Choosing a career
January 1, 2013 5:12 PM   Subscribe

What kind of jobs would allow a young college graduate to do interesting intellectual work at his/her own pace without too much socializing?

I recently graduated from a small, liberal arts college and took a job as an AmeriCorps teacher at a middle school for girls who qualify for free or reduced lunch (a common measure of socio-economic status in schools.) So far, the job has been difficult. The hours are generally long (the school is extended day) and some of the students are difficult to discipline. However, I always thought I was going to be a teacher. Now, I'm not sure if I want to. I feel like I'm not comfortable socializing with other teachers (because I'm generally shy), and the job makes me stressed out and nervous. I like to work alone and at my own pace. However, I don't know of any jobs that really allow for this. As a student, I liked to spend a lot of time on my own, reading and writing. The natural step for an English major liked me seemed to be teaching, but it doesn't seem right for me. Can anyone recommend a potential career that might fit me?
posted by Lee Shore to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You could research interesting things and then write books about them.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:15 PM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could look into technical writing.
posted by spunweb at 5:24 PM on January 1, 2013

I don't have any specific advice, but I know that the first year of teaching is usually miserable. I don't know about AmeriCorps but programs like Teach For America are short stints for a reason - they burn you out!
posted by radioamy at 5:33 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Basically what I mean is that you might not want to base your decision to be a teacher (or not) on this experience, because a) the first year of teaching is the worst and b) you are probably over-worked, under-prepared and under-supported.
posted by radioamy at 5:39 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have heard that kind of thing about these programs. Do you have any advice about how to deal l with it? I know you don't know the specifics of my situation, but I would welcome any suggestions. I've signed on for two years, so I have awhile to go.
posted by Lee Shore at 5:52 PM on January 1, 2013

So "you should research interesting things and then write books about them" is one of the greatest jobs in the world from a job satisfaction standpoint, but it is a horrible job in terms of stability and pay per hour. The average advance for a work of non-fiction in the US is $15,000.

The way you make ends meet as a researcher of interesting things and writer about them is by teaching or journalism or freelance not-interesting writing work (corporate annual reports, for example) and there is a lot of schmoozing and face-to-face interaction in all of those lines of work.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:59 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have heard that kind of thing about these programs. Do you have any advice about how to deal l with it? I know you don't know the specifics of my situation, but I would welcome any suggestions. I've signed on for two years, so I have awhile to go.

I'm in my second year of teaching in a challenging urban setting (Southeast DC) and my second year hasn't gotten much better; there is high burnout for a reason. I don't want to hijack this but please please please feel free to MeFi mail me if you have any questions or would like to talk.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:02 PM on January 1, 2013

You could take some technical writing courses or certificate and start looking for technical writing jobs at software companies.
posted by gt2 at 6:06 PM on January 1, 2013

I'm not doubting your self-assessment, but just wanted to say that dealing with teacher colleagues may actually be one of the most challenging parts of your job. I've thought about teaching, taught in an inner-city summer program and spent some time working with special education teachers. I've met teachers who struck me as parochial, condescending, cynical, territorial, burned-out, and downright misguided. People who stay in teaching definitely tend to have strong personalities. If there's a bit of a culture clash between you and the rest of the teaching staff, especially given that you're younger, your job gets that much more difficult. This was definitely a big factor in my decision not to pursue teaching any further than I did.

To be honest, your platonic ideal of a job you might like sounds like graduate school in a solitary discipline. But do consider that in most jobs other than teaching, your colleagues will be closer to you in age and outlook, socializing with them will be easier, and they will not be an important source of support.
posted by Nomyte at 6:34 PM on January 1, 2013

Not specific advice, but this book I'm and English Major--Now What? does a pretty good job introducing you to the different fields, particularly outside of education, that English majors go into. You should be able to get a used copy very cheaply since it's a book used at a lot of schools. The book isn't quite balanced and spends more time on newspaper/magazine/publishing jobs than on corporate ones, but it may give you some ideas.
posted by BlooPen at 6:35 PM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've got a different take on this. It's going to be difficult to have any sort of viable career where you don't have to interact with other people, a lot. So instead of looking for a career to work around your weaknesses, you should be attacking the weaknesses. Socializing and working with others is not magic. It's a skill that can be learned.
posted by COD at 6:44 PM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

As someone who is about to launch into English teaching after a 1 year postgraduate course including two 5 week placements, here is my advice.

To stay sane, keep a journal. The big buzzword here seems to be "reflective practice". Yes, spill your emotions and rant. But also do the kind of reflecting where you look at what you did, feel like crap, and then look at how you can improve that and implement that. Stepping back and working out what you are doing and how that is impacting on your students, this is empowering.

Find a like minded person- a colleague, a fellow ameri-corper, whoever, and bounce ideas off each other.

English teaching can be really difficult because the people who get into it (why hello, self) really love English- and we're teaching kids who do not. We've got to look at English from their perspective as well.

For your behaviour issues, try hard to engage the kids. Figure out what they like, figure out how to make what you have to teach interesting. Find out what you don't have to teach and find something else useful and interesting to teach these girls. Respect them and demand that they respect you.

Try and not just do book work, textbooks, worksheets- these are good in moderation. Find ways to move kids around the classroom, to engage their multiple intelligences. (I don't mean set the artistic kids drawing because they are "creatives" (don't pigeon hole the students)- but try and stretch all of your kids in each of those areas: wikipedia for more.)

Leave school at school. Sounds like you need some chill space.

Unfortunately, collegiality is part of the teaching profession. Not just socialising, but in developing ideas in how to teach your students well.

Also unfortunately deadlines are part of teaching- I'm told they get a bit easier to handle as time goes on. But yes, I find the idea of writing reports a bit scary.

I think you should be able to find your own way of navigating these 'unfortunate' parts of the profession in a way that suits your personality- teachers don't have to be loud and extrovert to be good teachers. Quiet people can be good teachers.

(I really do not know how they can sleep at night by sending people out into the profession with minimal/no training, which is what I assume 'teach for america' is- not sure about americorps)

Good luck!

A thought: a lot of people get into teaching because they love the subject that they teach. Some people get into teaching because they love kids. The best teachers are the ones who love both. If you honestly can't stand children, then yes, all the best in your future endeavors in a different profession.
posted by titanium_geek at 7:17 PM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have stumbled into a job where I'm the only one that does this particular function, and I pretty much just sit in my cubicle with my headphones on and do my thing. I love it. I work with privacy legislation, so it can be intellectual, lots of reading, etc. The fact that it's a solo gig is a quirk of this particular office. Anyway, jobs like this do exist. I feel like this came up in the last six months either here or at Ask A Manager ...someone was asking what roles tend to be solo, and there were suggestions of job titles and such. Finance or IT?
posted by jrobin276 at 7:20 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

What titanium_geek said.

I have advice on how to get through your teaching obligation, which is not really what you asked but may be helpful. Someone told me that if I just survived my first year, that counted as a success. My first year of teaching was horrible, but I survived. My second year was okay. I'm now in my third year and I'm still in survival mode in some areas, but other areas are much better.

Things that have helped me:
- Get some "mentors", either formally or informally. I go to an experienced teacher in another department for advice (I'm math, she's English), to get answers, and general "you can do its". There are several of us in my school who have 1 to 3 years experience, and we use each other as sounding boards all the time. (However, I do not socialize with the other teachers outside of school hours.)

- The kids who are discipline problems in your class may also be discipline problems in other classes. Talk to other teachers for ideas on what does and doesn't work for those kids.

- Split the work, if you can. My first year I was one of several teachers teaching the same subject, and we took turns writing tests, activities, and worksheets, and planned our lessons together. I hated every minute of it (I prefer to work alone), but there was no way I could have survived without that support. Now I work in a smaller school so I don't have a group that I have to work with, but I still split duties with other teachers from time to time.

- Steal from the internet. I found a couple of websites that I can go to for activities and ideas, including a professional organization for math teachers. There must be similar sites for English.

And if you decide to stick it out:
- Change schools. Obviously, you can't do that until your current obligation is over, but every school is different regarding administrative support, resources available, staff camaraderie, teaching styles, school size and culture, etc. Even year to year at the same school can be vastly different due to student personalities. The school I'm at now allows me a lot of freedom in how I teach, as long as I teach what I'm supposed to WHEN I'm supposed to, and follow a few other rules. For instance, the methods I used this past fall are NOT working for my students, so I'm changing it up starting in January, but I don't have to ask permission I can just do it. That would NOT have been possible at my first school.

My first year, I cried about once a week. This year, I have anxiety dreams or insomnia a lot, but no crying, so that's an improvement.

If you decide teaching is not for you, but still want to be in education, you could get a job at a company that creates teacher resources or supports teacher software.

Good luck! Memail me if you need support or help. :)
posted by rakaidan at 8:54 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm here to be the nth voice saying "Don't lose hope with teaching yet."

I am also an English teacher, but I'm in my 9th year. I worked at a high school similar to the one you describe in my 4th year, and it was really, really tough. I almost gave up teaching after that year. But you know what? Every year gets a little bit easier.

So...I'm answering the question that you asked in your follow-up - how to make this more manageable. I have a few survival tips for you, and they're going to seem counterintuitive at times.

1. Get on twitter and build yourself a PLN (personal learning network). These will be your people who are the first stop for frustrations, successes, lesson plan help, etc. They will support you. They will help you get better. I know a dozen middle school English teachers on twitter and I'm happy to hook you up with them. If you don't use twitter, you should. It's the most powerful PD I've ever had, and I am amazed by the quality of educators who use twitter.

2. Use your PLN to get curriculum. Hell, you can have anything that I've done in my career. And I know a lot of good English teachers who make video content (including me) that you can use in your class. That takes some of the load off you.

3. Don't grade at home. In fact, don't take anything home. What you can't do won't kill you. If something doesn't get graded, it's probably not essential. Assign fewer, but more weighty, assignments.

4. Don't grade essays with the red pen. Don't correct grammar. Focus on 1-3 things per essay, and don't let yourself get distracted with anything else.

5. Build relationships. The amazing part of teaching is the impact you get to have on your students - and that will make you much less frustrated and tired. Keep a record of the good things they say, or the cards you get, or the positive comments.

6. Make your classroom fit your personality. I'm like you in a lot of ways - lecturing and whole class instruction was exhausting and ineffective for me. So I flipped my class. I made it less Teacher Talking In Front of Class and more 1:1 interactions and group work. It lets me build relationships AND build skills. And it's not all about the technology. Memail me if you're interested. It's tough, but doable in your first year. I'm a super introvert, and flipping the learning in my classroom helped me find a collaborative partner who has made my workload more reasonable. I can tell you more about that if you want over memail too.

My blog and twitter handle are in my profile. Feel free to memail me or send me a tweet or an email (my username @ gmail). Teaching is ridiculously difficult. But it's also a really amazing profession. And it's one that you can get a lot of help with. It's a lot easier with help, I promise.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:05 PM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

Thank you all! This is very helpful!

I should clarify. I was an English major, but I was not lucky enough to secure a job teaching English. I am teaching religion, doing writing, math and social studies tutoring, and doing "study halls" with our eighth grade class. They have proven to be a handful. I feel like I keep planning ineffective religion lessons, and I have no sources to draw from. Other than that, I have major classroom discipline problems with the eighth grade. About once a week we have a major confrentation. Girls storm out of class etc....

Thanks again!
posted by Lee Shore at 10:22 AM on January 2, 2013

See, the thing about teaching religion is that you can basically teach English on religious topics. I don't know what your curriculum looks like or how much is dictated to you...but reading, writing and discussing has to be at the core of your pedagogy, right?

Instead of viewing this as teaching religion, view it as teaching a novel...with religious content. What kinds of big questions do you like to think about, talk about, read about, or write about? Use those to focus your unit. Give them discussion topics and journal entries that help them connect with that reading. Also, I know a few religion teachers on twitter who would love to have people to work with in lesson planning/design.

In terms of classroom management, do you have access to a computer hooked up with an LCD? If you do, look into ClassDojo - I used it with 10th graders and kept it up on the screen at the start of class. It lets you award or take away points for behaviour and kids can see the results immediately. I also used reward tickets (in homage to metafilter, my cards said "This." on them - like, "THIS is what I want to see from you - good job, student!"). Copious amounts of reward tickets...and NO kid is too old for those. Seriously.

It's part of my Changing The Tone thing. If you are used to negative interactions, you're going to feel really negative about the kids, the job, etc. But if you aim for 7 in 10 interactions being positive, it's going to Change The Tone. Whenever I find myself starting to say something negative, I have to check that and replace it with at least twice the positive feedback.

Like this:
I really want to tell Joanna not to be so rude to Marcy.
Instead, I say: I really appreciate how Judy is so focused on her work. You know, I can see about ten of you who are not only focused but also working together really productively. That's awesome. Thanks guys.

It sounds a little cheesy, but it works. If you're consistent enough, you'll make them work hard for those kinds of comments and it'll make the other negative interactions more infrequent.

I've found that the magic formula for classroom management is something like:
Solid Lesson Plan + Positive Reinforcement + Tangible Rewards + Strategic Proximity + Frequent Changing of Activity + Appropriate Level Of Challenge = EduAwesomeness

That's a lot of variables. And it's not so magic. It's more like Really Hard Work.

But the good news is that improving ANY of those variables will improve your classroom tremendously.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:45 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Religion, huh? Well, hopefully you can engage them with the big life questions. What actually happens after I die? What do the different religions say about that? Stuff like that. With religion you should have a freer reign than with maths etc which (in Australia, anyway) have a big exam at the end of school.

Ah, study halls. I think these have limited usefulness for year 8 age students, but you're all stuck with it so you'll have to get creative. The big challenge is probably ensuring they aren't having gossip sessions? I'm not sure exactly how to deal with it, but a technique I've seen is for the study hall teacher to have a fun/relational conversation with a small group of students each study hall (rotating) whilst the others work quietly, for at least part of the session. This will help them to see you as a real person if you don't have class with them already. You aren't trying to be their friend, but you can be interested in them- this might help some of the behaviour management issues. You might want to reset study hall by discussing a class contract- most students probably want to get homework done so they don't have it at home, for instance, and this can be used to ask others to quiet down (etc) if this is a norm that the group supports. With this age group it might be worth asking them to work silently for a chunk of time (8 minutes?) set by a timer- I've found that kids this age do not do well when they are given a huge chunk of time to do work in- when you give them an external limit (stop when the alarm goes off) they are happier to get down to business as opposed to having an endless study hall to survive.
posted by titanium_geek at 3:12 AM on January 3, 2013

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