Do my numerous constraints rule out meaningful work with kids?
August 5, 2010 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to learn about jobs that involve working intensively, one-on-one, with preschool or elementary-aged kids, to help them learn or develop. But, I have so many constraints that I'm not sure any role fits. Could you point me to any possibilities?

I love working with one kid at a time, and working with two is almost as good. I've done so a lot before in a previous job, and my disposition suits me to it very well. When I'm tuning in to what the kid in front of me needs right at a particular moment, I feel focused, compassionate, and often delighted. I feel I'm meant to be helping kids learn, express their emotions, understand boundaries, use their creativity, or come into their own. I also think I'd enjoy helping parents learn to do so for their kids, but I'd need training on how to teach them first, since that doesn't come as naturally to me.

The (insurmountable?) constraints are:
--I don't want to work with groups of kids or parents all at once. I don't have classroom teaching experience, and I don't want to have to get any along the way.
--I don't have any obviously applicable degrees, such as nursing, social work, counseling, etc., and I don't want to take more than a year or so of classes or training to start this career change. (I'm already in my early forties, with a well-established professional life.)
--I want to make a decent living. I don't have a number in mind and I'd expect to take somewhat of a hit, but think professional salary, not babysitter salary.
--Though I'm happy working with kids who have learning disabilities or a variety of delays and differences, I don't want to work exclusively or primarily with a severely disabled population.

Here's my relevant education and experience:
--a B.A. in a social science, with a couple of developmental psych and education classes, and a thesis related to how kids learn. Top academic honors, prestigious school, etc.
--job experience working with lots of young kids, one or two at a time, in an educational setting, but this was long ago.
--several other jobs involving kid's educational media, even longer ago.
--volunteering through a Big Sisters-type program.

I've briefly considered a bunch of job roles, and I've run across the deal-killers below. But, I haven't looked into them thoroughly, so if the deal-killers are wrong, I'd love to know. Here are those roles:

School psychologist, child psychologist, family therapist, speech-language pathologist, real life supernanny:
--I think the educational path to these is too long. (In the case of supernanny, that's because to do it credibly, I feel like I'd need to be a family therapist, social worker, child development expert, or similar first.)

Nanny, visitor for The Parent-Child Home Program, tutor:
--I think the salary is too low for at least the first two, and maybe also for tutoring unless I were self-employed, which I'd prefer not to be. Also, I'm not sure if tutoring would be an intensive enough relationship.

Interventionist, Reading Recovery teacher:
--Interventionists usually work with groups, and to be a Reading Recovery teacher, I'd have to be a classroom teacher first.

Nurse visitor with the Nurse-Family Partnership:
--I'd have to become a nurse first, and then it seems the role might involve more parent than child interaction, and at least as much focus on physical health and links to community resources as on child development.

So, do you know of any reasonably well-compensated jobs or organizations I could pursue involving intensive, one-on-one, meaningful work with kids aged between about 3 and 10, and possibly their parents, without requiring classroom teaching experience or extensive schooling/training? Even if the current job market makes it a bad time to jump in, I'd still love to hear about possibilities for future reference. Thanks, and my apologies for any vaguenesses above -- this is a second account, and I've obscured some details because I don't want colleagues to know I want a different kind of job.
posted by Other to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My girlfriend works for a foster care agency. There are positions as case workers that work primarily with kids in the age range you are thinking of in one-on-one situations. She also works with their parents (separately) on occasion. The work is intense, and it takes a certain kind of special devotion to get through what can be some pretty emotionally difficult days. But these kids are in need of immediate and desperate help. Emotional help, educational help, and life skills help.

She now has a masters degree, but worked in that position for a number of years before getting it. She had a BA when she started. The salary varies depending on the agency, but it can tend to the more professional end of the spectrum in the right situation. These kinds of jobs also put you in contact with many other child service professions as a regular course of the job, so you might come into contact with something that leads to something, that leads to something, that leads to something...refining your access to the perfect job over time. They also often pay, or help pay, for continuing education classes.

Good luck.
posted by nickjadlowe at 1:22 PM on August 5, 2010

Completing the training in a year would be a stretch, but other than that being a Speech Language Pathologist fits your bill quite well.
posted by alms at 1:49 PM on August 5, 2010

I'm not sure what kind of educational/therapist sort of thing would only apply to mostly normal, non-delayed kids. Most people seek out help for when their child isn't normal, either developmentally, socially, or emotionally.

What about an Early Intervention specialist? Unfortunately, the age range there is 0-3 years, but the specialist who saw our son was just wonderful. Our son was only a little delayed from a bout with meningitis, and after 6 months was right on track. I'm sure she dealt with a looot of delayed kids, because that's the point of the program, but a lot of the kids "graduate", including one of my son's tiny tot buddies who shared our same specialist.
posted by kpht at 2:19 PM on August 5, 2010

Alms: you are right, it takes 2-3 post-BA years to become a speech-language pathologist. Developmental therapy might be worth exploring.
posted by onepot at 2:31 PM on August 5, 2010

How long is "too long" for another degree, in your mind? I just completed my MSW in two years, and I believe that many MSW programs are that length. After that, it's another two years (in Iowa) before one can get the Independent license and hang out a shingle, but in those interim years, one can get a job doing what one wants to do and make money at it; it just has to be supervised. You sound like you'd be a wonder as a play therapist. Play therapists certainly work with some kiddos with delays/disabilities, but would also be likely to work with kids who have been through significant stress or trauma, but are otherwise "normal".

Reading back through, I see that you want to do no more than a year of additional education, so this route may not be for you, but all the other particulars seem to fit. Good luck in finding something that suits you!
posted by epj at 2:40 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being a speech-language pathologist requires a master's degree. However, being a speech-language pathologist assistant in a public school might be feasible. The training requirements and responsibilities vary from district to district, but it's worth seeing if a district near you needs them.
posted by christinetheslp at 3:23 PM on August 5, 2010

Response by poster: Very helpful answers so far, thanks! I'll look into roles at foster agencies, developmental and play therapy, and early intervention, and if anyone has more info on any of those and how they might or might not fit my description, please chime in. One of the few things I think I know about speech-language pathology is that it takes pretty significant schooling, but I do think that otherwise, it's on the right track, so I'll look into the assistant role, as well.

I wanted to clarify that when I said this: "Though I'm happy working with kids who have learning disabilities or a variety of delays and differences, I don't want to work exclusively or primarily with a severely disabled population," I didn't mean that I want to work mostly with kids who are perfectly fine and don't need my help. It's the "severely" part that I'm emphasizing. For example, I don't think I have what it takes to work primarily with kids who are never expected to develop into independent adults.
posted by Other at 3:26 PM on August 5, 2010

Work as a summer camp counselor for a program that's doing really interesting things. There are a bunch of summer programs that double as alternative education centers - Camp Kaleidoscope or Parts and Crafts in Boston, Open Air Circus, the Tinkering School is an obvious one (if overpriced and probably crazy exclusive), BEAM Camp in New Hampshire /Brooklyn. Volunteer until they're hiring. Find a place where the interesting college / career dropouts went when they realized that they liked working with kids, and see if they need a hand. Or start your own!

It doesn't pay well, but it's tremendously rewarding, and gives you the space to experiment and fuck up and learn, and will let you spend a lot of your time doing precisely what you say you want to be doing (which is, hanging out and helping, rarer than marshalling or directing)
posted by puckish at 9:00 PM on August 5, 2010

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