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

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How Teaching Prepares You to Succeed in Business

If you’re a teacher, you might be thinking, Business person? Who, me?

All I’ve ever known is teaching, and I’m not sure if I can do anything else.

In my last post, I wrote about how common this self-doubt is among those who’ve taught.

It shouldn’t be this way. If you’re like most teachers, you’ve got plenty of credentials: hours of professional development credits, a master’s degree (or one that’s in progress), plus a certification or two. And you’ve got a host of specialized skills, like knowing how to keep 25 kids from jumping out the window on an early dismissal day.

Say it with me:

Those who teach can do.

That’s right: if you can teach, you can succeed outside teaching.

In fact, teaching requires many of the same skills every business needs.

Just ask Chris Cooper. He started his own copywriting service after eight years of teaching high school English. As he built his business, Chris realized he wasn’t starting from scratch. Years in the classroom had already taught him how to market himself, land clients, and deliver high-quality work.

Chris Cooper, entrepreneur and former English teacher

Here are just a few of the business skills teachers have, according to Chris:

Strong focus on objectives

Every good teaching lesson has an objective, a focus that drives every activity and discussion. It’s like a road map for the day. As a teacher, I had a love/hate relationship with objectives. Sometimes I wanted to embrace the tangents that come with learning. In a business setting though, there’s little room for tangents when time is money, so personal and client objectives drive everything I do.

The first question I ask every time I sit down with a client is about their objective. How can you do a good job for them if you don’t know what they want? What are they trying to do and whom are they trying to reach?

Whether you’re starting your own business or working for someone else, you can use objectives in the same way you used them in a classroom — to drive activities and discussions.

Objectives are nothing more than goals. What needs to be accomplished? How will you get there and how will you know you succeeded? You might be setting a financial objective, a project objective, or a new career objective. No matter what your next path is, you’ll need to know where you’re going today, next year, and five years from now.

Make your objectives clear and measurable with deadlines and you’re on the right track.

Ability to make every minute count

High school kids don’t like to have their time wasted. They’ll tolerate it because that’s about all they can do, but they want something they can use, something valuable to them. Once I noticed them watching the clock, I knew the value of my lesson was gone.

Customers and clients are no different. But unlike those kids in those seats, they do have a choice. And they’ll walk if you don’t immediately show them the value you can provide.

The worst thing we can do as business owners or employees is let money walk out the door. Value comes from solving other people’s problems. It’s a combination of identifying needs, providing solutions, and giving a little more than is expected. You can sell shoes in department store or sell copywriting services like me, but the bottom line is that you should always give people more than they expect.

Sales, marketing, blogging, copywriting, high school English. Doesn’t matter. Your audience is asking for the same thing. Value.

Ability to scaffold and simplify complicated ideas

I’m often called upon as a copywriter because people can’t get out of their bubble. They throw around acronyms. They speak industry jargon and lingo. It sounds like a foreign language to everyone else. And it turns people off. You can’t engage people if they feel like outsiders.

Teachers call it scaffolding — breaking complex ideas into easily digestible steps that build upon one another (you know, like a scaffold).

If you’re selling something, it’s called a sales funnel. You start with a group of people who may be interested in your product or service and you take a series of actions to move them down the funnel toward buying. In marketing, you might start people off with a welcoming email, then set an autoresponder to update them about new products or sales every few days or weeks.

Simple or easy isn’t to be mistaken for dumb. I’m not talking about dumbing anything down. I’m talking about making whatever you’re selling relatable to everyone.

In business, just like scaffolding a complex lesson, you want to constantly move people forward by making the big picture digestible. One. Bite. At. A. Time.

Looking for more skills to add to your post-teaching resume, or inspiration to jumpstart a business of your own? Check out Chris’s original post: Nine Business Lessons I Learned from Being a Teacher.

If you’re a teacher-turned-entrepreneur like Chris — or a teacher/entrepreneur — how has having classroom experience helped you?

Related

Why You Should Quit Teaching and Work for Yourself (Real Good Writing)

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want (this blog)

Life After Teaching Interview: Meg Olson, Social Justice Advocate

Leaving teaching doesn’t mean you have to give up on helping others. In fact, most former teachers in a recent survey said they were able to make as much or more of a difference in their new careers as they did in the classroom.

Need more convincing?megolson

Meet Meg Olson.

After eight years as an English teacher in Chicago, she continues to make a positive impact as a social justice advocate in St. Louis.

Meg generously agreed to share her story with me, including how her volunteer work on urban farms — and love for singing — led her to her current job. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

When did you leave teaching?

The 2009-2010 school year was my last year of teaching. By then, I’d been in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for five years, and then at the University of Chicago Laboratory School for three years.

What was ironic was that I’d been at a struggling school for four years, and then I moved four blocks north onto the campus of the University of Chicago, where you could still see my old school from the third floor of the Lab School.

Was the Lab School one of those dream schools?

Yeah — the high school always gets ranked in the top 10 schools that send kids to Harvard, and the year that I started teaching there, Barack Obama’s kids were in the Lower School. And I had parents who were campaign directors and campaign finance directors, so it was a really interesting year to start there.

What made you leave teaching?

Even though I had gone from a struggling school to an English department that had a secretary who made copies*, I realized I wasn’t happy teaching.

Most of the kids I really loved teaching, but the grading load was out of control. I’ll always remember when the husband of a friend asked me, “How many hours a month do you think you’re grading papers?” for his research at Penn State.

After taking note over two months, I realized I was grading 40 to 50 hours a month. I remember thinking, “I’m spending my whole life doing this and I have lots of other interests.”

Parents were another issue, and I think we all know this in elite schools. It was particularly daunting at the Lab School, where about 60 percent of the parents were professors at the University of Chicago.

I had a freshman parent who was in the University of Chicago’s English department asking me why I wasn’t teaching “trope” to ninth graders at the first open house. I just thought, “I can’t believe you’re asking me this.”

And there was such pressure for our kids to be awesome at everything. For her first paper, I had a freshman crying about a B+, about ‘How am I going to get into Yale?’

I didn’t want be a part of this system anymore that’s stressing out our children so much. It made me really sad. I also started my teacher certification the year No Child Left Behind became a policy, so I felt like the whole climate was getting worse for teachers.

*Ed. note: I’m still wrapping my brain around this.

What did you do when you left?

Honestly, it’s crazy that at 31 I decided to do this.

After I finished my master’s in English, I worked on an urban farm in Pittsburgh that offered room and board and did my job search from there.

And because my resume was all education-based, combined with the national dialogue of, “Are teachers capable of doing anything?,” I then took a position with Americorps at an urban farm in St. Louis. I knew I’d be living at the poverty level, but I had some savings.

You’re a brave person!

Well, even though this was mostly a volunteer position, I knew I’d be gaining real skills on my resume that showed I was doing policy work and event planning. I did that for a year and really enjoyed it.

And then, I realized the wage was unlivable and it made me really think about the kids at CPS that I had taught. For the first time, I understood what it meant when they said that 90 percent of the students were living below the poverty level.

But the job in St. Louis led me to the one I have now. I’d grown to really like the city. It only has about 325,000 people and the social service and advocacy community is really close-knit, so there’s a lot of opportunity. It’s also a city that’s fallen on some tough times, but there’ve been major efforts to rebuild it. It’s an exciting place to be.

What do you do now?

I work at Catholic Charities in St. Louis as a Parish and Community Outreach Manager in the Advocacy Department.

My job is to build relationships with Catholics in the pews, and educate them on how policies made at the state and federal level impact the poor and vulnerable, and the working poor. I’ll do workshops on expanding Medicaid, or on the importance of raising the minimum wage. I also train parishioners to have in-district meetings with their legislators or to even go to the capital (Jefferson City) and participate in advocacy days.

While I’m not a lobbyist, during Missouri’s legislative session I’m at the capitol building about two days a week. I try and build relationships with legislators on both sides of the aisle so that they are aware of Catholic Charities and the people we serve.

On the national level, I work a lot on immigration issues and the Farm Bill. I also organize Catholics to work on those issues as well.

In addition to my position in the Advocacy Department, I’m also the director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

In this role, I work in partnership with the office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in D.C. to fund low-income community organizing groups and economic development projects in the poorest areas of the St. Louis region. In recent months, CCHD has been at the table up in Ferguson, supporting efforts to end racial disparities.

How did you get the job at Catholic Charities?

Well, I was a member of the church down the street from my house and I sang in the choir. Everyone there knew I was looking for a job, and everyone wanted me to stay in St. Louis. One day a woman from my church connected me to the Senior Director of Policy at Catholic Charities. He had just received a grant to hire a new staff person, and he hired me.

But I had to persuade him first. A few weeks before I applied to the job, I sat down and talked to him. I remember him saying, “How am I supposed to convince my president to hire you for this job?” Here’s pretty much what I said:

I’m a great writer and researcher; I’m not scared of speaking to large groups of people; I’ve worked with diverse populations; in fact, I’ve spent a lot of time being the only white person in the room! I’m extremely patient; I’ve learned not to expect quick answers. Students take a long time to grow and meet the goals set for them by teachers and administrators — I think this means that I can stick with an issue and advocate for it as long as it takes to pass the bill.

(This is good, because we finally overturned Missouri’s lifetime ban on food stamps for people with drug felonies after an eight-year battle — I was only there for two and a half years of it — and we’re heading into year three in the fight to expand Medicaid in Missouri!).

Congrats! That’s awesome.

Any other ways that your teaching background has helped in your job?

One thing was that I was the co-facilitator of our Model UN team at the Lab School. Working with the kids and prepping with them for conferences involved reading policy side-by-side with them, which helped me get really good at reading policy.

Another thing you need to do as a teacher is adjust your writing and speaking to different audiences. You have your colleagues, your students with different abilities, and you have the parents.

That’s something I’m very good at when I think about all the different people I have to talk to, all the way from a low-wage fast food worker, to the lead state senator in Missouri, or the people in the governor’s office.

Even though you’re no longer teaching, it sounds like you’re still really busy and working on tough problems. Has leaving teaching been worth it for you?

Absolutely. Even though my current work is draining, I don’t take a lot of it home with me and that’s the biggest difference.

My current workplace also promotes taking care of yourself and your family, and making sure you don’t get burned out. A year and a half ago, when my mom was in the hospital, there was no question about taking as much time as I needed, which doesn’t have happen in many work environments.

I also realize that I’m finally working on the root causes of poverty. Especially after working in the inner city, I realize that government needs to be a much bigger part of the success of schools and the success of school children, and not just by training teachers better, though teacher preparation does need to be addressed seriously.

As a young teacher, I didn’t know anything about poverty. I was just thinking, “Why won’t this parent return my phone calls?” Now I’m working directly with their experiences.

So if some of the root problems I’m working on are addressed at the national level or the state level, I feel like that’ll naturally make schools better, because families will be stronger, children will be stronger, and parents will hopefully have better protection on the job, so they can be more involved in their children’s education.

Related

Life After Teaching Interview: Marie Ardito, Retiree Advocate

To Find Work-Life Balance in Teaching, Stop Looking for It?

Congrats, teachers, on making it to Thanksgiving!

When I was a teacher, it felt like a minor miracle to get to this point. After finishing first quarter grades for 115 students, getting through parent conferences, and teaching five classes a day for three months, all I wanted come Thanksgiving weekend was to eat and sleep.

But there was always more work to do. So I’d make half-hearted attempts to be productive on Friday and Saturday, forcing myself into grading and lesson planning all day on Sunday.

The rest of the school year followed this pattern of crushing amounts of work, then a few days to recharge during holiday vacations before it all started up again. I was never sure how I survived to the last day each June.

But recently, two comments on the blog made me wonder whether I could’ve made teaching much easier on myself — that is, less draining and more rewarding — despite all the work.

It started with a question from Michelle, who said:

I have tried to understand how some teachers, like [Marsha] 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?

Marsha, who taught in Philadelphia public schools for 34 years, responded. So did fellow veteran teacher Bruce7474, who taught in the Bay area for 33 years.

Their secret to surviving, and thriving, in teaching long-term was this:

Stop trying to think of work and life as separate things.

How?

Marsha explains:

Instead…of 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.

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 a 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.

Bruce adds:

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.

This doesn’t mean that the grunt-work of teaching disappears or lessens, they admit. But it does become easier to bear when you have a full life:

Marsha:

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.

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.

Bruce:

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 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.

This approach makes a lot of sense to me. The times when I successfully applied what I’d learned in grad school to my lessons were among my most satisfying moments as a teacher. I also noticed that even pretending to be passionate about what I was required to teach but didn’t personally enjoy (ahem, Romeo and Juliet) could help students appreciate literature.

That said, I also spent a lot of energy trying to maintain the boundary between my teacher self and my “real” self because I thought that was the only way I could survive.

Now I see that in doing so, I missed out on a lot of opportunities — to form better relationships with students, to make more of an impact on them, and to make teaching feel less like work.

At the same time, I’m not sure if this approach would have kept me in teaching for the long haul. This holiday weekend, I’m grateful not to have a lick of work to bring home, and I don’t think I would give this freedom up now.

Teachers and former teachers, what do you think about integrating teaching with life rather than trying to keep the two apart? And what are your best tips for work-life balance?

 

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.

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 Six: Five Things I Learned in Year Two

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)

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 you’re looking for a job. The more people know you’re 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 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 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)

Five Good Reasons to Schedule Informational Interviews (Job Jenny)

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?

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

In the first post of this series, Rose shared the story of how her office job lets her ease into the workday, go to the bathroom whenever she wants to, and enjoy other simple pleasures that weren’t part of her previous life as a high school biology teacher.

Two-and-a-half months into my desk job, I can confirm that it’s all indeed possible: I now get bathroom breaks whenever I need them and much, much more.

Here are five small perks of my new office job:

1. Enjoying breakfast at 9 a.m. 

Usually it’s a big bowl of Fage with strawberries:

yogurtandstrawbs

This is a big deal for me. When I was teaching, there were years when I taught three, 40-minute classes in a row starting at 7:55 a.m. (with homeroom in between). Lots of days, I hadn’t had anything to eat by 10 a.m., and also hadn’t gone to the bathroom until then. If I had been more of an adult (and more of a morning person), I would’ve gotten up earlier to eat a proper breakfast, but I always chose sleep over eating and looking nice for school.

Now, the first thing I do is eat breakfast while working at my computer. This takes much less energy than trying to speak in coherent sentences and motivate teenagers before any of us are awake.

2. Enjoying lunch every day

Since I’d usually sleep rather than get up early to prepare food, on busy days I’d get the cafeteria lunch, which some of my co-workers wouldn’t touch. The chicken patty sandwiches and pasta with meat sauce weren’t bad in my book, but they were not particularly healthy or satisfying.

Don’t get me wrong — we had our share of good food in the English department: ordering in from the local Vietnamese restaurant, bringing in goodies for birthdays — and cook-offs, too (including who could make the meanest chili). For a few years, my awesome department got me Popeye’s fried chicken (my favorite) for my birthday!

But it was rare that we got to just enjoy our food and each other’s company. On most days, it was a fistful of food in between taking attendance, grading essays and quizzes, or blowing off steam after some earlier incident in the classroom.

Now, I leave my building every day around 1:30, take a short stroll to my local bodega  and bliss out on a hearty helping of fresh veggies and roast chicken or baked salmon (I’ve managed to sidestep the fried chicken for now).  It’s tasty, and sure beats the many school lunches I’ve settled for.

3. Reading a book at lunch

I love this one so much. Right now, I’m reading The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley on my Kindle. Reading for pleasure while eating used to be one of my favorite things to do, and I’m happy to welcome this habit back into my life. Again, way more enjoyable than trying to read and grade three essays during lunch (and belated apologies to students who got their essays returned with grease stains on them).

4. Having a window near my desk, and a pretty nice view from it

Staring at cinder blocks and a sad, beat-up desk was the norm in both of the public schools where I worked. In my first school, we used to be able to look out at the baseball fields, but then they constructed a new wing that blocked our view.

Now, I get to look at this every day:

officeview

I realize that a lot of people in office jobs don’t get windows or a nice view, either, so I consider myself doubly lucky in this respect.

5. Having a clean, spacious and functional work area

I never had my own classroom and, in the department office,  my plastic crates  crowded my feet. Not to mention the piles of papers that would slowly consume my desk space, making the task of grading them even more unappealing. In my first school, all twelve of us in the English department had to share two desktop computers, along with two old laptops that were always on the fritz.

And did I mention the mouse problem? No kidding: we had to clean up mouse droppings regularly, and the janitors tried to find creative ways to kill them (drowning, if you must know). My school was in a very nice town too, and in nowhere near the level of disrepair of Trenton’s schools.

True story: once, when I reached for the emergency bag of peanuts that had been sitting on my desk for the better part of the school year, there was nothing inside it. A mouse had chewed a tiny hole in the back of the bag and eaten everything, leaving only shreds of foil that I hadn’t seen until I lifted the bag.

Now, I’ve got my own computer, phone and corner cubicle with lots of room to do my work. And thankfully, there is nary a mouse in sight. I’m even thinking about decorating my office space with photos, and possibly plants!

So, while my office perks don’t include catered lunches, foosball tables or masseuses, the little luxuries I do enjoy make working so much more pleasant than it used to be.

(Former) teachers, which small pleasures do you enjoy (or wish you could enjoy) at work?

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

Three dusty, plastic crates sit in a closet in my apartment.

Their contents include hardcover, dog-eared Folger Library editions of Shakespeare plays, piles of novels, hanging folders, manila folders, scattered handouts and a couple of DVDs. (Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Othello,” to be exact).

In one of the boxes, a calculator plays bedfellow to a neon-green Koosh ball, made super sticky from being touched by hundreds of kids.

In another box, there’s a small, stained-glass suncatcher depicting Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims on the way to Canterbury — a gift from students I had seven years ago, in my first year of teaching.

But I haven’t touched any of my school stuff in awhile…not since I joined the ranks of Those Who Taught this September.

Almost three months have passed, but I just updated my About page a few weeks ago and my Twitter page yesterday to reflect my new, ex-teacher status. When people ask what I do for a living, it takes me a minute to remember not to say I’m an English teacher. I was an English teacher.

So what do I do now?

I’m a writer in the communications office of a large nonprofit. And I have some freelance writing projects.

Do I feel guilty about leaving?

Yes.

Do I miss teaching?

Some parts of it, yes. More on this later.

And am I happier in the new job?

Abso-freaking-lutely. More on this later, too.

Leaving teaching is like breaking up with a bad boyfriend, exactly as Rose said.

When I first asked Rose to share her experience on the blog, I had been looking for someone to tell me that life after teaching could be better — even though I knew teaching was the most rewarding job I’d ever have, and even though I still cared — and still care — about education.

Turns out, a lot of teachers are searching for Life After Teaching. I mean, they’re Googling “life after teaching” and making Rose’s reflection on why she’s better off the most-read post on this blog!

(I also asked her to share what she misses about teaching, but that hasn’t gotten nearly as many views.)

I definitely did not start this blog to help teachers quit their jobs. But I’m ready to add my story to the fire…

Related

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

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

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

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

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