I Quit My Job Today

Excellent post on leaving teaching from Suzie81, a music educator for nearly 10 years. What if more teachers stopped doing everything expected of them?

Suzie Speaks

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Throughout my life I have done everything that I felt was expected of me. I worked hard in school, achieved good grades in my GCSE’s and A Levels, went to a respected music conservatoire and then was lucky enough to find myself in a full-time job as a Learning Mentor almost immediately after graduating. Within a year, I was offered an opportunity to train as a teacher, and I’ve worked as a qualified music teacher for nearly ten years. I’ve always played it safe, followed the expected path, and never taken any risks. I can say that I’m happy to an extent, but not as much as I know I could be.

At the beginning of 2015 I made one promise to myself: if things were going to change, it had to be now – I was going to take the risk.

For some, teaching is a vocation. It isn’t…

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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?

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)

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)