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!

Advertisements

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

How to Keep Teachers Happy

A recent Atlantic article by Liz Riggs really nailed it in terms of what drives teacher job satisfaction and retention.

In the article, Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania (and former algebra and social studies teacher), says his research has shown that [how] administration deals with both students and teachers has a “huge effect” on teacher satisfaction…[and] “buildings in which teachers have more say – their voice counts – have distinctly better teacher retention.”

YES. A MILLION TIMES YES.

Specifically, he names how administrators deal with student behavioral issues, and regular, supportive communication with teachers as integral to keeping good teachers.

Ask a teacher, and she can probably tell you about a time she felt “thrown under the bus” by an administrator more worried about keeping parents and kids happy – and avoiding lawsuits – than student learning.

Ask a teacher, and she can probably tell you about a time she felt bullied by a parent, student or administrator – or all of the above.

blameteachers

But what can administrators do, realistically, to make teachers feel they’re valued members of a school community? What could keep teachers eager to participate in school life, and supportive of inevitable changes within a school?

It’s true that threats from parents, preserving a school’s reputation and policies like Common Core and SGOs must be addressed. New initiatives are often beyond the control of administrators as well.

But there are incredibly important things that principals and department chairs can do to win the hearts and minds of faculty, mitigate teacher turnover and thus improve the quality of education students receive.

Here are some of them:

1. Try to understand problems with students from the teacher’s perspective. In many cases, teachers want to uphold a department- or school-wide policy — on lateness, attendance or plagiarism, let’s say — but face accusations and exception-making instead of support. Instead of thinking, Why is this teacher causing a problem for me? consider: How is this situation affecting the teacher’s ability to do his job? What can I do to help?

2. Pick your battles. Is it more important to uphold a no-jeans policy, or for teachers to move around comfortably in the classroom? What would really happen if lesson plans weren’t submitted on time?

3. Follow best teaching practices. For faculty meetings, show that you also understand what makes for an effective activity or presentation, including thoughtful planning, engaging questions and knowing your audience. A poorly delivered PowerPoint or boring video will feel like a slap in the face to teachers who spend hours perfecting their lessons for the classroom. Just like the students they teach, teachers will really listen if you make the effort to engage them.

4. Do what you can to let teachers teach, and try to acknowledge when something is making this harder. As I said before, sometimes administrators have to deliver directives for teachers to follow, even if they don’t agree with them, either. Other times, it is within the administration’s power to change, or at least acknowledge, new tasks that are time-wasting or contradictory. Changing the tone of an announcement from admonishing to sympathetic, for example, could make a significant difference in teacher buy-in.

5. Talk to them. Teachers really appreciate administrators who make a concerted effort to get to know them beyond mass e-mails or “hellos” in the hallway. Something as simple as, “How is your day going?” will mean a lot to first-year teachers and veteran teachers alike – and could help you understand what’s really going in the classroom.

Teachers, which of these actions would make (or has made) the most difference to you?

If I failed to mention something, please add your thoughts to the comments. Thanks!

Related
Why Half of the Nation’s New Teachers Can’t Leave the Classroom Fast Enough. (ConversationED)

Let’s Hear it for the Heroines

The past week has been an education in the civil rights movement for me.

As I was researching my post on teacher/activist Septima Clark, I began reading about the March on Washington, too. For all of her work towards equality and jobs for African Americans; for all of the inspiration she offered speakers at the March like John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr., I thought: Surely Septima must have been invited to speak, too!

But I couldn’t find any record of that happening, and discovered that women’s voices were not well represented at the March overall.  Here’s what I learned from The Root , Teaching Tolerance, and Democracy Now:

– There was a “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom,” but Septima Clark was not among those honored.

– Medgar Evers’s widow, Myrlie Evers, was scheduled as the speaker for the tribute to women, but got stuck in traffic and didn’t get to speak at all  had a prior speaking engagement in Boston.

Daisy Bates was tapped to speak in Evers’s place . Her remarks were about a minute long, and she was the only woman to address the crowd during the official program.

– There were two separate marches: the men walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, and the women — including Daisy Bates and Rosa Parks — walked down Independence Avenue.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Septima Clark, and all the unsung heroines of the civil rights movement, deserve better. (Where’s Clark’s comic book??)

As a small celebration of Clark, I made two education-themed “posters” of her. Please share and enjoy!

septimaClarkrichlyalive

septimastudyinquire

10 Reasons Septima Clark was a Badass Teacher

Septima Clark was an educator and activist who made enormous contributions to the civil rights movement. Here’s why she deserves just as much fame as Dr. King (and why he thought so, too):

1. She rose from humble beginnings — and the legacy of slavery — to start teaching at age 18.

Septima Clark was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1898. Her father was born into slavery and didn’t learn to read and write until he was an adult. Her mother was a washerwoman though she was educated as a child in Haiti.

Clark was the second of eight children. Because she couldn’t afford to attend college, she got her teacher’s license after graduating high school in 1916. It was the start of a 40-year career as a public school teacher.

2. She was deeply committed to professional development.

After her husband died in 1925, Clark moved to Columbia, South Carolina, and sent her son to North Carolina to live with his grandparents. Though it was a painful separation, it allowed her to keep teaching and pursue a college degree.

In the summers, she studied at Columbia University in New York, and at Atlanta University. She earned a bachelor’s from Benedict College in 1942, and a master’s from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in 1945.

3. She never let racism dampen her commitment to teaching and social justice.

In 1916, when she realized she couldn’t work in Charleston because black teachers weren’t allowed to teach there, Clark left the city and began teaching in John’s Island, South Carolina.

When a 1956 state law demanded that she give up membership in the NAACP or lose her job, she moved to Tennessee, where she became the director of education at Highlander Folk School and remained an active member of the NAACP.

4. She fought tirelessly for the fair treatment of black teachers in her home state.

Clark campaigned for a law allowing black teachers to work in Charleston’s public schools, which was passed in 1920.

She also worked with Thurgood Marshall on legislation that gave black teachers equal pay in Columbia, South Carolina.

5. Clark helped thousands combat racism through education.

With a loan from the Highlander Folk School, Clark helped found the first Citizenship School on John’s Island in 1957. In addition to providing social justice training to civil rights activists, Citizenship Schools taught literacy as a means to civic freedom for poor blacks who had never received schooling. They learned practical skills, like how to fill out driver’s license forms, read the newspaper, and open a bank account.

Clark with a student in Wilcox County, Alabama thislittlelight1965.wordpress.com

Clark with a student in Wilcox County, Alabama
http://thislittlelight1965.wordpress.com/tag/septima-clark/

By 1970, there were Citizenship Schools all over the South — nearly 10,000 teachers and 200 schools in all.

6. She paved the way for the (recently gutted) Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Through the workshops she led at Highlander, and the curriculum she designed for Citizenship Schools, Clark helped thousands learn to sign their own names and read the Constitution so they could pass literacy tests designed to exclude blacks from voting. She also taught them to read and understand the voting laws in their state.

Clark at one of her Citizenship Schools in South Carolina. http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgeyes.htm

Clark (center) at one of her Citizenship Schools in South Carolina.
http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgeyes.htm

7. Threats of violence and jail time couldn’t stop her.

Though she experienced troubling incidents — including being physically threatened by the KKK in Natchez, Mississippi in 1965, and getting arrested for teaching integrated classes in 1959 — Clark pressed on.

“None of those things discouraged me,” she said.

8. Her teaching inspired Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Four months after attending one of Clark’s workshops at Highlander, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her bus seat to a white man — and sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. Parks said of Clark, “I wanted to have the courage to accomplish the kinds of things that she had been doing for years.”

Clark (left) with Rosa Parks at the Highlander Folk School in 1955, right before the Montgomery bus boycott. http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgeyes.htm

Clark (left) with Rosa Parks at the Highlander Folk School in 1955, right before the Montgomery bus boycott.
http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgeyes.htm

John Lewis, another famed civil rights leader and current Georgia Congressman, was also profoundly influenced by Clark’s teaching at Highlander.

In his memoir Walking with the Wind, he writes, “What I loved about Clark was her down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach, and the fact that the people she aimed at were…the same ones I could identify with, having grown up poor and barefoot and black.”

When Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he had Clark join him at the ceremony because he felt she deserved just as much credit for her work.

Clark has remained a relatively unsung hero of the movement. Lewis admits: “Her name might be generally unknown today, but she was a powerful influence on many of us during that formative time.”

9. She was an outspoken feminist.

Clark criticized the men she worked with who dismissed her and other women’s contributions to civil rights, calling their sexism “one of the weaknesses of the movement.”

In 1958, she spoke to the National Organization of Women about black and white women’s shared struggle against male domination.

She even encouraged the use of birth control in a time when the matter wasn’t openly discussed. Clark realized that too many black women and children suffered from having large families without adequate resources.

10. After retiring in 1970, Clark continued to fight inequality and serve her community.

In 1976, she won the back pay and pension that was denied to her when she was fired from her South Carolina teaching job in 1956 for being a member of the NAACP.

Clark in her later years laureltobyedison.com

Clark in her later years
http://www.laurietobyedison.com

She served on the Charleston County school board from 1975 – 1978, when she was nearly 80 years old.

Big thanks to Zinn Education Project for this post idea. Check out their page on Clark’s book Freedom’s Teacher, and their teaching materials on the civil rights movement!

Sources

Interviews with Jaquelyn Hall (1, 2)
King Center
AKA Authors
U of South Carolina — Aiken
Safero
StateUniversity

Dicker-Brandeis, Redux / Badass Teachers, Past and Present

One

Last week, I wrote about Freidl Dicker-Brandeis as the first subject in a new series on great teachers in history.

But then I realized, Dicker-Brandeis wasn’t just “great.” She was a badass. Here’s why:

1. She helped hundreds of children cope with the soul-crushing conditions of living in a ghetto during the Holocaust, forced to live separately from their parents and facing down their own deaths.

2. Before being sent to Auschwitz, Dicker-Brandeis had the foresight to hide two suitcases full of her students’ art so they wouldn’t be destroyed by the Nazis. If she hadn’t done so, we would have lost 4,500 testaments to the power of art to create hope and humanity in the worst of circumstances.

3. To prepare for teaching in the Terezin ghetto, she brought largely art supplies with her, instead of personal belongings and other survival items.

4. She was an accomplished artist in her own right — a student of the Bauhaus movement who studied under famous figures like Paul Klee. Here are two of her paintings.

5. Some of her students went on to become respected artists themselves. Georg Eisler and Edith Kramer are two now-famous students she taught while still living in Prague.

Two

I’m hereby renaming the series Badass Teachers in History. This is also a conscious choice to draw an alliance between history and the present — namely, efforts by groups like the Badass Teachers Association to fight education “reforms” that destroy individuality, creativity, and teacher morale in public schools.

And thanks to the Twitterers (Tweeters?) over at the Zinn Education Project, I have a whole bunch more Badass Teachers in History to write about.

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

Since the last post about Rose’s Life After Teaching,  Ellie Rubinstein’s video resignation from teaching went viral. In the video, Rubinstein is visibly distraught to leave what she loves.

 It hasn’t been a clean break for Rose, either. Though her current office job is much more stable than her past life as a high school biology teacher, she considers what’s lost by leaving education in today’s post.

Why I miss teaching:

1. I miss crafting lessons.

Everywhere I went — the supermarket, vacation, an art museum, you name it — I was always on the lookout for “treasure” – things I could use to make learning biology more exciting for my students.

While visiting the Clearwater Aquarium in Florida, for example, I was so inspired by the aquarium’s work with Winter, the injured dolphin later featured in the movie, Dolphin Tale, that I spent an hour talking with representatives there about the importance and impact of educational materials (which they didn’t have). And, even though I was on vacation, I loved thinking about all the lessons I could generate from this experience.

Winter the dolphin

Winter the dolphin

In addition to planning for my students, I also miss sharing my lessons with colleagues. I miss talking to people who are as passionate about teaching science as I am. I miss working with them to improve my lessons, to improve our school, and to improve the education system.

2. I miss the students (most of them).

I miss talking with the students, getting to know them, and helping them learn a subject that I love. As cheesy as it may sound, students’ “aha” moments are like shooting stars. If you aren’t looking at the right time, at the right student, you might miss them. And if you catch one, it’s like nothing else.

I miss the good, unexpected moments, too — like when the class shares a joke, students thank you for your help, or say that your teaching inspired them.

I even miss the (seemingly) off-topic discussions.

One time, we were studying types of muscles and a student, very sheepishly, asked what muscles cause “nipple-itis”.   After we all laughed, I used that comment as a springboard to discuss involuntary muscles with the class.

involuntary muscles

3. I miss the “nobility” of teaching.

Even though society has mixed feelings about teachers (having tenure, pensions, and so on), most people can accept that a teacher’s life is devoted to a noble purpose.

At the end of forty years in the work force, teachers can reflect on all the students they educated.  They were “in the trenches” helping to improve society.

super_teacher

With my cubicle job, in an abstract, roundabout kind of way, I help society too, but will I be proud of my life’s work in forty years?

Kind of…but I’m not sure “kind of” is enough.  It will be a challenge to find another profession that will give me the sense of purpose that teaching did.

4. Guilt, judgment and second thoughts

I sometimes feel guilty for leaving teaching. I feel like I gave up on the future students I will never have. I gave up on the “good fight” of improving America’s education system.

When people find out that I’m a former teacher, some understand why I left. Others judge me like I’m a monster, saying, “How could you give up a life devoted to teaching children?”

Or, they just think I’m stupid for giving up all those “great benefits”.

I wonder if, one day, teaching will be a great job for me again. What if the American education system is reformed? What if society thinks that those who educate children should be treated like educated professionals and be paid a living salary? What if I have children and want to spend summers and holidays with them? What if…?

Like I said before, teaching was like a bad boyfriend: I loved it, but too many times it made me cry. After I took the stress of teaching out of my life, my physical and mental health vastly improved.

When I reflect on it, my brain tells me I made the right decision, but my heart still hurts a little. Maybe it always will.

Related

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

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

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

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

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

Last month, essays like Randy Turner’s “A Warning to Young People,” and Christine McCartney’s Letter of Resolution, gave voice to teachers who have decided to quit the profession, and those who’ve committed to stay despite their shared frustrations, including standardized testing, merit pay, and Common Core Standards.

After four years as a high school biology teacher, Rose left her job, and the education field, in 2011. In today’s post, she reflects on the joys (yes, the joys) of leaving teaching.

Starting a new job is like starting a new relationship.  In the beginning, you’re just getting to know each other, and as time goes on, you decide if you’ll go long term. Sometimes, you realize you love your partner, but the relationship just isn’t healthy.

This is what happened to me with teaching: though our relationship had wonderful moments, I became increasingly unhappy, and decided to end it.

It’s been two school years since I’ve had the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of teaching teenagers. I now work in a cubicle pushing papers and have a much more stable relationship with my job.

Why I’m glad I left teaching:

1.  The simple pleasures of a desk job.

In the morning, the office and my cubicle are quiet and calm. I can ease into my day by enjoying a cup of tea while I go through emails. I use the bathroom whenever I want. I slowly eat my lunch. Full adult conversations are the norm!  This goes for thoughts as well. I can think through a problem and be confident about the decision without being interrupted fifteen times by students, colleagues, or P.A. announcements.

Several health problems went away, like indigestion (from scarfing my lunch before giving a make-up test during my lunch break), foot pain (Goodbye, Dr. Scholls!), and headaches (Yes, I had chronic tension headaches). I’ve also had fewer colds and flus (I come in contact with 30 office workers in a day instead of over 100 students and faculty). I call these simple pleasures because, while they are not earth-shattering changes, they still make my day easier.

Imagine going to the bathroom when you need to...

2. I got myself back.

Teaching takes a lot of physical and mental energy. I was drained when I got home. I didn’t have time for hobbies, friends, or anything else except grading at night.  Now, at 5 o’clock, my workday ends when I leave my cubicle…truly. I don’t think about it until the next morning when I get to work. After work, I read a book, cook dinner, and spend time with my family. I even have time and energy to exercise and take an art class!

Pottery class after work, anyone?

3. A weight was lifted from my shoulders.

I can be myself in public, in private, and at work.

As a teacher, I felt like I had to project this “perfect teacher” persona. I had to be the epitome of calm, conservative moral behavior. I felt like I could not go out to a restaurant, have an alcoholic beverage or sneak a kiss from my partner without worrying if a student or parent saw me.  Society puts this tremendous pressure on teachers as if their every decision, act, and word can inspire or devastate students.  If a student failed, it was the teacher’s fault. If the student succeeded, then it was the achievement of the student alone. Teachers shoulder all the responsibility, but get little recognition for their students’ achievement. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with this pressure anymore.

No more Ms. Perfect

No more Ms. Perfect…

4. My frustration with the American education system dissipated.

I entered teaching as a typical new teacher: bright-eyed, idealistic, and ready to inspire tomorrow’s leaders. And then the reality of teaching slowly, but surely, squeezed the passion out of me. When I tried to shield my students from the problems that plague the system, it seemed useless. It became hard to face the students, parents, administrators, colleagues, and myself knowing all the problems with the education system and feeling not only powerless to solve them, but forced to contribute to them (I’m looking at you, standardized testing).

I felt like a teenager who just got a summer job at her favorite fast food restaurant.  Instead of eating what I loved every day, I never ate it again after I saw how it was prepared.   So when I left teaching, I stopped struggling with the gap between what I wanted teaching to be, and what it actually was. My anger towards the system has dissipated, but a small bit of frustration will always be there because I still care about students.

The calm after leaving teaching

Former teachers, what have you gained from resigning or retiring from the classroom? How did leaving help you reflect?

What would make teaching a sustainable job for more people?

FOLLOW-UP: Read my one-year reflection on this post.

Related

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

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

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

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