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Office drone to high school English teacher?
March 29, 2010 2:59 PM   Subscribe

I hate my office job. I want to quit it and become a high school English teacher. Is that stupid? What would I have to do to get started if I live in NYC? What are the pros and cons of teaching high school?

I have a pretty nice office job. I work at a marketing agency where I get decent benefits and make a nice salary. But I feel totally disconnected from my work, and I know I'm just a cog in the machine that convinces people to buy stuff they don't need. It's maddening to think that I'll devote the next 30 years of my life to something I dislike at its core.

The lure of graduate school calls to me, but I don't think I'd be very happy slaving away at a PhD in Jamesian novels just so I could teach at BFE University. I've started to wonder if I'd make a good high school English teacher instead. I had close relationships with my English teachers, who encouraged me to write critically and value literature beyond simply its means to make a high grade. My teachers were fundamental in turning me into an avid reader and thinker. I went on to graduate college with an English degree. I would love to build that sort of confidence and love of literature into a new generation of students.

I don't really care about the pay dock, or the fact that the job is lower in prestige than my current one. I know I'll teach some kids who couldn't care less about Shakespeare, and deal with parents who demand grade inflation and special treatment for their kids. My mother was a high school history teacher, so I know some of the politics and drama inherent in all schools, but I'd rather deal with that hullabaloo than write copy for the backs of cereal boxes.

Other pros: I'd hopefully get a decent maternity leave (though I'm not planning on kids for at least 7 years); I can move away from NYC at some point; I'd work stable but not ridiculous hours; I'd engage in some meaningful endeavors.

Does this sound like a good career change for a 25 year old female? What else should I take into consideration? I know the job market is bad for teachers, but I feel, perhaps quite naively, that I'm a strong candidate. How would I get started?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you have an undergraduate degree in English?
posted by Jahaza at 3:04 PM on March 29, 2010


New York State Department of Education website on teacher certification pathways.
posted by not that girl at 3:10 PM on March 29, 2010


I recommend creating a throaway email account and contacting the mods to have them post it here. Then people can have your clarify things or give you private advice. And while you're doing that you can answer Jahaza's question.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:11 PM on March 29, 2010


Some general things to note about teaching:

PRO
-a chance to "make a difference", change lives, etc. (you hope)
-independence (no one stands over you in a class and tells you what to do every day)
-structure (can also be bad depending on how you are with routines)
-always interesting (no two days or two kids are the same)
-vacation time (though you'll spend a lot of it sleeping or taking courses)

CON
-difficult parents (seriously, you have no idea)
-difficult administration (or they could be great--luck of the draw, really)
-unrealistic curriculum expectations (you want me to teach them what? in how long? ha!)
-ridiculous, disrespectful kids (but also delightful, heartwarming kids)
-immense marking load (lots and LOTS of evening work, especially in English)

Hope this helps--good luck!
posted by Go Banana at 3:13 PM on March 29, 2010


Follow-up from the OP (who can be reached at this throaway email: vanderbiltgates@gmail.com):
I did, in fact, major in English at a top university in the US, graduated with high honors, etc.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:17 PM on March 29, 2010


It's maddening to think that I'll devote the next 30 years of my life to something I dislike at its core.

You don't have to live that way. Fewer and fewer people are boxing themselves into a life of climbing one career ladder their whole life.

How much of your current desire to be a teacher is simply looking at your degree and concluding that there are only a few things you can do with it (teach university, teach college, teach grade school)? If this rings any bells at all, you should not become a teacher; right now, the market is so bad and the influx of new teachers continues to rise and it's just not the place to go unless you really really really want to teach.

If you're simply unhappy in your current line of work, there are better options out there in markets that are not so pitiful.

If you do really love the idea of being a teacher (for reasons other than having had great teachers, maternity leave, the flexibility of moving and a good schedule) then go be a teacher. Life's too short to waste on things you don't like.
posted by Hiker at 3:18 PM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


follow-up from the OP
Yes, I majored in English at a top university in the US and graduated with high honors. I have no background in teaching, though. I forgot to add that I'll need to get my master's in education, and am looking for possible resources to help with this transition. Any further questions can be sent to vanderbiltgates@gmail.com.
posted by jessamyn at 3:23 PM on March 29, 2010


have you WORKED as a teacher in any capacity before? if not, try at least volunteering first. before graduating i had worked at daycares, tutoring centers, summer camps, and thought i was going to be an art or english teacher. i love kids, love lit (was also a lit major at a top university in the US, graduated with high honours), and teaching english drained me. DRAINED ME. i couldn't believe how tired i was all the time. when you're teaching you have to continuously be "on" whereas in a cube job you can zone out from time to time. on top of that there's all the bureaucracy. you may get a taste of what it's like if you volunteer first. i love teaching, but it was just too draining for me as my fulltime job, so i now just do it on a volunteer basis. btw this does not hold true of everyone, but all my friends who are teachers are pretty drained and constantly grading/doing lesson plans all night/weekend.

mind you, it's also very hard for teachers right now, people keep getting cut, pay is low, etc. you may end up teaching a different age group / subject than what you get trained for (if you get a teaching degree)
posted by raw sugar at 3:26 PM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I feel totally disconnected from my work, and I know I'm just a cog in the machine that convinces people to buy stuff they don't need. It's maddening to think that I'll devote the next 30 years of my life to something I dislike at its core.

Sorry that this doesn't exactly answer your question, but I think you should consider the following before making a massive career change:

There is evidence that marketing and advertising perform a useful economic function (lots on that here), and that they provide financial support for a free press (tons of web services too).

Hopefully that will help you feel a little better about your job. If it doesn't, you say that you're making more at your current job - donating the difference between your current salary and a teacher's salary to charity could "make a difference" more effectively than teaching.
posted by ripley_ at 3:41 PM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look into Teach for America.
posted by Joh at 3:43 PM on March 29, 2010


I am a former New York City Teaching Fellow . I have very, very mixed feelings about the fellows, but the one thing that can definitely be said for them is that they allowed me to move to NYC, start teaching, and get my master's.

They would accept you into the program in a second...

I actually don't believe that things are as bad for teachers as many people seem to think. Every spring schools seem to lay off teachers, but then end up hiring more in the summer to fill the gaps. I was able to score an excellent teaching job in 2008 and I have many friends who have moved around as teachers with no problem at all.

I think you should go for it. The world could benefit from more intelligent and enthusiastic teachers.

Also: at 25, I wouldn't even think of it as a career change. I know many people who have made much stranger changes at much older ages.
posted by samsarah at 3:45 PM on March 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine did a similar move at age 35, and he didn't have the BA to start. He would say it was well worth it, and I'm sure he makes a fabulous teacher. I also have a colleague who finished her PhD at 50 and was hired as an Assistant Prof (tenure track), and she's a fantastic prof and colleague.
posted by kch at 3:52 PM on March 29, 2010


You need to figure out how much you're going to earn as a teacher, and if you can live on that.

You need to figure out how much you will earn after three years, and figure out if it will cover your projected expenses.

You need to have an exit strategy that will get you out of being a teacher in 5 years, if, say you don't like the job anymore, or if something happens, like you get married or want to buy a house and the salary doesn't cut it.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:02 PM on March 29, 2010


I'd work stable but not ridiculous hours

Especially in your first few years of teaching, the hours are absolutely ridiculous...even though you're out earlier than people in office jobs, you will be taking home grading, staying up late to prepare lessons, emailing with colleagues, calling parents in the evening, etc etc etc. Plus there's just the emotional toll of working with students from really troubled backgrounds, who you want to help but can't really do much for. Yes, it's a great feeling when you have any kind of "breakthrough" with a kid but for every one of those there are 20 others who are totally averse to your help or who you just don't know how to help. It can be very depressing.

And with the hours - you don't have any leeway. At some jobs, you can come 20 minutes late and leave a bit later to make it up, or just do more work in less time. With teaching jobs, you cannot arrive at 8:10 when your class starts at 8. You will feel guilty when you need to take a sick day or miss a class to leave early for a doctor's appointment.

I don't mean to discourage you - it's so wonderful, what you're thinking, about wanting to do something meaningful and make a difference! And NYC Teaching Fellows/Teach for America are good places to check out, to start.
posted by violetish at 4:14 PM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Before you decide, you might consider giving professional tutoring a whirl. Lots of agencies will hire someone with a B.A., experienced or not. Tutoring can provide you with some very interesting insight into the struggles of students who are having a hard time learning, a hard time behaving in a way that furthers their learning, or a hard time living up to their parents' expectations. It will also provide you with invaluable experience in terms of dealing with parents, from the seemingly-insane to the delightful.
posted by corey flood at 4:19 PM on March 29, 2010


I came in to say just what violetish did.

I've never taught high school, but taught 2 classes a semester during graduate school. Though it was only about 6 classroom hours, the total amount of work a week was nearing 40--and was far more draining. Even fairly intelligent college freshmen demand a ton of attention and coddling and grading papers takes more energy than just about any other work you'll ever take home. I cannot imagine how much that workload expands, exponentially, when you're teaching four or five or even six classes a day.

And, for most teachers I know, they go into the job expecting to be able to paint or write or travel during their summers off. Instead, those two months are pretty much spent recharging--if they're not supplementing their (relatively low) incomes by working during the summers.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:22 PM on March 29, 2010


My teachers were fundamental in turning me into an avid reader and thinker. I went on to graduate college with an English degree. I would love to build that sort of confidence and love of literature into a new generation of students.

Yay! That sounds great. Be aware, though, that you probably won't inspire that sort of confidence in most of your students. The large majority of them will shuffle through your class and do the bare minimum, never really taking the time to put much effort into answering your amazing essay prompts. Literature won't speak to them the way it speaks to you, which is completely fine. You can have a blast teaching, but don't let yourself get beat down when you don't reach every student. And don't fool yourself; the grading load for an English teacher is ridiculous and many students' writing skills are bad enough to make you weep (two page papers written as one paragraph are not uncommon, even among the AP/IB/honors students).

In terms of pros of teaching, a lot of it is intangible. It's never boring because you can be infinitely creative in how you teach each lesson, and you can constantly advance your own teaching skills and content knowledge (great for nerds who love learning). It's fascinating to watch students figure out the world and articulate their own opinions about it. And even though most of them won't like your class you can still have fun together. If you can get tenure the job security is hard to beat (though changing districts can mean a significant cut in paycheck and job security). The first five-ish years will be insanely difficult, but it eases up after that (I'm told).

How well you did in your undergrad probably isn't going to matter as much as you might think it will. Content is almost secondary to how you present it, manage a classroom, etc. Absolutely look into getting a masters in education, but many universities also offer post-bachelors teacher training programs. Find one that puts you in the classroom as soon as possible and as much as possible. Your first day in front of a class should not be your first day student teaching. You still won't know what you're doing when you start teaching, but at least you'll be somewhat prepared. If possible, find a way to get some training in teaching literacy, ESL/ELL, special ed, incorporating technology, or even a dual certification in another subject area. Being able to identify a specific group of students you like to work with, or skills you can bring to a building, will really make you stand out in interviews later on. Hopefully the economy will turn around in a few years (that's what I'm banking on), but be prepared to move far away or not take a full-time job.
posted by lilac girl at 5:13 PM on March 29, 2010


I certainly can't help with the decision, but The New Teachers' Project is a possible way in. I applied to work with them a few months ago and went through a fairly rigorous interview process. I didn't get the job, but I came away with a very positive perception of the organization. Based in Brooklyn, so I assume they do a lot in NYC.
posted by McBearclaw at 8:41 PM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, you're me last year! I'm 27, worked at a cube farm, hated it, and am now working on my High School English Teaching Certification at Illinois State. I would suggest substitute teaching if at all possible before you quit your job and move on. That gave me the taste I needed to make the change. It was exhilarating and fun and hard all at the same time. I'm aware that it's a lot of work, but I still can't wait.

The program I'm in is certification only, so it's only a one year program. I'd actually DISCOURAGE getting your masters right away. Every administrator I've spoken with (mainly my Father-in-law/superintendent) have said that having a masters and no experience puts you at a disadvantage when getting hired because they have to pay your more on day one than some kid with a bachelors degree and no experience. When you get a job, THEN go get your masters degree.

Also, the pay isn't THAT bad, plus, it gets progressively better the longer you stay in. Plus, there are federal student loan forgiveness programs and great benefits.

Good luck with whatever you decide. I can't tell you how happy I am that I made the switch. And I can't wait to have my own classroom next september!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 9:39 PM on March 29, 2010


I'd actually DISCOURAGE getting your masters right away. Every administrator I've spoken with (mainly my Father-in-law/superintendent) have said that having a masters and no experience puts you at a disadvantage when getting hired because they have to pay your more on day one than some kid with a bachelors degree and no experience. When you get a job, THEN go get your masters degree.

Yes, yes, and yes. I'm a teacher (and on hiring committees), and we absolutely weed out those with Master's (much higher pay scale) if they don't have a solid track record of teaching. We can often afford 3 Bachelor's teachers for the price of 2 Master's.

With a lot of technological advances today in schools (SmartBoards, etc.), we prefer having people who are willing to embrace change, and that often means a newbie with a Bachelor's degree, not a seasoned veteran who can't use email (sorry to stereotype, but I see a lot of that).

Also, after you get hired you can get your district to pay for 1/2 of your Master's.

Win-win.
posted by dzaz at 3:25 AM on March 30, 2010


Yes, yes, and yes. I'm a teacher (and on hiring committees), and we absolutely weed out those with Master's (much higher pay scale) if they don't have a solid track record of teaching. We can often afford 3 Bachelor's teachers for the price of 2 Master's.

Guys, NY state licensure is a different beast entirely. You actually need a master's degree to become licensed to teach there.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:54 AM on March 30, 2010


If you decide to do this, and you have a timeframe in the future at all, then I recommend that you think NOW about the financial situation. You say you currently make more than a teacher's salary, so start right now to limit your monthly spending to the amount that you would be making as a teacher (or less). Put the remainder of your salary into a savings account to be used as an emergency fund.

I know lots of teachers who have no problems with the salary, but they started out that way. If you are used to having more, you may find it difficult to cut down. And having a buffer of savings will help so much in your peace of mind later.
posted by CathyG at 9:55 AM on March 30, 2010


Having worked for a college that trains teachers...you should be aware that there are a lot of smart, bright English high school teachers out there and the job market for them...kinda sucks most places. Getting more subject areas (ESL? anything science or math-y? Foreign language?) helps.

Having said that..there is some loan forgiveness available if you teach in high needs schools. $10,000 in exchange for teaching for 5 years in those schools. If you're willing to consider a less often chosen subject area, let me know and I'll point you to a bunch of scholarships. There is ONE nice one for English people, but it's pretty competitive.
posted by eleanna at 2:18 PM on April 2, 2010


I've taught HS in nyc for 9 years- now is not really the time to make the switch. There are massive hiring freezes and budget cuts city-wide. If you have a nice job now I would definitely hang on to it. Even if you do get in with Teach for America, or NYC Teaching fellows, the first few years will be rough. Rougher than you can probably imagine right now. I would definitely take the advice given by others to hang on to your present job and volunteer with teens/youths/kids of whatever age you are hoping to teach in your free time. Do that for a year or two, try to save up money (working at teaching AND being exhausted AND being broke can really get stressful). Then make a move if you are still interested. But I'm not really one to give advice, I'm thinking about making my own changes and am too scared to jump!:)
posted by bquarters at 6:17 PM on October 24, 2010


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