math and science teacher at a Title I public school in Florida
where 79 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch.

She’s looking for advice from fellow educators – past and present – on whether she should leave teaching.

Here’s her story:

After teaching for seven years, I have come to hate my job. 

I dread waking up in the morning. The children put me in a bad mood.  The stress of being held accountable for situations out of my control puts me in a bad mood.  Never feeling like I am successful at my career has put me in what seems like a permanent bad mood. 

I’m tired of not being recognized for good work.  I am tired of not being able to “move up” in a company even though I work hard.  I am just tired!

While I was in college, I was a shift manager at CVS.  I have recently gotten in touch with my old store managers and I have been given a window of opportunity to become a store manager myself, starting out at $10,000 more a year than what I make now with my master’s in education.  I’m not sure whether I should take this opportunity.

When I think about store management, I start feeling happy.  I enjoy daydreaming about mastering my job duties and being recognized for them.  Everything about this seems appealing except for the hours. 

I am only 28 years old, and I want a family one day.  Teaching offers a great schedule for having children, with holidays, weekends and evenings always at home.  Store management does not offer such a stable, family-friendly schedule.

Can anyone provide me with a perspective that may help me make a decision?

Thank you!

Those who teach or have taught: What advice can you offer Melanie?

I know that lots of teachers work retail jobs on nights and weekends or during the summer. Do you find retail work relaxing compared to teaching? How else do the two compare?

Here’s my take:

Both retail and teaching require standing on your feet for hours. You also need to interact with large groups of people, manage a wide range of personalities, and cater to people’s needs and complaints in both situations. I know this from making Blizzards at Dairy Queen in high school, checking through long lines of customers at Target in college, and teaching high school for seven years.

So working in retail full-time will be tiring too, but in a much less personal (and more manageable) way. Sure, you’ll have to deal with old ladies complaining about discounts that didn’t scan, or hear kids whining to their parents, but those kids won’t be complaining to you or about you. They are no longer your responsibility. I think that could be really freeing.

But you won’t get to do much creative or intellectually challenging work. And you won’t feel the joy or accomplishment that can come from a great lesson or a funny moment you share with your students.

You say you want to be able to spend evenings and holidays at home when you have kids, but I don’t think that means you have to stay in teaching right now, or that you can never go back to it if you leave.

You’re only 28! What if you try the retail job for a year? You can go back to teaching when, and if, you’re ready. In the meantime, you can try something new, get your energy back and make more money.

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want

Teachers are some of the most hardworking, patient and reliable workers out there. I know this and other people who’ve taught know this, but if you’re  a teacher looking to start over, how can you persuade employers outside education?

Hiring managers often screen out candidates with backgrounds that don’t match the job description exactly, and it’s safest to choose someone with direct experience rather than take a chance on a career changer.

Another hurdle is the “lazy teacher”/”teaching is easy” stereotype, and we’ve all heard the “must be nice to get summers off” line more times than we care to count.

So when people see “teacher” on your resume, they may think all you do is show movies while reading the newspaper in the back of the classroom; or stand at a lectern and drone like Ben Stein; or sing songs about bunnies to an adoring crowd of small children.

You must show them they’re wrong about you.

To do this, you need to take an inventory of your transferable skills from teaching.  This will help you craft stronger resumes and cover letters and prepare for job interviews with better focus. The list below is a basic one; I hope it’ll help you create a complete list of all the valuable skills you have to offer.

1. strong written and oral communication skills

Seems obvious, right? But you still need to explain how the lessons you delivered each day are good examples of your ability to make complex material engaging, understandable and persuasive to a general audience.

You should also list examples of the many types of writing you’ve tailored to different audiences: e-mails to parents, administration and support staff; individualized feedback to students; lesson plans and class materials revised for different skill levels; and so on.

Include any presentations you’ve made at professional development conferences, faculty meetings and board of education meetings as well.

Side note: As ingrained as it may be, please resist the urge to use education jargon such as “differentiated instruction,” “backwards design” and “multiple intelligences” in your resume; these terms will mean nothing to the resume reader. Plus, you’re no longer looking for a teaching job!

2. strong interpersonal skills

Again, even though it’s a no-brainer for those of us who’ve taught, you’ll need to show how experienced you are at working with all kinds of people in a complex organization.

Great examples of this: co-teaching; team-teaching; working with in-class support teachers, paraprofessionals and guidance counselors; and collaborating with teachers in your department and in other departments. Any projects that came out of this work will help strengthen your case.

You should also demonstrate how you’ve handled difficult people and situations with professionalism, tact and integrity. Go into interviews prepared with at least two anecdotes to illustrate how you defused a potentially chaotic classroom environment or changed a relationship with a student or parent for the better. You could also emphasize your experience with working in varied environments, such as middle school and high school; suburban and urban districts; teaching special education and Advanced Placement classes; or all of the above.

3. demonstrated ability to work independently

Whether it’s designing a course, a unit or even a 40-minute class, effective classroom planning demands time and discipline. So does giving students feedback, especially when you have more than 100 students, as middle school and high school teachers often do. Some teachers are so industrious, they get all their planning and grading done at school. Other teachers devote nights and weekends to schoolwork after putting in at least eight hours during the day. In most cases, there’s no one who can do the work for you, or even share responsibility for it.

So how do you demonstrate this accountability to employers? My advice is to quantify what you’ve done wherever possible — from your student load, class size, course load and even how much grading you do. On my resume, I wrote that I graded about 1,000 essays a year. Take that, lazy teacher stereotype!

4. demonstrated problem solving skills/ability to learn new things quickly

Unfortunately, the lazy teacher stereotype is hard to shake. One persistent belief is that teachers use the same tired lessons every year, or just make students do worksheets from a textbook.

The many good teachers I know always try to do better. They change lessons that didn’t work, revise their curriculum or seek professional development opportunities in the summer, and even adjust their plans in real-time as they “read” what’s going on in the classroom.

In interviews, be prepared to explain how you solved problems, faced new challenges and handled unexpected circumstances. Use your best learning experiences from teaching to demonstrate how well you can handle all the responsibilities of the position you want, and adapt smoothly to a new career and work environment.

5. demonstrated ability to work under pressure/in a fast paced, deadline-driven environment

Again, it’s helpful to quantify here to demonstrate the many competing tasks you were able to deliver on deadline.

How many different lessons did you prepare each day?

How often did you submit lesson plans?

How often did you submit progress reports and grades?

What other forms of feedback did you provide and how often?

Once you’ve gathered this information, and gotten lots of practice with sharing it, you’ll start to understand — and project — how well teaching has prepared you for your next job.

Resources

A Kaleidoscope of Career Alternatives for Teachers (Cleveland State University)

Transferable Skills Checklist (University of Toledo)

How Informational Interviews Helped Me Find a Job After Teaching

I found the posting for my current job through indeed.com. Two weeks after submitting my application online, I was contacted for an interview. Two weeks after the interview, they called me with an offer. As I mentioned in my last post, this opportunity came nearly three years after I started exploring the idea of leaving teaching.

At first glance, it looks like I changed careers all by my amazing self, but that’s far from the case.

Besides pure luck, I have to credit the 25 people who were willing to talk to me about their careers in informational interviews.

With their help, I was able to research new jobs, develop non-teaching experience and find out what employers are looking for. If you’re looking to do the same, I’d recommend that you spend as much time on informational interviews as you do on job applications. In fact, on those nights and weekends when you’ll do anything but schoolwork, try researching who your first (or next) informational interviewee might be. It’s much more fun, and more productive, than applying to jobs without a clear direction.

More on why informational interviews were indispensable to my post-teaching job search:

They helped me figure out what I wanted — and what I didn’t want.

I interviewed public relations executives, marketing managers, publicists, writers, editors and even a special assistant to a university chancellor. All were generous with their time and willing to share how they got their jobs, what they liked and disliked about them, as well as the challenges facing their respective fields. Four of the people I interviewed were former teachers. All said they had enjoyed teaching, but none expressed the desire to go back to the classroom! Talking to them made me believe that starting my own fulfilling career after teaching was actually possible.

With each interview, I also began to figure out what I wanted in my next job:

- one that would let me keep sharing good stories (I was an English teacher);

- work on a small team with smart, motivated people;

- work independently on concrete assignments;

- become a better writer; and

- ideally, do something to help people.

I made a mental list of things I did not want from my next job as well:

- work on nights and weekends

- daily interaction with a large number of people

- responsibilities that are emotionally draining (Can you tell I’m an introvert?)

My new job knocks it out of the park on all counts!

They helped me revise my resume and build my non-teaching resume.

During each informational interview, I asked what skills people used in their jobs, what types of people their jobs were best suited for, how I might break into their fields – and I took notes on everything. This helped me tailor my resume (and cover letter) to emphasize what the marketing people said, for example, when I applied to marketing positions.

At the end of each meeting, I asked if they knew anyone else I might speak to. In most cases, people did recommend others to contact, and many made introductions on my behalf as well.

Here’s where the simple math of the process will come to bear: The more informational interviews you do, the more people will know that you are looking for a job. The more people that know you are looking for a job, the more likely you’ll be connected to new opportunities.

For example, even though I wanted to do something related to writing, I didn’t have any clips that were less than five years old. But, because several people I interviewed introduced me to editors who were looking for freelance writers, I was able to get new assignments and start repairing that weakness in my resume. I also pitched several stories to one editor I interviewed that ended up getting published.

They connected me to job leads and interviews. 

Please do NOT go into an informational interview and expect the person to give you a job, i.e. do not utter the words, “Do you think you can hire me?” or “Do you know anyone who can get me a job?”

Your main focus should be information gathering: Do you like the job as this person describes it? Do you think you might be interested in this company or this industry?

However, you might discuss what you like and what you do well; your interviewee might ask you what kinds of jobs you’re looking for; and you might even offer to do something that will be useful to both of you (like when I pitched the editor stories that she was interested in publishing).

In my case, several people e-mailed me more than a year after we’d spoken with information about jobs at their companies. Even though I didn’t end up applying to all of them, or getting the ones I applied to, I was still grateful for the information and the opportunity to interview for non-teaching jobs for the first time.

They helped me practice interviewing. 

Every informational interview was an informal conversation that helped me prepare for the real thing.  Each one made me feel more comfortable with meeting new people in a professional context and asking them job-related questions. I also got practice with talking about myself, including explaining how my teaching experience and interests matched what they said was needed to succeed at their jobs.

Informational interviews are also a good time to rehearse your answer to the question that I got asked on every single job interview: “So what made you decide to leave teaching?”

My advice? However unhappy you may be with teaching, stick to the positive and try to tailor your answer to what you learned through informational interviews.

EXTRA: Three Things You Must Do for Every Informational Interview

1. At the end of the interview, ask, “Can you recommend anyone I might speak to?”

This can be a great source of new people to interview. And even if someone says no, he doesn’t know anyone, it doesn’t hurt to ask!

2. Say thank you.

If you’ve ever written a recommendation for a student without a word of thanks in return for your effort and time, you know how meaningful a sincere note of appreciation can be. It also doesn’t hurt to get your interviewee coffee or cupcakes as a small token of your thanks.

3. Follow up.

Update your contacts periodically on your job search with short, personal e-mails (not mass e-mails). Let them know what actions you’ve taken, what jobs you’re looking at and anything they said or did that has helped you. This will keep you on their radar, and let people know that the time they spent on you was worthwhile.

Related:

Mastering the Informational Interview (New York Times)

My Pet Peeves About Informational Interviews (New York Times)

Next up, a post on transferable skills from teaching!

How I Got My Post-Teaching Job: By the Numbers

If you’ve been thinking about quitting teaching, you already know that the mental energy needed to explore the question, “Well, what else could I do with my life?” is often depleted by the time you get home from school. It’s hard enough to change careers with a normal job, but after a long day of delivering lessons, grading, planning, dealing with conflicts and attending meetings? Fuggedaboutit.

For me, it took almost three years of work (and a whole lot of luck) to make the jump.

OK, so I didn’t apply to jobs every day (not even every week), but I was teaching full time and finishing a master’s degree. I also moved twice, changed schools and got married during that time.

I hope sharing how I found a fresh start will help you figure out whether leaving teaching (or taking a break from it) is right for you. If it is, I hope to help you transition faster than I did — or at least be patient with yourself if it takes you a year (or three) to begin your own Life After Teaching.

For now, here’s a tally of the results of those three years:

  • 94 job applications
  • 5 job leads from contacts
  • 6 job interviews
  • 3 months unemployed
  • 2 weeks between my last teaching paycheck and my first non-teaching paycheck (Yess.)
  • 1 job offer 

Next time, I’ll explain why informational interviews were, hands down, the most valuable tool in my job search.

Fellow former teachers — what has Life After Teaching been like for you, and how did you get there? Has it been worth it?