Should I go for the better job with less security?
June 19, 2014 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I work at an emotionally taxing job, and sometimes I take a frustrated, depressed attitude home with me. A job that appears to be in a much better work environment has opened up a few cities away. Should I go for the job that will probably make me much happier at work but reduce the amount of quality time I have with my family, or should I stay where I am and just learn to deal with the stress there in a healthier way?

I'm a teacher at a high poverty urban school. Many of our students come to us several grade levels below where they should be, and our school has a culture where there are not clear consequences for disrespect towards teachers or failure to perform academically. After spending several years here, I decided that I eventually want to leave this job for something better. I'm come to accept that while I can have some positive impact on my students' lives, it's not likely to be greater than the cumulative effects of poverty, witnessing violence, drug abuse, etc. I sometimes feel very frustrated by the work, and there are days when I come home emotionally drained and depressed. I want to be a good husband and a good father figure to my young stepson, and I know I'm not able to do that when I let the stress of the job get to me.

I've recently learned of a job opening at a suburban school in a district with a good academic reputation that's about an hour away from my home. There would be a tiny raise involved, and I'd be going to what most teachers would consider a much better job. I'm very interested in taking a job that promises to be much more emotionally rewarding and far less stressful, but there are a few things making me hesitant about applying.

First, I'd lose my tenure. I've been my family's only breadwinner since my wife lost her job about two years ago. I'm not sure when she will find another job (believe me, she is trying), or how we would pay the bills if I lost mine. Second, my round trip commute time would be about two hours a day. This would make it very difficult for me not to take work home, and would reduce the amount of time I spend with my family, which is extremely important to me. Third, I'm not sure if my family will be able to move to the city anytime soon due to my wife's shared custody arrangement with her ex-husband, who lives in the same city we do. Even if there were no legal hurdles, I would feel bad about making it harder for them to see each other. Finally, I'm worried that the new job might surprise me and turn out to be stressful and frustrating as well, in which case I would just be adding the new stresses of job insecurity and a long commute to all the old ones.

My wife has told me that she would support me in whatever I decided, so I'm trying to think all of this through. Do I go for the somewhat risky new job with the long commute, or should I stick with the security of my current job and just try to handle the stress in a healthier way?
posted by Chuck Barris to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it possible that something else might come up closer to you (at a private school, etc)? And would you consider doing something other than teaching? My first thought is just that these probably aren't your only two options...the commute sounds rough.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:00 AM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I definitely think that by applying and proceeding through the interview process, you will gather more information that will make it easier to understand the risks of the new job and weigh your priorities.

Apply and decide when the question is on the table.
posted by samthemander at 8:05 AM on June 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

Is there a chance that a better job can be found closer to you? In other words, is this the kind of choice you will have to make no matter what, or can you keep looking for something that meets your needs for family time and your need for a less stressful place to work?

I don't know how tenure works between schools, so you need to ask that too; would any change lose your tenure, and if so, is that even a consideration if you are determined to change jobs?

Other factors;

How much harder would it be for stepson to see his dad? An extra hour drive? How disruptive that is depends on how the shared parenting time is set up. Do you think his dad would be persuaded to go along if asked?

How old is the he old enough to be in on this discussion?

Would your wife have a better chance of getting a job in New City?
posted by emjaybee at 8:06 AM on June 19, 2014

A long commute can be just as bad as a crappy job. A company I used to work at, which is famous around the world as being an amazing place to work, found that attrition was very strongly correlated with people who were commuting 40+ miles -- i.e., even fantastic jobs can become intolerable because of long commutes.

My vote is to stay, and look for something better AND local. Good luck.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:11 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kids in "nice" suburban schools have their own sets of problems so don't assume that working with them will be so much easier. Two hours of commuting every day will not be fun. Uprooting your family won't be fun either. Find better ways to deal with the stress or look for something closer. Do you have any interest in working at an administrative level? If you do, consider getting a graduate degree in that. It sounds like you care about your students and maybe becoming an administrator could help more of them.
posted by mareli at 8:14 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was where you are. I taught at a high poverty Urban school with revolving principals and administrators. I KNOW!

I got out of teaching altogether, but my friend got a job at a tony private school, where she's been happily teaching an average class size of 10 students, for the past 11 years. The bonus is, she gets to send her kids to that school free.

This new job doesn't sound right for you, for a bunch of reasons, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't look for a better gig. You still have time to secure something for next year, and you can look to transfer within your district, or to a private school or a different, more convenient district.

Another thought is DOD. If you're near a military base, they may have a DOD school, these are great jobs, and you can have the opportunity to travel!

I'm really pushing you to DOD Education Activity though.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:34 AM on June 19, 2014

Work quality has three main properties to it.

A. Pay you feel lucky to make in your profession.
B. People you would actually hang out with and truly enjoy.
C. Work you actually like and would do in your own time.

If you have any two, you're doing ok. If you get all three, you're quite lucky. From what i'm hearing I would keep looking for something that would be more rewarding. You only have one life, and a lot of opportunities if you keep looking.
posted by jonclegg at 9:46 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I unfortunately think that this second job isn't going to be an improvement over the first job if it's a 2-hour commute, period. And the slight raise won't make up for that time lost. I think you need to keep looking for a closer job because this one just sounds like it shifts your problems around rather than solves them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:06 PM on June 19, 2014

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