“I Hate Teaching”: My Most Popular Search Term in 2015

I would not have guessed before today that “I hate teaching” would be the top search leading readers to my blog this year. I’ve never tagged a post with that phrase, nor have I uttered it in any of my posts (until now, of course).

But have I had the thought? Have I, out of frustration and fatigue, said “I hate teaching” in conversations with my husband or close friends?

You betcha.

Which is why I was surprised, but not shocked, that “I hate teaching” had grown from barely a whisper in the blog’s search terms in 2012-2013, to a solemn declaration (fifth place) in 2014, and finally, to an anguished cry as this year’s most popular search.

As 2015 draws to a close, this blog is currently the first Google result for “I hate teaching.” 

i hate teaching search Screen Shot

A bit more digging shows that a comment left by Ex-teacher back in June 2014 was the hook:

“…. I used to google the sentence ‘I hate teaching’ or ‘teaching is ruining my life’ pretty much every day. I felt like a loser for not being more motivated about the job. I felt guilty and scared to move on to another type of job. I quit because of my health but I should have quit way sooner when I started feeling miserable every day about going to work and I lost my ability to sleep and eat well because of stress….”  

“I hate teaching” is not something you’re supposed to say — not in public, and certainly not to other teachers, even if you feel similarly disheartened. 

You’re supposed to focus on the rewards of teaching, the needs of the students and the greater mission of educating our youth. And you’re supposed to be grateful to have summers off.

But Ex-teacher said what many of us have only thought or shared in private. By breaking the taboo, this reader has helped others, myself included, feel less alone. The comment ends by encouraging others to protect their own well-being:

“I know many discouraged teachers will end up on this forum trying to decide what to do and being afraid of ruining their career. My opinion is the following: if your heart races like crazy and you get a sick feeling in your stomach every time you walk into that classroom and it keeps getting worse every day, it’s probably time to walk out. There is life after teaching and it’s not bad at all. I now buy less things because I have less money but I also have a lot less stress and that is worth more than money can buy.”

In 2015, my second year away from the classroom, I’ve come to a similar conclusion. Life After Teaching may not be an automatic ticket to fortune or professional fulfillment, but it can offer a better work-life balance that will help you take care of yourself and your loved ones.

With those rewards in mind, I wish you the best in the New Year. Whether you’re searching for Life After Teaching or a better way to live with teaching, I hope 2016 finds you healthier, happier — and Googling the things you love. 

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

Last time, I wrote about how teaching is still woven into who I am, two years after quitting. Like it or not, my teacher side shows in my thinking, the clothes I wear, and, it turns out, my accessories.

Since the last post, I remembered that I’d also been carrying one of my teacher bags to work. It’s a black canvas number roomy enough for several sets of papers.

Though I’ve switched to a smaller bag that better fits my essay-free life, I’m still thinking about what I’ve learned after leaving the classroom. Here are a few more items I’m adding to the list:

1. Not teaching has helped me make healthier choices, but there’s a catch.

I start most days with fruit and yogurt, instead of the sad cereal bars or bagel, egg and cheese bombs I used to eat when I had time for breakfast at school.

a much healthier way to fuel the day

a much healthier way to fuel the day

My lunch break also gives me ample time to eat a complete meal and take a long walk around the block.

The downside? On an average day, I consume a lot more calories than I used to. What’s more, my cushy office job is actually too cushy: I spend more than six hours a day sitting! (Cue the tiniest of violins.)

But seriously: I went from never worrying about sitting too much at work, to knowing every day at the office is boosting my risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

I like to think that my lowered levels of everyday stress still put me ahead, but sometimes I’m not so sure.

2. Teaching has had a lasting negative impact on my confidence.

Even though I’ve written about being proud of what you’ve gained from teaching, it’s been a challenge to follow my own advice. Years of answering to hundreds of people  — be they students, parents, or administrators — often made me question my judgment. In fact, the longer I taught, the less confident I felt in what I was doing. As my old colleague used to say, “Teaching makes me feel bad about myself every day.”

I wish I could tell you I’ve left all that negativity behind, but it still gets to me. I continue to doubt myself in small moments and major ones. And despite knowing better, I sometimes think about how I wasn’t “good enough” to last as a teacher. In two more years, I hope to be more comfortable in my choices, including my choice to quit teaching.

3. At the same time, teaching made me feel powerful.

When I think back to those seven years in the classroom, I wonder, how did I do that? How did I stand in front of those students each day? How did I grade hundreds of papers each year? How did I get up for work all those times when I dreaded it? Part of my self-doubt now is feeling that I’m no longer strong enough to teach.

4. Making up for lost time isn’t easy.

The calls avoided because I was too drained to talk to anyone; the visits cut short because I was anxious to catch up on grading; the times I was impatient, cranky and generally not fun to be with — I see how they added up over the years. Knowing that I let my personal relationships suffer because of teaching makes me sad. I’m trying to be a better wife, daughter and friend by calling, initiating plans and showing up more — but it’s going to take a lot more work to close that seven-year gap.

5. The most surprising thing I’ve learned? I’m not content with “just” an office job.

When I first quit teaching, I thought a quiet cubicle job was all I’d ever need. I was wrong, of course. I’ve attempted to fill the intellectual, physical and emotional space that teaching used to occupy with cooking classes, an improv class, several seasons of league volleyball, mentoring and signing up for Skillshare.

I’ve also been thinking about my old teacher bag:

a second life for the old teacher bag

The bag was a gift from a fellow English teacher. She had designed a senior project that asked students to take positive social action in the world, and invited me to use the assignment with my own seniors. I remember enjoying the experience of helping my students develop their action projects and present them to the school.

Toting the bag as a non-teacher, I felt its white-hot letters prodding me with questions like: What are you doing now to be socially responsible? and How can you make an impact beyond the classroom? 

Two years in, I’m still figuring out Life After Teaching. Though I’m not planning to return to teaching, I know it’s the most significant public service I’ve done. This year I learned that I don’t want it to be the last.

Related

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

As I got dressed for work one recent morning, my husband glanced at me. “That’s a teacher outfit,” he said. I was skeptical at first: The black cardigan and blue silk dress was an ensemble I’d worn many times to school, but what was so special about it? When I looked in the mirror, though, my clothes did read “English teacher” somehow.

the outfit that gave me away...

The outfit that gave me away

Two years out of the classroom, my closet is still full of “teacher outfits”: sensible sweaters, knee-length skirts and flats. As another school year has ended, I’ve wondered: how much does the teacher in me still show — and how much of the “old me” has been boxed up for good?

Here’s what I’ve discovered in my second year after teaching:

1. I miss being around kids.

There were many days when my students’ teenage attitudes and behavior — and my responsibility for their actions — wore me down. When I started my office job, I rejoiced in my newly calm, predictable work environment. In the past few months, though, I’ve been missing interacting with young people. At their best, teenagers are sweet, silly and spontaneous in a way that puts water cooler conversation to shame.

2. I miss being a mentor.

I also miss the exciting exchange of ideas that could happen in a stellar class, and the satisfaction of helping a student. It’s why I applied to be a mentor for my local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters last fall. Since March, I’ve been meeting with my Little Sister twice a month. Anna is 12 years old and loves to climb, run and play basketball. I enjoy talking with her about what’s going on at school, helping her with her homework and encouraging her to be assertive and considerate of others.

3. My memories of teaching are fading, for better and for worse.

I remember being up all night thinking about some disaster at school — like a failed lesson or uncomfortable conversation — and how I should have handled it differently. Now I’ve forgotten most of the names of the students involved and many of the details of what made me so upset.

Not surprisingly, I’ve also been getting much fewer school anxiety dreams. I still got them regularly last year, but now they pop up once every few months.

On the other hand, I’ve also forgotten a lot of what and how I taught. When a co-teacher I’d worked with told me she still uses the modified essay assignment we’d created for our ninth graders, I didn’t remember it at all. Worse still, I’m forgetting key lines, names and other important parts of stories I used to teach three times a day. I can still recite the Prologue from Romeo and Juliet, but even that may be gone soon, too.

4. I still think of lesson ideas and how I could’ve been a better teacher overall…

This New York Times story about an English teacher who used rapper Kendrick Lamar’s music to help his students appreciate The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison made me feel all tingly inside — and wish for another chance to do Morrison’s Song of Solomon or Kindred by Octavia Butler justice.

I also continue to think about what I could’ve done to reach more students and make teaching more enjoyable. This post I wrote about work-life balance, for instance, helped me understand how cultivating positive relationships with more students — and bringing more of my personal interests to the classroom — would’ve helped relieve the stress I felt.

5. …But I’m glad that grading is gone from my life.

Despite what I’ve lost by quitting teaching, I continue to be grateful that take-home work is no longer part of my job. Last summer, I wrote about the joy of having no more papers to grade, ever. This summer, I still love the lightness of my work bag: just my phone, keys, wallet, food, and a book to read during my lunch break. This, to me, is one of the main reasons why leaving teaching is still worth it.

Next time, I’ll talk more about how my life after teaching has developed — and how I’m still figuring it out.

Related

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

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

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

Leaving Teaching: The Money Question, Part One

Teaching pays less than many other professions — even ones that don’t require a college degree. Even so, if you’re thinking of leaving teaching, it’s natural to wonder whether you can afford to change careers.

Let’s say you’re offered a job that matches your current teaching salary, but only includes two weeks’ vacation. Should you take it?

Or what if you get an offer for even less than what you make now? Could you maintain your standard of living?

When thinking about leaving teaching, salary and benefits are not the only important factors in your decision. But you should still ensure it makes sense from a hard-nosed financial perspective. To calculate if leaving teaching might make sense for you, consider (1) your hourly rate, (2) the value of your free time, and (3) other job benefits.

In this post, I’ll go over why your hourly rate is important and how you can use it to evaluate a potential career change. To start, I’d like to give credit to reader (and science-teacher-turned-app-developer) TK for recommending hourly pay as a unit of comparison. He writes:

Figure out what your hourly pay is/was as a teacher and negotiate off of that. Look at the teacher contract calendar your district puts out and find the number of days you’re contracted to work. Divide your base salary by the number of contracted days, then divide again by 8 (assume an 8 hour workday as a teacher, haha). That is your hourly rate, and don’t accept anything less than it.

I’d also like to offer an alternative to TK’s formula. In addition to basing your hourly rate on an eight-hour teaching workday, you can also calculate your hourly rate with the actual number of hours you work. We all know what that teachers put in much more than 40 hours a week, so why not find out the true value of your time?


Here’s an example of how you might figure out your hourly pay with all of your work hours:

teaching salary: $50,000

hours worked:

10 hours of work per weekday (8 hours at school and 2 hours at home) x 5 = 50

+ 5 hours of work/weekend = 55 hours per week

55 hours per week x 38 weeks

(I’m assuming 37 weeks of school a year + 1 week of planning/grading during vacations, including summer)

= 2,090 hours per year

$50,000 salary / 2,090 hours per year = $24 per hour (rounded) 


Now let’s compare that $24 per hour to what you might make at a “normal” 9-to-5 job with the same salary:

9-to-5 job salary: $50,000

hours worked:

7 hours of work per weekday (assuming a one-hour lunch break) x 5 = 35 hours per week

35 hours per week x 48 weeks (2 weeks’ vacation plus 10 holidays) = 1,680 hours per year

$50,000 salary / 1,680 hours per year = $30 per hour (rounded)


While it may not surprise you to discover that your hourly rate at a normal job with the same pay as teaching would be higher, doesn’t it feel good to see the cold, hard numbers? That increased hourly rate means you earn lots of extra leisure time while maintaining the same annual salary. Crunching the numbers can also help you see that, in some cases, even a lower-paid job could be worthwhile.

For instance, if you made $24 an hour in a $50,000 teaching job, that means a non-teaching job with a $45,000 salary would still pay more ($27) per hour, given a 35-hour workweek. In fact, it’s not till the pay dips to about $40,000 that your hourly rate is about the same for teaching and the office job!

Are you unsure what a job might pay — or whether you can really expect a 7-hour workday in your next career? Do some digging! Here are three sites I’ve found helpful:

Glassdoor.com includes employee-submitted (but anonymous) salaries and reviews for specific job titles at specific companies. You’ll need to register to use the site, and provide your current salary information to improve the site, but it’s free and you can always unsubscribe from their email updates, which include job postings.

Indeed.com pulls together job listings from different websites (kind of like Kayak) and it’s how I found my current job. It lets you filter your job search by estimated salary range (such as “$50,000+”). The Salaries section also estimates how much jobs pay based on real postings from employers.

Payscale.com is another resource for estimating how your salary stacks up to those for similar jobs in your area. It even tells you what you might expect to make as you advance in a career. The one slightly annoying part is that it makes you answer questions about your current pay before it gives you your “salary report,” but I was able to do so anonymously and without signing up for spam emails.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss why you should include the value of added free time in your “leaving teaching” calculation. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on hourly pay? Would you ever take a non-teaching job with a lower salary if you found out you’d be making more per hour?

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

image

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…

View original post 1,339 more words

Life After Teaching Interview: Meg Olson, Social Justice Advocate

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

Need more convincing?megolson

Meet Meg Olson.

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

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

When did you leave teaching?

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

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

Was the Lab School one of those dream schools?

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

What made you leave teaching?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you do when you left?

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

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

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

You’re a brave person!

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

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

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

What do you do now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you get the job at Catholic Charities?

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

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

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

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

Congrats! That’s awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related

Life After Teaching Interview: Marie Ardito, Retiree Advocate

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

Congrats, teachers, on making it to Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

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

It started with a question from Michelle, who said:

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

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

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

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

How?

Marsha explains:

Instead…of dividing oneself up to survive, think about ways to be more integrated — to be fully oneself in all aspects of one’s life. Fusion, after all, is more powerful than fission.

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

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

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

Bruce adds:

After my first ten years in the classroom I agonized over the possibility that I’d never get to follow other passions because of the demands full-time teaching makes. I’m one of those people who goes all in anyway, so part-time was not an idea I’d entertain at all. I discovered that I could do more than teaching if I somehow involved those other passions with my identity as a teacher. In many ways it worked well. I produced some oral history radio programs, and got involved with a musical production about the life of Woody Guthrie for a time. These were things that gave me much personal satisfaction and both taught and honed skills I valued. Later, I began to write professionally for a thoroughbred horse magazine. Again, an alternate career that flourished summers and weekends.

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

Marsha:

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

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

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

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

Bruce:

I’d like to say that I figured out how to handle the paper load that comes with Honors English classes and senior social science electives, but the truth is I brought home work. Lots of it. My students wrote…often. But the tradeoff was that the desire to have time for other things often motivated me to keep on top of my grading. Marsha’s comments about the link between your intellectual life and your teaching life is spot on. When you can bring that into your classroom as well as any other skills, abilities, and passions you have, your students will respond in kind.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

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

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)