What are the factors that you consider when making a career change?
September 29, 2019 3:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm turning 32 very soon and have worked as a teacher for my entire career (a little less than 10 years), and I'm considering making a career switch at the end of this school year. My one hesitation is that I don't hate my job. I actually like many parts of my day-to-day; however, I'm still early in my career and concerned about doing the same job in perpetuity, passing some type of "rubicon", and thereby being stuck until retirement.

I've always prided myself on staying at my school for much longer than most of my colleagues and told myself that I would stay until I got fired or I absolutely hated it. Now I'm rethinking whether the "stay 'til you hate it" aphorism is a good mantra for staying in a job.

Reasons I would stay:
*I've developed a skillset that makes me pretty successful on a day-to-day basis
*I've developed a good reputation and respect from my colleagues
*I enjoy working with students and the content that I teach
*While I won't make a lot of money, the in-kind benefits of holidays and summer break have been nice + the health care has been good so far

Reasons I would leave:
*The challenge of learning a new skill is compelling to me
*The possibility of additional opportunities to grow in a career (teaching has very few growth opportunities unless you want to be an administrator which I'm not interested in)
*The ability to earn more money + actual maternity leave (my district provides 1 week paid maternity leave)
*The possibility of better work/life balance (as a teacher, I work 6 days per week minimum during the school year and usually at least 60 hours)
*Hopefully no more feeling like I can never get everything done (teaching is such a hard job)

Reasons I fear leaving:
*Starting over/the period of not being very good at your job while you're learning
*Missing working with students
*Losing all of the skills I've put in countless hours to develop

Anyway, I've never really thought about leaving teaching, and I still might not, but I'm curious to hear how others -- teachers or otherwise -- made the decision to leave a career path that was relatively comfortable. I am comfortable and could conceivably do this for 20 more years, but I'm worried that since I'm young, I should try out other options before settling in for the long haul.
posted by orangesky4 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I taught at a school for 12 years. I had that same mindset but then it changed: it took me about three years and lots of therapy but it all worked out! Teaching wasn't always easy but sometimes it was; I loved my students but was a little bored, tired of the small town, and ready for something new. There's more to the story but that's enough background for now! Taking a break from teaching showed me how incredibly hard I worked as well as how much of my energy I devoted to helping students beyond the classroom. Originally, I just planned to move so I studied for the Praxis and added another endorsement for greater opportunities. Then I decided to leave teaching, to move here to Argentina to study Spanish and prepare for the LSAT.

Now with this break, which has become more of a sabbatical than a change, I feel so recharged and excited about life and learning and work. I can't wait to go back to the classroom in a year or two, albeit it a different subject in a different district. I don't know what state you're in but mine has licenses that you can renew every five years. Fortunately, I can easily return and get another job before the time is up. It's nice having that cushion! I love teaching and being with my students as well as the time off. I don't know if I'll teach forever but a break has been good.

I say try another career! You will probably miss teaching but you might not. You could do that career for a few years and even go back to teaching! You can stay in touch with your former students through social media & volunteer with youth in a different capacity. Or perhaps just moving to a new district with better maternity leave could help! You won't lose any skills: as a teacher, you're also a manager, writer, etc. and those come in handy in most all careers! Yes, starting over can be hard but a fresh start is exactly what you want. And, from teacher to teacher, I can say that no job or work I've ever done has been as hard as the first few years of teaching. The cool thing is that you're not a 20something fresh out of college but rather an adult with great professional experience and life wisdom!

I'd continue to explore options and keep talking to people as you are now. If you can't think of a specific plan by the start of 2020, perhaps just give yourself more time, like another full academic year, to decide. You'd also have the summer to try things out! Send me a MeMail if you'd like to share any personal details or have questions about my process. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 5:09 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of the ways people do this is just by starting to look casually for new jobs and seeing what seems interesting or what additional qualifications they might need to be qualified for the most interesting-sounding jobs, and also by activating their network to pass along interesting jobs or do informational interviews. What are your colleagues who left before you doing?
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 5:54 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I strongly recommend making sure you are fully vested in any pension plan, and you may want to consider disability insurance because you may not be covered by Soc. Sec. disability right away.
posted by theora55 at 6:36 PM on September 29, 2019

The problem with staying until you hate it is that hate is such a strong clear feeling. Unless the job is immediately horrendous, it's much more of a slow boil - you don't realise because you're too deep into it to be objective.

I quit my great on paper government job about a year ago, and it's taken awhile but... all the good things about it were true. But I also just didn't *want* to do that indefinitely, and was sort of ill suited to it in ways I couldn't appreciate at the time.

We moved for my spouse's job and I wound up home with my kid for half a year, freelancing a little, and then finding a chance to do something I'd wanted to since college. I feel better than I have in years. I'm 37.

I say go for it.
posted by jrobin276 at 8:47 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Anecdata: my dad switched from a public high school to Catholic girls school and BLOSSOMED. My friend recently switched from a public kindergarten to a Jewish Montessori and feels a new lease on life.

If you want to keep teaching, there might be other educational environments that are different enough that you can create space for your own growth (and even take on new subjects, clubs, leadership roles that aren't school admin, etc).

Just a thought. Teaching is also super hard and if you know in your heart that you need some time to regroup, baby, take it!!!
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:44 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

More Anecdata - changing schools also really helped my husband, who is also a teacher. He went from stressed and overworked to much more relaxed and happy in his job.

If the best part of your job is working with the students (his was) and you've been at the same school a long time, possibly a challenging school (you imply a lot of teacher turnover at the beginning of your post) then just being a teacher somewhere else might make a big difference.

I do know my partner is considering, long term, getting out of direct teaching and more into pupil support, but I don't know if that's a thing where you are.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:27 AM on September 30, 2019

Don't underestimate the value that is the huge number of days off a teacher gets. I was married to a teacher, and have some good friends who teach. God, do I wish I had that much time off! Yes, they work hard- but so do people in a lot of other jobs without two months (mostly) off during mid-summer, with lots of holidays and a winter and spring break too. If it weren't for the terrible starting pay I would have switched to teaching years ago.

Also, consider that for most places, teachers work towards a retirement. Leave and you lose the years that count towards that. It's undervalued among young people. Being close to my own retirement now, I'm SOOOO glad I didn't change careers. I could have made a little more money, but I'd need to work many extra years of my life.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:33 AM on September 30, 2019

I am a person who was a proud teacher and then switched careers. I miss it at times, but I'm probably happier where I am. I use skills from teaching (like being organized, facilitating, communicating, coaching) every week, so those skills haven't rusted.

I also resonate with the feeling that you may get to a certain point in your career where it feels too hard to leave it. Or that you are too old. And it was that exact feeling that had me leave teaching at 27.

Here are some thoughts...
It's going to be ok if you quit tomorrow and never teach again.

It's also ok if you dip your toes in to something else while teaching. Maybe it's new education at night and in the summers? Maybe it's a part-time job?

It's ok to apply to some jobs and take some interviews if only to see what you need to do to switch. I view interviews as educational experiences and learn more from them than any in-service or conference.

Can you make investigating this a project with a timeline? What steps can you take between now and the next holiday break to learn or experiment with this?
posted by jander03 at 8:17 AM on September 30, 2019

If you're already thinking about this, it tells me you have itchy feet. A few thoughts:

- There's nothing wrong to switch careers just because you want to. The idea of staying in one career your whole life is nice if that suits you, but I don't think it suits most people of our current era. (It probably didn't suit people of past eras, either, but they had less choices)

-It's going to feel better if you have something else you're working towards, rather than just leaving for no compelling reason. Is there something else you feel called to do?

- Could you use the summer vacation or even the shorter winter/spring vacations to explore other things? ie, something like an unpaid internship or coursework related to something else you're interested in.

- What about things that are related to the skills you already have? I have one friend who went from teaching to curriculum development to education policy. Another friend was an elementary school teacher for years and is now in school to be a family therapist. Yet another friend quit teaching to work on a political campaign and wound up in a role where she does a lot of training for advocacy organizations.

- Yes, pensions and retirement plans are great, but if you're making more money, you can invest in those on your own.
posted by lunasol at 4:35 PM on September 30, 2019

I'm the same age as you and left teaching last year after 7 years. It was a little different, as I always had planned on moving on eventually, but it was still hard, both emotionally and logistically (not signing a contract with nothing else lined up). And, yes, I was very comfortable at my school, where I'd been working in some capacity since college. One way I reassured myself was to remember that teachers will always be needed, so I can always go back to teaching if the new job didn't pan out in some way. You might even be able to go back to the same school if you have a good reputation there. There was actually quite a bit of coming and going among the teachers at my school.

However, I don't think I'll ever go back to traditional teaching now that I've become accustomed to regular working hours, a flexible schedule, and just not having to rush out the door at 7 every morning. To me, that makes up for the lack of break times, but ymmv.

Have you thought about going into another career with youth? I now work at a small nonprofit, and I actually get to have a much deeper, more personal relationships with the kids outside of the school day, and I get to know their families as well. I use my hard-earned teaching skills all the time, but am still growing and learning new things as I navigate the nonprofit world. The pay is not tremendous, but pretty comparable to what many teachers make.
posted by Alexandra Michelle at 7:38 PM on October 1, 2019

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