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

Advertisements

From the Classroom to Parliament: A Former Teacher on Her New “London Life”

I’m excited to share today’s guest blog from fellow former teacher theentiretyoflife. She responded to my recent call for submissions from those who’ve found life after teaching, and I’m so glad she did.

After five years teaching primary school in southeast England, she landed a job (on her last day of teaching!) in the Education Service of the Houses of Parliament in London, where she presents workshops and develops educational materials for visiting school groups from throughout the UK.

In this post, she takes stock of her new life — its challenges, rewards and whether leaving teaching was the right move.

For her full story, please visit theentiretyoflife.


It’s been just over 3 months since I began working in London.

Before I started the job, my mind was filled with questions:

Will I like the job? Can I handle the travel? Will I miss school holidays?

Now, I love my “London life.”

That said, it does have some drawbacks compared to teaching — mainly that I have a much longer commute than I did as a teacher.

Where I once had a 10-minute drive to work, my commute is now an hour and 45 minutes each way. This means that I have to get up almost an hour earlier than I used to. So by 6:45, my usual teaching waking time, I’m out of the house and walking to the train station.

Three months in, the 5:55 am alarm — followed by a no-really-get-up-now 6:00 am one — is still painful. But I have honed the art of getting ready in half an hour once I extract myself from the covers at 6:15. Whether I am actually presentable within that half hour is another question, but I haven’t missed the train yet.

The longer commute also means I’m home much later than I used to be. This is only a problem when my friends with children need events to start at 5:00 pm, and sometimes I can’t make it until almost 7:00.

Thank goodness for Time Off In Lieu — my work’s policy of allowing employees to accrue anything over allowed hours as time off. The closest thing to TOIL in teaching is the holidays. You can, headteacher permitting, get time off, but it is a kind gesture rather than an expected norm. Plus, there’s no such thing as working hours in teaching so it’s been quite a shift in my thinking.

Although the longer hours have taken some getting used to, the new job has also offered plenty of rewards. For instance:

My commute has made me a good deal fitter than I was as a teacher. Even though I’m on my feet less compared to teaching, the brisk walks to and from the train have helped me exercise more. I can now walk for miles at a fast pace, making it from Big Ben to sitting on the train in 10 minutes if need be.

In general, my workday is much more relaxed and easier to manage.

At the beginning of the day, I get to decide what I do first. If I’ve observed a workshop, I’ll write it up so I remember what happened. If I need to ring the IT department, I ring it. I have workshops to teach, but when I’m finished with them, there’s no need to mark anything — I just return everything to its proper place and off I go.

And even though I have to be in the office until I’m allowed to go home (usually no later than 5:00), my working day stops! It doesn’t carry on into the night until it’s done like it used to. I leave unfinished work on my desk, switch off my computer and go home.

Because I don’t need to bring work home, I’ve come to enjoy my commute: the seats on the train are cosy, and I love having the time to write, read, watch TV and sleep.

Another perk of the new job is that I now have a thriving social life. Where my evenings once held a large amount of marking, and Sunday afternoons were spent planning, my evenings are now spent with friends. Although I get home substantially later, once I’m home my time is my own. Friday evenings actually begin at 4:00 pm in the pub (and usually a second outing once I get home) and previously panic-planning Sunday afternoons are now spent doing whatever I like.

I even enjoy going to work now. I love teaching workshops on topics like parliamentary procedure, voting and how to engage with politics. And I love being able to write new material that will be used with visiting schools. It’s a pleasure to still be involved with educating future generations about how politics works and affects our lives even though I’m no longer in the classroom.

I also love the eclectic mishmash of the buildings where I work and the privilege of walking through them. Since September, just during lunch, I’ve been to Westminster Abbey, St. James’s Park and explored all round Whitehall. I’ve found statues I never knew existed and pockets of garden solitude in a bustling city.

Outside of work, but because of my position, I’ve been to Buckingham Palace, the Cabinet War Rooms and Hampton Court. Every day that I explore some new corridor in the Palace feels like a gift that I can’t quite believe is mine.

The Verdict

I decided to work between Christmas and New Year’s Day, to save my holiday for this summer. I had been wondering how I would find this major departure from the long holiday breaks I was used to.

Actually, surprisingly, I haven’t minded.

Would I like to have been off work? Sure, who wouldn’t?

Do I resent my lack of holidays?

As I stood on the station platform on December 29 at 6:57 am, wearing knee-length socks, two scarves and two pairs of gloves to combat the minus-five conditions, I considered this.

I recalled the lesson planning I would have been doing. The waking up to that impending sense of planning-doom — the way it would take over a few days, and still leave me feeling unprepared.

A little part of me still wanted to be asleep in bed, but mostly I felt glad. Glad to be going back into London. Glad to be away from planning-panic and the stresses of school. I was even glad to be exercising again!

Over the last few months, I’ve met yet another group of lovely colleagues. I’ve embarked on a job I would not have entertained this time last year, and my day-to-day life is a whirlwind away from December 2013. There are challenges, don’t get me wrong…

But when, even though I’m working in what I still think of as the Christmas holidays, I turn around to see this at the end of the day —

— I have to admit, life after teaching is turning out to be pretty good.

 

 

Thanks for Making 2014 the Best Year Ever.

It’s been two and a half years since I started Those Who Teach, and 2014 was the blog’s best year yet.

Average daily views grew more than tenfold this year, and subscriptions to the blog increased by more than 360 percent!

How TWT readers make me feel…

Another fun fact: more than 75 percent of the hundreds of reader comments on the blog were written this year.

All this, despite my embarrassingly infrequent posts — only 12 this year, including this one.

So embarrassed…

So thank you for reading this blog — and sticking with it — despite the lack of steady content. I’m grateful for your time, and for your comments, ‘likes,’ shares and follows.

And I pledge to give you more of what you’re looking for in 2015. This includes more positive stories about teachers — both those who’ve found a way to stay in the game, and those who’ve found life after teaching. And I plan to share more career change tips, as well as personal reflections on leaving teaching.

Also, if you’d like to contribute to the blog, please let me know. Advice from veteran teachers and those who’ve found post-teaching careers is especially welcome.

Just leave a comment below, or email me at thosewhoteach[at]gmail[dot]com.

Thanks again for reading and I wish you the very best in 2015!

And for all you teachers, here’s a friendly reminder to enjoy these last days of holiday break, even Sunday!

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?

 

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?

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

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

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

Six years out, here is what I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this year.

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

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

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

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

Oh, and one more thing —

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

Related

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

Teaching Is Not a Business (New York Times)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

americanprogress.org

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

Some of my readers’ stories support these depressing statistics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related

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

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

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

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

The Teacher Salary Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get to “sleep in.”

Sleeping In

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

I get treated like a professional. 

handshake-256

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

I don’t have to grade essays.

This week's grading

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

I get nights and weekends to myself.

relaxing panda

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

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

I still get lots of vacation time. 

vacation-with-your-pet-1

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

Did I mention no grading?

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

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

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

Related

Life After Teaching, Part 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)

My Most Popular Post, One Year Later.

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

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

How the heck did this happen?

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

1. life after teaching

2. leaving teaching

3. jobs after teaching

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

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

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

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

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

Not so much, according to these community college professors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few of the conditions that readers reported:

– stress-induced migraines

– anxiety

– depression

– abdominal pains

– cold sweats

– exhaustion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the original post for the full conversation.

Related:

How to Keep Teachers Happy (this blog)

Milestones and Mohammed’s Radio (Martha Kennedy)

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

How to Break a Teacher (21st Century Cynic)

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want

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

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

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

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

You must show them they’re wrong about you.

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

1. strong written and oral communication skills

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

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

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

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

2. strong interpersonal skills

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

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

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

3. demonstrated ability to work independently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many different lessons did you prepare each day?

How often did you submit lesson plans?

How often did you submit progress reports and grades?

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

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

Related

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

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

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

Transferable Skills Checklist (University of Toledo)