A National Survey of Former Educators Shows that Life After Teaching Is Pretty, Pretty Good.

If you want to know that life after teaching can get better, don’t just take my word for it. Though my quality of life has gone up in big ways and small after leaving teaching, how likely is that to happen on average?

The National Center on Education Statistics addresses this question in its new Teacher Follow-Up Survey. Researchers asked 2,600 former public school teachers to rate aspects of their current jobs as better than, worse than, or about the same as teaching.

The results?

Out of 20 job measures, not a single one was rated as “better in teaching.”

Sure, the results could be biased because the participants may not have liked teaching much in the first place, or may have been worse than average at their jobs. On top of that, who wants to admit they’ve made the wrong life choices?

And yet I suspect that  —  just like many of this blog’s readers — a large number of these so-called “public teacher leavers” did care and did work hard. But they changed careers to take better care of themselves and their families — and the gamble paid off.

Some of the benefits of life after teaching might seem obvious:

Salary
It’s no secret that teachers often make less than other college graduates. And indeed, about 44 percent of teacher leavers said they were paid more in their jobs after teaching, compared to just under 20 percent who said they were paid more as teachers. These findings support a recent Center for American Progress survey on low teacher pay I previously wrote about

Influence over Workplace Policies and Practices
Nearly 59 percent of former teachers said their current jobs allowed them to have more of a voice at work, compared to just 8 percent who said they had more influence as teachers. That’s a gap of more than 50 percentage points — the largest of all 20 categories in the survey.

Ability to Balance Personal Life and Work
This might be the one teachers who want to leave need to hear most. And yes, a good 61 percent of leavers said their work-life balance had improved — the biggest consensus on how life after teaching gets better. Compare that to just about 13 percent who said they had better balance in teaching, and some 26 percent who said the balance was about the same.

Other perks of life after teaching may surprise you:

Benefits
Republican politicians and a large portion of the general public like to dump on the “Cadillac” benefits teachers get, like relatively low-cost health insurance and (shrinking) pensions. And some teachers may hesitate to leave teaching for fear of losing these benefits.

But nearly 65 percent of leavers said the benefits in their new jobs were about as good as they were in teaching. Personally, I’m among the nearly 26 percent of leavers whose benefits are actually better now.

Job Security
Job protections like tenure are another popular target for those who feel that teachers just have it too good.

Yet nearly 57 percent of leavers felt the security of their current jobs was about the same as it was in teaching, and some 18 percent felt they had more job security in their current positions.

Recognition and Support From Administrators/Managers
I’ve written about how dissatisfaction with school administration often influences teachers’ decisions to quit. But I can also see how teachers might avoid changing careers for fear that management will be even worse in the “real” world.

But it might not be that bad, according to the survey: nearly 88 percent of teacher leavers rated their managers as either better (44.9 percent), or similar (42.6 percent) to those they had in teaching.

Opportunities to Make a Difference in the Lives of Others
This might be one of the strongest barriers to teachers who might otherwise leave. Despite all their frustrations with teaching, they just don’t think any other job could be as rewarding. But the survey shows that people can, and do, find new ways to help others: more than 44 percent of leavers said their current position allowed them to make more of an impact than teaching did, and about 31 percent felt they were making as much impact as they did teaching.

Overall, more than half of those who left teaching said their working conditions had improved. As Larry David would say, that’s pretty, pretty good!

Teachers and former teachers, what do you find most important in a job and how does your current work measure up?

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19 thoughts on “A National Survey of Former Educators Shows that Life After Teaching Is Pretty, Pretty Good.

  1. Thank you for this post! At 31, I started teaching right out of college and quickly became burned out. Yet, I have been trying to quit for the past five years and have found it difficult to transition for fear of so many unknowns… However, the pros outweigh the cons and the main reason I want to leave (besides frustration with the public school system) is because I’ve never had a normal work/life balance. Thanks for posting this! It’s motivating to see that so many others have found job satisfaction outside of education.

    • Thank you for reading, Ashley! Work-life balance was also one of my main motivations for leaving teaching, and I was definitely scared of not knowing what would come next. So it’s been reaffirming to discover that I *can* do something besides teaching. It starts with giving yourself permission to change course and believing you have something to contribute to the wider world.

    • Ashley,
      I feel your pain, I have been trying to transition into a new career for the past 6 years and have had difficulty walking away but not just because of the pros and cons that you mentioned. For me it has really been about what do I want to do now and will the skills that I have acquired in the 9 years of teaching allow me to be just as marketable as my competitors?

  2. I have tried to understand how some teachers, like the retired English teacher who posted her story on her memories of teaching, how they can live like that for so many years. How did they maintain any kind of balance in their family life?

    • Hi Michelle,
      I’ve wondered this, too. Some of the veteran teachers I know are able to teach the same courses each year and/or take on an alternative to a traditional class (such as teaching an online course or advising a school group) to cut down on their workload. Another survival tactic is extreme discipline — getting in early, staying late and/or making use of every minute of downtime to grade — to avoid bringing grading home as a general rule. You can also take note of how the experienced teachers in your school tackle this issue, though I bet the last 8-10 years haven’t been easy for them, either!

    • Michelle,

      I asked Marsha, the retired English teacher you mention, for her thoughts on work-life balance. Here’s what she had to say:

      “Instead thinking of work and life as separate things and dividing oneself up to survive, think about ways to be more integrated — to be fully oneself in all aspects of one’s life. Fusion, after all, is more powerful than fission.

      Some specific thoughts on how to do this below…

      1) Whenever possible, make sure that your teaching is a reflection of your intellectual life. That is, make sure the things that you are teaching and the ideas that you are engaging with students are ones that are truly important to you, that you have an intellectual curiosity about.

      This is harder in schools where you are handed scripted curriculum. I am not sure I have much of a remedy for that, except perhaps to always engage in inquiry into your own practice, to take your own work seriously and always try to make sense of it and to do it better.

      I know it seems like it would take MORE energy, but what I found after spending a lifetime in teaching is that the years that were more satisfying to me occurred when there was an interface between my intellectual life and my teaching practice — even the years I was in graduate school (and teaching graduate school, too!) part-time while I was teaching full-time.

      2) During the years I was teaching and raising children, there was always at least one day of the weekend (usually Saturday) when I focused solely on the kids and did no schoolwork at all. And not working in the summers is a HUGE plus.

      3) The other thing that helped me feel good about my life while I was a teacher was having meaningful and loving relationships with my students and colleagues. Human beings need to care about others and feel cared for. We need to know others and be known.

      So again, while it may seem paradoxical, having many positive relationships, with students and colleagues alike, makes even the most difficult and challenging settings (like urban schools with few resources) potentially life affirming and energy producing rather than draining.

      That and become a sponsor or a coach of some club, sport or activity that lets you get to know kids outside of the classroom. The relationships developed in these spaces pay off tenfold in the classroom. There’s also the satisfaction of mentoring students, helping them create something and be part of a team. Again, the energy that you GET from it is far greater than the energy you have to put in.

      The more you are able to teach with all of you, the less divided you feel and the energy flows through all parts of your life. Teaching is much more satisfying this way and such an energy exchange can sustain a person for a lifetime of teaching.”

  3. Hi. Thanks for this post. I am so torn right now. I have been miserable in teaching, but feel obligated to teach to finish the year and not be a quitter. I love my students, but I’m so tired. I need to give myself permission to try something new. I made a decision this summer not to teach,but got a call from a principal to teach. I accepted, and now I regret it. Trying to get another job, even being bilingual and having a Masters, is extremely difficult. I am at a place where I dread going in everyday. Is there life after teaching and setting boundaries for your own happiness?

    Ashleigh

    • Hi Ashleigh,

      I remember feeling the same way you do — not wanting and yet desperately wanting to quit. Though I pushed myself to finish in June, that doesn’t mean you have to. Only you know what you can withstand, and only you can look out for your health.

      Life after teaching does exist. If you haven’t yet, check out my series of posts on the subject, starting with Part One.

      You should also check out my posts on informational interviewing and transferable skills from teaching. I hope they will help you find your way to Life After Teaching!

  4. Teaching, like nursing, is a service profession. It has a tendency to attract “givers.” People who pour themselves out, are tough on themselves, easily manipulated by guilt, and living with more shame than they care to admit. Their idealism (face it, who goes into teaching thinking, “I’m going to make hordes of money!”?) either gets destroyed or bent into something more “pragmatic.” For me, it’s been bent into cynicism and advocacy. Cynicism toward those outside the classroom who think they have the answers, and advocacy for those kids who really care but don’t have the support tools to truly be empowered.
    I’ve worked several jobs in my life, and I’ve found this one truth: if you stay firm with your own commitments, values, and time management, you either get fired (they did you a favor!), or, more often, they adjust to you. Especially if you have quiet self-confidence and possess a unique gift they need which you can parlay. Here’s the BIG THREE NON-NEGOTIABLES I teach my students:

    1) EVERY HUMAN LIFE IS UNIQUE AND THEREFORE OF INESTIMABLE VALUE;

    2) YOU HAVE AN IMMENSE AMOUNT OF PERSONAL POWER, IF YOU WILL JUST EXERT IT;

    3) THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO WITH THAT POWER IS TO SERVE OTHERS WITH AS MUCH AUTONOMY AS YOUR PERSONAL POWER CAN NEGOTIATE.

    Over-collaboration and political correctness are destroying the soul of the individual; I want to correct that. It has become the only reason I have left to stay in my job. It means going against the grain. I WILL PREVAIL.

    I have a fantasy, that one day, when the mysterious tipping point comes, I’ll spray-paint a parting message to my students: “Who is John Galt?”

    • Hi Preston,

      Great that your idealism has bent into advocacy for your students. Your third non-negotiable acknowledges that there are many forces beyond our control while encouraging students to take action despite them.

      I think these are good lessons for teachers, too. We can make enormous impact in the classroom and outside of it if we believe in our power to do so.

  5. Just a few thoughts that might resonate with some folks here. I taught 33 years in a large urban high school in the Bay Area. Been retired about 8 years now, though still mentoring some first year teachers. After my first ten years in the classroom I agonized over the possibility that I’d never get to follow other passions because of the demands full-time teaching makes. I’m one of those people who goes all in anyway, so part-time was not an idea I’d entertain at all. I discovered that I could do more than teaching if I somehow involved those other passions with my identity as a teacher. In many ways it worked well. I produced some oral history radio programs, and got involved with a musical production about the life of Woody Guthrie for a time. These were things that gave me much personal satisfaction and both taught and honed skills I valued. Later, I began to write professionally for a thoroughbred horse magazine. Again, an alternate career that flourished summers and weekends. I’d like to say that I figured out how to handle the paper load that comes with Honors English classes and senior social science electives, but the truth is I brought home work. Lots of it. My students wrote…often. But the tradeoff was that the desire to have time for other things often motivated me to keep on top of my grading. Marsha’s comments (above) about the link between your intellectual life and your teaching life is spot on. When you can bring that into your classroom as well as any other skills, abilities, and passions you have, your students will respond in kind. I don’t know if my comments here will work for anyone thinking of leaving the profession, but expanding your identity as teacher and incorporating other interests really worked for me. It’s not an either/or situation at all. It can be everything you want it to be, as long as your skills are valued by your colleagues, administrators and the community you serve. In the end, teachers are role models more than anything else. Just ask yourself what will your students remember 25 years later about you and your classroom?

    • Hi Bruce,

      Thank you for joining the conversation and sharing specific examples of how you joined your intellectual life with your teaching life. Your story made me think about how not having much of a life outside teaching allowed it to consume me, making me less able to handle the work and do it with a positive attitude.

      I think a lot of teachers, especially younger teachers, could benefit from your advice, so I’m planning to feature your and Martha’s comments in my next post. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Pingback: To Find Work-Life Balance in Teaching, Stop Looking for It? | Those Who Teach

  7. I’m really happy I found this blog. I’m 26 yrs old and This is my 5th year teaching 8th graders and I wanted to quit since the first day of this academic school year. I’ve been struggling in all aspects, physically, mentally, economically , and even at home with my husband and kids. I couldnt see a life after teaching and I was scared I would regret my decision. Now I feel more confident. thank you!

    • Guille,

      I’m sorry this year has been such a struggle for you, but glad to hear you’re feeling better about the future now. That optimism will help you make it through each day, week and month. Whenever you can, research your next move — whether it’s making a list of employers that interest you, or sending out a request for an informational interview. That will give you energy, too — and take you closer to life after teaching.

      Thanks for reading and good luck!

  8. I rarely leave comments on blogs, but I am so glad I found this one. I felt so alone and guilty about leaving teaching (you can’t really talk to your fellow teachers about leaving teaching.) Also holy cow! Scared about being completely unmarketable to anything outside of education. Thank you all for these blogs and comments! I feel SO much better in knowing I am not alone in the terrifying (but liberating??) thought of switching careers.

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