Twelve Skills That Will Help You Find Life After Teaching

Please help me welcome Ken Ronkowitz, an unretired educator, poet, and prolific blogger who taught middle and high school English in New Jersey* for 25 years before starting a second career in higher education.

In today’s guest post, Ken shares why he left k-12 education, how he found a “parachute” to life after teaching — and the 12 skills that will help you make your own jump.

Strap in and enjoy!:)

*Fun (or perhaps not-so-fun) fact: Chris Christie was one of his students.


Jeff Selingo was an editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education, but left to become a book author and columnist, still focusing on colleges. His new book is titled There Is Life After College. The title is not a question — Is there life after college? — but a clear statement that there is an afterlife. That’s the way I view my lifetime of teaching. There is an afterlife.

I don’t hate teaching. But I left teaching. I had been teaching middle and high school for 25 years. I still enjoyed it — most days. I wasn’t “burned out.” I told my wife, also a teacher, that I felt like some days I was going to school in the morning, but some days it felt more like going to work.

Twenty-five is a magic number for teachers in New Jersey because it means you are entitled to your full pension. (A benefit that is no longer there for new teachers, thanks to one of my former students, Governor Chris Christie.) I decided that I was going to leave as sitcom show stars I admired like Mary Tyler Moore and Jerry Seinfeld had — while the ratings and reviews were still good.

Red, yellow and blue parachute against cloudy sky (5278205683)

I had no real plan for what would come next. One of my colleagues was incredulous. “No one leaves without knowing what comes next,” he said.

“It’s kind of like jumping out of an airplane,” I replied. “Pretty exhilarating at first. I just have to hope I have a good parachute.”

My parachute was that a) I could collect my pension if need be (early and with a penalty, but in an emergency, an option) b) my wife was going to continue to teach and was okay with me taking some time to find something else. And, most importantly, c) I knew I had marketable skills.

Though I wasn’t a math or science teacher with STEM skills that could work for me, I was a very good English teacher. I am a good writer and communicator who had also gotten a master’s degree in film and video, and had picked up a good amount of computer and technology skills along the way.

One key moment in believing in my skill set had occurred a few years earlier when I first considered leaving teaching. A close friend worked for AT&T and said that if I was interested in applying there, I should look at their skills list that was used to sort résumés. The list contained a good number of skills I’d never seen before, including something called “platform skills.”

Platform skills, I discovered, is the name for presentation behaviors that a trainer uses to transmit content effectively. They are a blend of skills you need to do training and make effective presentations.

“You have no problem getting up in front of a group on a platform and talking. Most of us are not comfortable with that,” my friend told me.

He is correct. Many surveys show that speaking in front of a group is the number-one fear of most people. As Jerry Seinfeld liked to point out, fear of death is number two.

Platform skills are more than just being able to get up in front of a group to speak.

How many of these dozen skill questions can you answer with “yes”?

1. Can you be in front of a group of 5, 50, or 500 and be calm and professional?

2. Can you clearly communicate the session’s topic, goal, and relevance to the participants at the beginning of the session?

3. Can you use humor, analogies, examples, metaphors, stories, and delivery methods other than lecture or PowerPoint to engage an audience?

4. Can you facilitate large- and small-group discussions?

5. Can you give constructive oral and written feedback?

6. Can you plan and deliver presentations that convey complex information in a clear, accessible way?

7. Can you use an appropriate variety of audiovisual technologies to present information?

8. Can you establish and implement grading evaluation criteria?

9. Can you respond to audience and supervisor feedback in a timely fashion?

10. Can you work independently without supervision?

11. Can you write documents tailored for specific audiences?

12. Can you set and meet weekly, monthly, and yearly goals?

Every good teacher I know has those skills. Sure, some of us have more of some skills and less of others, but we’re not missing any of them. Those twelve platform skills are a very good starting place for building a résumé and preparing for an interview.

Moving from teaching to training is no great leap. It is a fairly natural one. I know several teachers who went that direction or became involved in jobs related to education, like academic publishing. But those skills also work for human resources and other business applications.

When I left teaching, I decided to take the summer off and not really look seriously for a job until the fall. I spent the summer working on a new résumé and sifting through the boxes of plans and lessons that I had taken from my classroom “just in case I needed them one day.”

That August, I saw an ad for a position as a director of instructional technology at a nearby university. After I did some searching on what that actually meant, I realized that I had some experience with all the requirements, though no experience in higher education. I applied, interviewed, and was in my new job before the summer was even over.

I have worked for that university, NJIT, in different capacities ever since. Twenty-five years teaching in a public school system had prepared me well for ever-changing priorities, new programs and having to learn new skills while I was using them in my job.

Besides supervising staff and student workers, I helped design courses, ran faculty training in both tech tools and pedagogy, chaired committees, and even started teaching a few classes a year.

I also picked up new skills in web design, coding, audio and video production, social media, and grant writing. I was offered a job managing a large grant at another college and took it for five years. I started my own consulting LLC in order to do training for other colleges, and took on web and social media clients.

This year, I think of myself as semi-retired (or, as my wife describes it, “someone with poor retirement skills”). I’m no longer looking for any full-time gig. I have my pension and benefits and a new 401(k) from my higher ed years, and new projects keep finding me. They keep me busy and add some income, but I turn down as many offers as I accept.

I still teach a course or two each year. Often, those courses are graduate courses that are online, but I still get energized getting in front of a class or group face-to-face. That’s why it saddens me to read reports that a strong majority of teachers surveyed about the profession say they are “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to encourage graduates to become teachers. That means they are in a job that they wouldn’t even recommend to others.

If it’s the case that you aren’t as passionate, idealistic or excited about teaching as you once were, I think you should change professions. Of course, I would say the same thing if you worked as an accountant, landscaper or pharmacist.

I had a former student who had worked for three years on Wall Street visit me. He said he had loved my class, loved literature and writing, and was not happy in his work. “Is a love of literature and writing a good enough reason to become an English teacher?” he asked me.

Well, I love those things too, but I had to tell him no, that’s not enough to be a teacher.  Teaching is, for better and worse, a lot more than just a love and knowledge of subject matter. Though knowledge and passion for a subject matters more and more as you move up the grades and into high school and beyond, all levels of teaching require so many other skills, and much of your time will be spent doing things other than actually teaching your subject.

Maybe to a ninth-grade teacher, college seems like an easier gig. Only a few classes per day. Self-motivated learners. High-powered content. But that’s as much of a misconception as the idea that a high school teacher is done with work at 2:30 pm, has lots of vacations and summers off, and can teach the same lessons a few times a day for only 45 minutes. Teaching isn’t easy at any level or in any subject.

Whether you want to stay in education or try something completely different, if teaching is making you miserable, give notice as soon as possible. You can leave. You should leave. And there are other jobs that you are qualified to do. Prepare your parachute and jump.

Related

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want

Instagram It: How To Tailor Your Career Change Resume in Three Steps

Ten Action Verbs That Will Make Your Post-Teaching Resume Pop 

What It Takes to Find Life After Teaching: Advice from a Former Science Teacher

Life After Teaching Interview: Meg Olsen, Social Justice Advocate

Life After Teaching Interview: Marie Ardito, Retiree Advocate

Six Teachers-Turned-Politicians You Need to Know

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: those who teach can do just about anything. That is, if you can engage a roomful of kids — and help them learn in the process — who’s to say you can’t take over the world?

Still, we could all use a reminder of the great things teachers can accomplish beyond the classroom.

Behold: six former teachers who made their name in politics. They include a prime minister, a president and a first lady who happens to be my personal hero.

1. Justin Trudeau

It’s true: the recently elected prime minister of Canada has “just” a bachelor’s in education and literature. (Hooray for English/education majors!) Trudeau taught elementary math as well as high school French, humanities and drama for three years at a private school, and also substitute taught at a public school. He’s said he became a teacher to have “a positive influence on the world,” and based on the new gig, that goal still stands. Among his first accomplishments as prime minister: selecting Canada’s first cabinet with an equal number of men and women and welcoming Syrian refugees to the country.

2. Elizabeth Warren

You might know that U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren used to be a Harvard law professor, but did you know her first job after college was teaching special needs students at a public elementary school? Warren has called teaching her “first love,” and said her time in the classroom makes her “appalled at the frequent attacks on public schoolteachers in this country.” As a senator, Warren has championed the middle class, earning the nickname “Sheriff of Wall Street” for her efforts to protect consumers from corrupt financial practices.

Warren teaching at Harvard

3. Mark Takano

Representative Mark Takano (D-California) is a former public high school teacher who taught British literature for more than 20 years (Another huzzah for English teachers!). He became Congress’s first openly gay person of color when he was elected to office in 2012. Takano serves on the House’s Education Workforce committee as well as its Veterans Affairs committee and Science, Space and Technology committee — but he’s probably most famous for his teacher humor: In 2013, Takano’s red-penned remarks on draft legislation went viral. Check out his Tumblr page for more witty political commentary.

4. Mary McLeod Bethune

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary McLeod Bethune was an influential educator and civil rights activist. As a key figure in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet” and founding president of the National Council of Negro Women, Bethune helped advance education and employment for African Americans. But Bethune began her career as a teacher. The daughter of former slaves — and the only one of 17 children her parents could afford to send to school — knew the barriers facing African Americans acutely. Her many accomplishments include founding a school for girls from poor black families, which started with just five students but quickly expanded through Bethune’s leadership. That school eventually became what is now Bethune-Cookman University. In her last will and testament, Bethune wrote, “Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.”

Bethune with Bethune-Cookman students

5. Lyndon B. Johnson

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights ActMedicare and Medicaid were all signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson. His vision for a “Great Society” also included landmark legislation promoting education for all — most notably, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act, which continue to provide federal financial support for the nation’s poorest students. Johnson’s teaching experience helped inspire his devotion to progressive ideals. As he explained in a 1965 speech:

“My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school…. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry…. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams [then] that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country…. But now I do have that chance… [and] I mean to use it.”

Lyndon Johnson, the teacher, and his students in 1928

6. Eleanor Roosevelt

eleanor-roosevelt1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Had to save my favorite for last!

I’ve collected books about “ER,” visited the national historic site devoted to her and FDR, and devoured the recent Ken Burns seven-part documentary, “The Roosevelts” (catch it on Netflix!).

I admire Eleanor for her lifelong activism on behalf of underrepresented groups, including African Americans (she considered Mary McLeod Bethune a good friend). And I love that, before serving as First Lady, ER was a teacher! For six years, ER taught history, literature and public affairs at the Todhunter School for Girls in New York City.

Eleanor Roosevelt (fourth from left) with Todhunter students

Eleanor Roosevelt (fourth from left) with Todhunter students

Eleanor was so devoted to teaching, in fact, that she kept at it throughout FDR’s two terms as governor of New York. This meant grading papers and lesson planning on the long commutes between Albany and NYC. Read more of my gushing about ER’s work as an educator here.

Know of any other inspiring teachers-turned-politicians? Please share their stories below!

“I Hate Teaching”: My Most Popular Search Term in 2015

I would not have guessed before today that “I hate teaching” would be the top search leading readers to my blog this year. I’ve never tagged a post with that phrase, nor have I uttered it in any of my posts (until now, of course).

But have I had the thought? Have I, out of frustration and fatigue, said “I hate teaching” in conversations with my husband or close friends?

You betcha.

Which is why I was surprised, but not shocked, that “I hate teaching” had grown from barely a whisper in the blog’s search terms in 2012-2013, to a solemn declaration (fifth place) in 2014, and finally, to an anguished cry as this year’s most popular search.

As 2015 draws to a close, this blog is currently the first Google result for “I hate teaching.” 

i hate teaching search Screen Shot

A bit more digging shows that a comment left by Ex-teacher back in June 2014 was the hook:

“…. I used to google the sentence ‘I hate teaching’ or ‘teaching is ruining my life’ pretty much every day. I felt like a loser for not being more motivated about the job. I felt guilty and scared to move on to another type of job. I quit because of my health but I should have quit way sooner when I started feeling miserable every day about going to work and I lost my ability to sleep and eat well because of stress….”  

“I hate teaching” is not something you’re supposed to say — not in public, and certainly not to other teachers, even if you feel similarly disheartened. 

You’re supposed to focus on the rewards of teaching, the needs of the students and the greater mission of educating our youth. And you’re supposed to be grateful to have summers off.

But Ex-teacher said what many of us have only thought or shared in private. By breaking the taboo, this reader has helped others, myself included, feel less alone. The comment ends by encouraging others to protect their own well-being:

“I know many discouraged teachers will end up on this forum trying to decide what to do and being afraid of ruining their career. My opinion is the following: if your heart races like crazy and you get a sick feeling in your stomach every time you walk into that classroom and it keeps getting worse every day, it’s probably time to walk out. There is life after teaching and it’s not bad at all. I now buy less things because I have less money but I also have a lot less stress and that is worth more than money can buy.”

In 2015, my second year away from the classroom, I’ve come to a similar conclusion. Life After Teaching may not be an automatic ticket to fortune or professional fulfillment, but it can offer a better work-life balance that will help you take care of yourself and your loved ones.

With those rewards in mind, I wish you the best in the New Year. Whether you’re searching for Life After Teaching or a better way to live with teaching, I hope 2016 finds you healthier, happier — and Googling the things you love. 

Your Back-to-School Inspiration: Janet Mino, the Amazing Teacher in “Best Kept Secret”

“Best Kept Secret” isn’t like other teacher movies. For starters, there’s no Hollywood actor as the heroic lead. Nor are there students standing on desks reciting poetry, or street-wise sarcastic teens who discover feelings they never felt before. Heck, there isn’t even an exposé of those “bad” teachers lurking in our “failing” public school system.

Instead, there’s the radiant smile and steely resolve of Janet Mino, a real-life teacher of students with autism. There are long drives in Janet’s red Nissan Altima, and meetings with parents, social workers, and program directors.

And of course, there are her students, whose earnestness will disarm you, and whose stories will move you.

Mino teaches at JFK School in Newark, New Jersey. In the movie, we are shown familiar images of the inner city: abandoned lots, liquor stores and row houses. But we also see daffodils sprouting through a chain-link fence. This last image is a fitting metaphor for JFK, a public school for students with special needs that calls itself the city’s “best kept secret.” Throughout the film, we see how Mino — and her students — shine brightly in unlikely and unforgiving circumstances.

It was refreshing to see the physical, mental and emotional work of teaching portrayed onscreen. Mino greets each student with unflagging enthusiasm as they enter her room, patiently reminding them of how to return her greetings (“Hi, Ms. Mino.”). She reinforces other social skills like communicating what they want, where they live and what they like to do. And she diffuses potential crises with calm and empathy. When one student, Robert, lashes out at his aide, she directs him to express his feelings instead of punishing him.

The challenges of teaching — and Mino’s big heart — are magnified by the fact that her students have severe disabilities and face an uncertain future. In New Jersey, graduating adults with autism “fall off the cliff,” or “age out” of the public school system after age 21. Mino’s students are particularly at risk since their families don’t have the resources to ensure their children will continue to be nurtured as they have been at JFK. For instance, many of the parents send their children to adult day care centers because they offer transportation services — and are more affordable than other programs with more stimulating environments.

Erik, the highest functioning of the students featured, lives in a foster home because his biological mother cannot care for him. He is a sweet-natured and enthusiastic 21 year old who adores his mom and dreams of working at Burger King after graduation.

Mino is there for Erik and her other students at every step. She makes home visits to check in with parents and teach her kids how to use technology that helps them voice their emotions and thoughts. She also visits different programs to find out how former students are doing and evaluate whether other students will be happy there. In short, she fights for her students as if they were her own children.

This compassion and advocacy make Mino extraordinary — but we also see the personal price she pays. Like so many great teachers, Mino never stops giving of her time and energy — and feels every one of their setbacks as her own. It’s clear that, without knowing what she’s getting paid, it’s not nearly enough.

“Best Kept Secret” is a testament to the vital work that teachers do, the sacrifices they make, and the staggering obstacles that face our most vulnerable students. Whether you’re beginning your first year of teaching or your last, I hope the movie helps renew your sense of purpose in the classroom.

Catch it on Netflix while you can, or download it on iTunes. You can also help support Mino’s dream to open a center for young adults with autism by donating to her Gofundme page.

Related

No Longer a Secret: Montclairian Janet Mino’s Work with Autistic Children (NorthJersey.com/Montclair Times)

Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Scholastic)

Meet a Real Teacher: Karen Trindle (Those Who Teach)

Outstanding Special Effects (Those Who Teach)

Schooled (New Yorker)

Sunday Book Review: “The Prize” by Dale Rusokoff (New York Times)

Life After Teaching, Part Seven: Five (More) Things I Learned in Year Two

Last time, I wrote about how teaching is still woven into who I am, two years after quitting. Like it or not, my teacher side shows in my thinking, the clothes I wear, and, it turns out, my accessories.

Since the last post, I remembered that I’d also been carrying one of my teacher bags to work. It’s a black canvas number roomy enough for several sets of papers.

Though I’ve switched to a smaller bag that better fits my essay-free life, I’m still thinking about what I’ve learned after leaving the classroom. Here are a few more items I’m adding to the list:

1. Not teaching has helped me make healthier choices, but there’s a catch.

I start most days with fruit and yogurt, instead of the sad cereal bars or bagel, egg and cheese bombs I used to eat when I had time for breakfast at school.

a much healthier way to fuel the day

a much healthier way to fuel the day

My lunch break also gives me ample time to eat a complete meal and take a long walk around the block.

The downside? On an average day, I consume a lot more calories than I used to. What’s more, my cushy office job is actually too cushy: I spend more than six hours a day sitting! (Cue the tiniest of violins.)

But seriously: I went from never worrying about sitting too much at work, to knowing every day at the office is boosting my risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

I like to think that my lowered levels of everyday stress still put me ahead, but sometimes I’m not so sure.

2. Teaching has had a lasting negative impact on my confidence.

Even though I’ve written about being proud of what you’ve gained from teaching, it’s been a challenge to follow my own advice. Years of answering to hundreds of people  — be they students, parents, or administrators — often made me question my judgment. In fact, the longer I taught, the less confident I felt in what I was doing. As my old colleague used to say, “Teaching makes me feel bad about myself every day.”

I wish I could tell you I’ve left all that negativity behind, but it still gets to me. I continue to doubt myself in small moments and major ones. And despite knowing better, I sometimes think about how I wasn’t “good enough” to last as a teacher. In two more years, I hope to be more comfortable in my choices, including my choice to quit teaching.

3. At the same time, teaching made me feel powerful.

When I think back to those seven years in the classroom, I wonder, how did I do that? How did I stand in front of those students each day? How did I grade hundreds of papers each year? How did I get up for work all those times when I dreaded it? Part of my self-doubt now is feeling that I’m no longer strong enough to teach.

4. Making up for lost time isn’t easy.

The calls avoided because I was too drained to talk to anyone; the visits cut short because I was anxious to catch up on grading; the times I was impatient, cranky and generally not fun to be with — I see how they added up over the years. Knowing that I let my personal relationships suffer because of teaching makes me sad. I’m trying to be a better wife, daughter and friend by calling, initiating plans and showing up more — but it’s going to take a lot more work to close that seven-year gap.

5. The most surprising thing I’ve learned? I’m not content with “just” an office job.

When I first quit teaching, I thought a quiet cubicle job was all I’d ever need. I was wrong, of course. I’ve attempted to fill the intellectual, physical and emotional space that teaching used to occupy with cooking classes, an improv class, several seasons of league volleyball, mentoring and signing up for Skillshare.

I’ve also been thinking about my old teacher bag:

a second life for the old teacher bag

The bag was a gift from a fellow English teacher. She had designed a senior project that asked students to take positive social action in the world, and invited me to use the assignment with my own seniors. I remember enjoying the experience of helping my students develop their action projects and present them to the school.

Toting the bag as a non-teacher, I felt its white-hot letters prodding me with questions like: What are you doing now to be socially responsible? and How can you make an impact beyond the classroom? 

Two years in, I’m still figuring out Life After Teaching. Though I’m not planning to return to teaching, I know it’s the most significant public service I’ve done. This year I learned that I don’t want it to be the last.

Related

Life After Teaching, Part Six: Five Things I Learned in Year Two

As I got dressed for work one recent morning, my husband glanced at me. “That’s a teacher outfit,” he said. I was skeptical at first: The black cardigan and blue silk dress was an ensemble I’d worn many times to school, but what was so special about it? When I looked in the mirror, though, my clothes did read “English teacher” somehow.

the outfit that gave me away...

The outfit that gave me away

Two years out of the classroom, my closet is still full of “teacher outfits”: sensible sweaters, knee-length skirts and flats. As another school year has ended, I’ve wondered: how much does the teacher in me still show — and how much of the “old me” has been boxed up for good?

Here’s what I’ve discovered in my second year after teaching:

1. I miss being around kids.

There were many days when my students’ teenage attitudes and behavior — and my responsibility for their actions — wore me down. When I started my office job, I rejoiced in my newly calm, predictable work environment. In the past few months, though, I’ve been missing interacting with young people. At their best, teenagers are sweet, silly and spontaneous in a way that puts water cooler conversation to shame.

2. I miss being a mentor.

I also miss the exciting exchange of ideas that could happen in a stellar class, and the satisfaction of helping a student. It’s why I applied to be a mentor for my local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters last fall. Since March, I’ve been meeting with my Little Sister twice a month. Anna is 12 years old and loves to climb, run and play basketball. I enjoy talking with her about what’s going on at school, helping her with her homework and encouraging her to be assertive and considerate of others.

3. My memories of teaching are fading, for better and for worse.

I remember being up all night thinking about some disaster at school — like a failed lesson or uncomfortable conversation — and how I should have handled it differently. Now I’ve forgotten most of the names of the students involved and many of the details of what made me so upset.

Not surprisingly, I’ve also been getting much fewer school anxiety dreams. I still got them regularly last year, but now they pop up once every few months.

On the other hand, I’ve also forgotten a lot of what and how I taught. When a co-teacher I’d worked with told me she still uses the modified essay assignment we’d created for our ninth graders, I didn’t remember it at all. Worse still, I’m forgetting key lines, names and other important parts of stories I used to teach three times a day. I can still recite the Prologue from Romeo and Juliet, but even that may be gone soon, too.

4. I still think of lesson ideas and how I could’ve been a better teacher overall…

This New York Times story about an English teacher who used rapper Kendrick Lamar’s music to help his students appreciate The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison made me feel all tingly inside — and wish for another chance to do Morrison’s Song of Solomon or Kindred by Octavia Butler justice.

I also continue to think about what I could’ve done to reach more students and make teaching more enjoyable. This post I wrote about work-life balance, for instance, helped me understand how cultivating positive relationships with more students — and bringing more of my personal interests to the classroom — would’ve helped relieve the stress I felt.

5. …But I’m glad that grading is gone from my life.

Despite what I’ve lost by quitting teaching, I continue to be grateful that take-home work is no longer part of my job. Last summer, I wrote about the joy of having no more papers to grade, ever. This summer, I still love the lightness of my work bag: just my phone, keys, wallet, food, and a book to read during my lunch break. This, to me, is one of the main reasons why leaving teaching is still worth it.

Next time, I’ll talk more about how my life after teaching has developed — and how I’m still figuring it out.

Related

Life After Teaching, Part Seven: Five (More) Things I Learned in Year Two

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

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

Why I’m Returning to the Classroom After Leaving for One Year: A Reader Reflects

Though many of my posts have been about the rewards of leaving teaching, I’m interested in multiple perspectives on this career shift. It’s why I asked Rose, the former teacher behind my most popular post, to share how she’s better off after leaving education and what she misses about it. And it’s why I’m sharing this follow-up post from another former teacher, Melanie.

The first part of Melanie’s story goes likes this: after teaching fifth grade at a high-needs school in Florida for seven years, and considering a store manager position at CVS, she was thrilled to finally land an office job.

One year later, however, she’s decided to head back to the classroom. Here’s the latest on Melanie’s story, in her own words.


I left the classroom last year after years of feeling like I wasn’t good enough, years of never being able to please the parents and countless hours of grading papers that my students didn’t even care about. I was so fed up with the way things were going in education that I couldn’t take it anymore — or so I thought.

After one year of sitting in a cubicle, I realize how much I miss being a teacher. The things I miss the most are:

The students

When I had a rough morning as a teacher, it lasted only until my students entered the classroom. Then it wasn’t about me or my rough morning anymore — it was about them. They made me forget my worries by demanding 100% of my energy. I would laugh, cry and yell, all in one day — but that day flew by because my students wouldn’t let it drag. Here in my cube, though, I’m left with my own thoughts. As I work on my tasks, my day doesn’t change much. I never thought I would miss the emotional roller coaster of teaching, but I do.

Sharing

Even though I enjoy the work I’m doing, I don’t work on a team. So there’s no one for me to teach what I’ve learned. It makes me miss my professional learning community. I even tried to start one up at my new job, but it didn’t stick. I miss working with my colleagues on special projects, including the process of reflecting and then revising. I miss finding a great lesson plan and running over to my coworkers’ classrooms to show them. I miss being part of a unit with a common purpose.

The time off

This past Christmas, I didn’t have time to cook and decorate beforehand, and I didn’t have time to take the decorations down afterward. I barely had time to finish my Christmas shopping because I had to work on Christmas Eve. Then I was back at work the day after Christmas. Sure, I have vacation time now — four full weeks of it. But it isn’t what I had as a teacher. I have no Spring Break, and no reason to look forward to summer. Right now, all my close friends are making summer plans and getting excited. I wish I could join them.

What have I learned overall? The grass is NOT greener.

In fact, I think it’s made of plastic. I may not have parent conferences or administrators berating me, but I don’t have a purpose, either. In the classroom, at least I knew I was giving my all to contribute to society. At least I knew that even if the kids didn’t show it, deep down, they did care and were impacted by me.

The industry I work in now is changing people’s job descriptions and telling them they no longer fit the description so they have to leave the job. I’m learning that is a common thing outside of the public school system. I will take new standards and evaluations over that any day. At least then I can feel a real sense of accomplishment and improvement.

I realize now that I didn’t need a career change. What I really needed was to change schools. My administration was bringing me down and I let them get the best of me. Before making this major shift, I should have tried a smaller one first. At least I had one year of making decent money — but I’ve learned that my well-being and sense of purpose in life is much more important to me.

Next fall, I’ll be back in the classroom greeting a new set of students. I can’t wait to meet them.


If you’ve gone back to teaching after trying another career, what was behind your decision? Can you relate to Melanie’s story?

Related

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

Teacher Who Left: Why I Am Returning to School (The Answer Sheet)

Leaving Teaching: The Money Question, Part One

Teaching pays less than many other professions — even ones that don’t require a college degree. Even so, if you’re thinking of leaving teaching, it’s natural to wonder whether you can afford to change careers.

Let’s say you’re offered a job that matches your current teaching salary, but only includes two weeks’ vacation. Should you take it?

Or what if you get an offer for even less than what you make now? Could you maintain your standard of living?

When thinking about leaving teaching, salary and benefits are not the only important factors in your decision. But you should still ensure it makes sense from a hard-nosed financial perspective. To calculate if leaving teaching might make sense for you, consider (1) your hourly rate, (2) the value of your free time, and (3) other job benefits.

In this post, I’ll go over why your hourly rate is important and how you can use it to evaluate a potential career change. To start, I’d like to give credit to reader (and science-teacher-turned-app-developer) TK for recommending hourly pay as a unit of comparison. He writes:

Figure out what your hourly pay is/was as a teacher and negotiate off of that. Look at the teacher contract calendar your district puts out and find the number of days you’re contracted to work. Divide your base salary by the number of contracted days, then divide again by 8 (assume an 8 hour workday as a teacher, haha). That is your hourly rate, and don’t accept anything less than it.

I’d also like to offer an alternative to TK’s formula. In addition to basing your hourly rate on an eight-hour teaching workday, you can also calculate your hourly rate with the actual number of hours you work. We all know what that teachers put in much more than 40 hours a week, so why not find out the true value of your time?


Here’s an example of how you might figure out your hourly pay with all of your work hours:

teaching salary: $50,000

hours worked:

10 hours of work per weekday (8 hours at school and 2 hours at home) x 5 = 50

+ 5 hours of work/weekend = 55 hours per week

55 hours per week x 38 weeks

(I’m assuming 37 weeks of school a year + 1 week of planning/grading during vacations, including summer)

= 2,090 hours per year

$50,000 salary / 2,090 hours per year = $24 per hour (rounded) 


Now let’s compare that $24 per hour to what you might make at a “normal” 9-to-5 job with the same salary:

9-to-5 job salary: $50,000

hours worked:

7 hours of work per weekday (assuming a one-hour lunch break) x 5 = 35 hours per week

35 hours per week x 48 weeks (2 weeks’ vacation plus 10 holidays) = 1,680 hours per year

$50,000 salary / 1,680 hours per year = $30 per hour (rounded)


While it may not surprise you to discover that your hourly rate at a normal job with the same pay as teaching would be higher, doesn’t it feel good to see the cold, hard numbers? That increased hourly rate means you earn lots of extra leisure time while maintaining the same annual salary. Crunching the numbers can also help you see that, in some cases, even a lower-paid job could be worthwhile.

For instance, if you made $24 an hour in a $50,000 teaching job, that means a non-teaching job with a $45,000 salary would still pay more ($27) per hour, given a 35-hour workweek. In fact, it’s not till the pay dips to about $40,000 that your hourly rate is about the same for teaching and the office job!

Are you unsure what a job might pay — or whether you can really expect a 7-hour workday in your next career? Do some digging! Here are three sites I’ve found helpful:

Glassdoor.com includes employee-submitted (but anonymous) salaries and reviews for specific job titles at specific companies. You’ll need to register to use the site, and provide your current salary information to improve the site, but it’s free and you can always unsubscribe from their email updates, which include job postings.

Indeed.com pulls together job listings from different websites (kind of like Kayak) and it’s how I found my current job. It lets you filter your job search by estimated salary range (such as “$50,000+”). The Salaries section also estimates how much jobs pay based on real postings from employers.

Payscale.com is another resource for estimating how your salary stacks up to those for similar jobs in your area. It even tells you what you might expect to make as you advance in a career. The one slightly annoying part is that it makes you answer questions about your current pay before it gives you your “salary report,” but I was able to do so anonymously and without signing up for spam emails.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss why you should include the value of added free time in your “leaving teaching” calculation. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on hourly pay? Would you ever take a non-teaching job with a lower salary if you found out you’d be making more per hour?

“So Why Are You Leaving Teaching?”: How to Answer the Question You’ll Get Asked at Every Post-Teaching Interview

After all your hard work to tailor your resume, proofread it carefully and apply to jobs, you finally land your first post-teaching interview. But how should you prepare?

While you can dust off the suit you wore to teaching interviews, you’ll need to draft fresh responses to popular interview questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “Walk me through your resume.”

You should also be ready for a new question: “So why are you leaving teaching?”

I always hoped I wouldn’t get asked this question, but soon accepted it as inevitable. Of course employers want to know why you want to change careers.  It’s their way of asking:

– Are you genuinely interested in the job, or applying on a whim?

– If hired, will you commit to the job, or might you quit to go back to teaching?

– Do you have any personal issues that make you difficult to work with?

– Will you be a reliable, no-hassle employee?

Stay focused on addressing these issues and you’ll be on the right track.

Here are some more tips on how to navigate the “Why Quit?” question (WQQ):

Don’t

Complain about your current job or badmouth anyone you work with.

It doesn’t matter if your principal and department chair are making your life miserable — criticizing them will only make you sound unprofessional. You should also avoid complaining about colleagues and students. Don’t give the interviewer a chance to wonder if you’re the real problem.

Talk about how much you hate teaching in general, even if you do.

An interview is also not the time to rant about standardized testing, how many papers you have to grade, or talk about how a boring office job is just what you need. Doing so could play into the dreaded “lazy teacher” stereotype — and make you sound self-absorbed. Instead, focus on what you can offer the employer.

Treat the interviewer as a friend or confidant.

There’s no need to confess your doubts about leaving teaching or worries about liking the new job, even if your interviewer is friendly and nice. Most importantly,  don’t undermine yourself with statements like, “I know I don’t have the right experience, but…” or, “I know I probably won’t get this job, but…” Keeping your insecurities from slipping might seem like a challenge, but remember: your role is to help the interviewer see you in the job — not eliminate you from the competition!

Do

Use the question as an opportunity to highlight your strengths.

While you shouldn’t criticize teaching outright, it is possible to be honest and strategic in explaining your wish to move on. For instance, I said I was ready for a new challenge after 7 years of teaching (my first and only job out of college), and that I wanted better opportunities for career advancement. I felt these responses showed my desire to learn new things and set ambitious goals — qualities every employer wants.

Talk about how teaching has prepared you for the job.

You can also use the WQQ as an opportunity to show off your skills from teaching and explain how useful they’d be to the new position. An anecdote about how you managed a difficult parent, student or class, for example, can show how well you can collaborate with and influence others. Check out my post on transferable skills from teaching — and related posts about action verbs and business skills — for more ways to impress your interviewer with your education experience.

Tailor your answer to the job.

Just as you tailored your resume to different jobs, so should you tweak your answer to the WQQ for each interview. When I interviewed for writing and editorial jobs, for example, I talked about how much I’d enjoyed working on my college newspaper, and how that experience made me miss working on team projects for publication. And when I interviewed for jobs in educational publishing, I also made sure to talk about my desire to help students and teachers.

In short:

– Don’t be afraid of the “Why Quit?” question — be prepared for it!

– Show you are enthusiastic about the job and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.


Former teachers, how did you tackle the WQQ in interviews? Please share your tips in the comments.

Related

How to Explain a Career Change in an Interview (Houston Chronicle)

How to Explain Your Winding Career Path to a Hiring Manager (The Muse)

Tell Your Whole Story in an Interview (Harvard Business Review)

Stupid Mistakes I’ve Made on My Resume and the Best Way You Can Avoid Them

Being a former English teacher and current full-time writer doesn’t make me immune from silly mistakes in my writing — it just makes them more embarrassing. I learned this lesson after finding several errors in my post-teaching resume, ones that you should look out for as you work on your own:

Inconsistent Formatting

After emailing my resume to someone I had met for an informational interview, she pointed out that the bullets in one section began with lowercase letters, while those in other sections started with uppercase letters.

This might not seem like a big deal, but when I looked at the document again, I saw how unprofessional it looked. I knew the mistake happened because I had focused my efforts on one section and in doing so, missed the big picture: How does my resume look as a whole

Your resume should reflect your thoroughness, attention to detail, and ability to communicate in a professional way — even if you’re not applying to a writing-related job. So make sure it avoids these common formatting issues:

Capitalization

  • Are bullet points consistently upper case or lower case?

Commas

Periods

  • Are you using periods at the ends of bullet points or not?

Font

  • Is your use of font size and style consistent? For instance, are all of your job titles bolded if you want them to be?

Spacing

  • Is everything spaced evenly? Are the items you want centered actually centered? Are the margins too wide or too narrow?

Dropped Words

Dropped words are also easy to miss in your resume. Even when we reread what we’ve written multiple times, we often gloss over missing words, especially small ones like “to,” “from,”  and “that.” 

This happens because we’re reading our own writing, and because we tend to scan and skim when reading on screens. Thankfully, my husband caught several dropped words in my resume when he looked at it.

Deleting Lines or Even Entire Sections by Mistake

My most embarrassing resume mistake has been dropping the entire Education section not once, but twice. This serious yet totally avoidable omission was brought to my attention by two readers of two different versions of my resume.

Both times I had been working on adding more detail to the Experience section — and failed to notice that expanding this cell had lopped off the Education cell under it (Word formatting drives me crazy!).

Luckily, the people who noticed this mistake were helping me improve my resume, not evaluating me for a job. Now I make sure that I’ve got all sections — especially the Education section — in place before submitting my resume for an application or sharing it with a professional contact.

So, did you notice my “trick” for avoiding these blunders in your own resume?

(I’ve already mentioned it three times in this post.)

Here it is, in terms that should be familiar to most teachers:

PEER EDITING.

Yes, peer editing — exactly what students learn to do as part of the writing process.

You might be thinking — as I did sometimes — I can do this on my own, or I don’t want to bother anyone, or Do I have to? [in whiny student voice]

The answer is YES. Peer editing is essential to making sure your resume looks its best and doesn’t get thrown onto the “reject” pile for silly mistakes. You’ll be astounded by how many formatting inconsistencies, dropped words or lines (hopefully not sections, like mine), and other errors you can find when someone takes a fresh look at your resume. 

As I’ve said before, finding life after teaching requires putting what we teach into practice.

So we’ve got to be willing to get help with our writing, just as we ask students to do.

Trust me. You won’t regret.


BONUS TIPS — straight from my English teacher toolbox

  • Print out your resume and break out the red pen. Even better, give the hard copy of your resume and red pen to your peer reader.
  • Read your resume out loud. Besides helping you catch errors, this exercise will help you and your peer reader improve the flow, word choice, and clarity of your writing. 

Related

Ten Action Verbs That Will Make Your Post-Teaching Resume Pop

Instagram It: Tailor Your Career Change Resume in Three Steps

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want

Six Things That Will Get Your Resume Thrown in the Garbage by Hiring Managers (Forbes)

Resumes Suck. Here’s the Data. (Aline Lerner)

Lessons from a Year’s Worth of Hiring Data (Aline Lerner)