Trying Teaching
December 24, 2003 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to try teaching - I think. [more inside]

I'm 31, I have a BA in biology, an MS in ecology, and by day I'm an editor. But I'm sick to death of sitting behind a desk, and I'm looking for a change. At night and on weekends (and the occasional inter-job stint) I'm a freelance writer. I've written a bunch of books and articles, but since that's about one step up from street mime, income-wise, what I'd ideally like is to have a guaranteed income stream - say, $20k/yr - that only takes about half my time, and write the rest of it.

So I figured I'd put my degrees and/or experience to work and try teaching part-time. But I have no experience beyond some volunteering with kids and working as a park ranger and nature guide (campfire talks, guided walks). I'm not sure what sort of qualifications I need.

I hear I could teach at community colleges or private schools with what I have now (and have gotten some interested feedback already), but I hesitate. You know the horror stories. I think I could handle teenagers/young adults part-time, and teaching (bio, ecol, or writing) is actually appealing, somewhat. I think.

So I'm wondering - am I crazy? Will this drive me nuts? What should I expect? Is there someting else I should consider instead, with more payoff per unit of headache? (BTW, I'm also moving to Santa Fe to do it.)
posted by gottabefunky to Work & Money (10 answers total)
I have no experience on the subject whatsoever except to confirm that you can work in (at least some) private schools without education-specific education. ;-) I believe that there are also public schools which are hard up for teachers willing to accept you before you get a certificate in education.

Could you try teaching a class or two before you quit your day job?
posted by callmejay at 11:11 AM on December 24, 2003

I taught computer courses for almost a year at the private college I'd attended a few years earlier, and I loved (almost) every minute of it. There's something magical that happens when you're lecturing or giving a demonstration and you look up and see the whole class is hanging on your every word - because you've made the connection for them and they're learning something new and exciting.

I'd still be there now if it paid better and had health benefits for my family. I felt like I'd found my niche.

As far as the job itself, the only part I didn't like was grading. The syllabus was already pretty much in place and I wasn't allowed to deviate from it. There were a lot of times I felt like a student deserved a better (or worse) grade than what the course outline demanded, but my hands were tied.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:18 AM on December 24, 2003

I taught ESL for many years in Japan, Malaysia and New Zealand in different environments including privately, in high schools and in companies.

In the high schools many students didn't want to be there and were uncooperative in the lessons, which makes it a bit tough, but on the plus side high schools are very interesting, uh, sociologically. Anywhere where the students are motivated (or at least paying) to learn is much easier. In a junior high school you'll get the worst of times and the best of times, but once you master the challenge of teaching, the job is a lot of fun and can be inspirational, especially if you are curious about other people. These days I work in front of a computer all day and to tell the truth, I miss teaching. Maybe I'll go back to it.

The main downside I found was that once you know the curriculum and your subject inside out and know the best way to impart it to your students, the work tends to be very repetitive. You need to be patient and tolerant. Also, teaching is a bit of a dead end. You run out of new challenges after a few years, and there isn't anywhere else to take it.
posted by dydecker at 12:05 PM on December 24, 2003

Can't help but plug The Morning News -- Sarah Hepola wrote this great story on being a teacher, briefly.
posted by Aaorn at 12:06 PM on December 24, 2003

Gottabefunky -

I'll mirror what others have said above, in that you ought to try teaching part-time while you still have your other job. At the community-college level, you can even teach full-time with what you've got.

I started teaching one math class per semester for some extra scratch. I wound up liking it quite a bit; and now I'm planning to go back to school in the fall to get a master's so I can teach full-time. It can be intimidating - one class i subbed had a number of students that were obviously wasted on god-knows-what, and got a bit belligerent - and frustrating, especially when you get student that is apparently unable to learn anything. (for example, I made sure to tell one classbefore handing out a test, "remember, if I say to convert a fraction like one-third to a decimal, DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT say one-point-three. You need to divide. Of course, someone put 1.03. Ack!)

Conversely, teaching can be very rewarding. I tutor one fellow with cerebral palsy; he's in a cart (though he can drive a re-fitted minivan) and it's very difficult to understand him. He was told by his high-school principal, "well, be proud of graduating, 'cause you'll never amount to anything." He never really learned anything, because he was just mainstreamed and passed everything out of pity, but now he's made it through three math classes (he had to learn how to divide, everything!) and will be taking COllege Algebra in the spring. Working with Willie, seeing him finally, at 35, "get" something, is (pardon my treacle) heartwarming.
posted by notsnot at 12:32 PM on December 24, 2003

I taught programming and database stuff at a university extension school for four years during the IT boom. My students were mostly adult career-changers. The subsequent IT crash pretty much wiped that out - there's no such thing as an entry-level programmer anymore. I loved loved loved it. Like mr_crash_davis, I felt like I'd finally found my calling. Teaching is really fun and rewarding - I miss it very much and am trying to find some way to get back into it. Teaching can also be hard work and very time-consuming - I figured that class time only accounted for about a third of my time, the rest was spent preparing lessons and grading and other paperwork - so if you're looking for limited and well-defined hours it may not be the answer.
Do you speak a foreign language? I have a friend who makes a comfortable living teaching at a private "language institute". Her only initial qualification was fluency in a couple of languages. I have another friend who teaches ESL and she gets very steady work. She had to take some classes and pass a certification exam but it took less than a year and she otherwise need no other qualifications.
posted by TimeFactor at 12:33 PM on December 24, 2003

I'm back in school to pick up a teaching license. My license will be for 7-12 grade. The biggest thing I've learned in the year and a half I've been taking education classes and doing field experience is that love of the kids is a lot more important than love of what you're teaching. So unless you really like kids, I'd stick with the community college route.
posted by ferociouskitty at 1:24 PM on December 24, 2003

Adjuncting at a community college or in university extension is an excellent idea if you don't plan on giving up your day job. You'll get to teach, you'll make some extra $, you won't have to deal with committee work, and (with any luck) you'll get some serious students. Do not, however, adjunct full-time. See the Invisible Adjunct for numerous horror stories.

Tenure-track positions at community colleges can be very nice financial deals indeed--the salaries in some CC districts in CA go sky-high--but many CCs are shifting to adjunct labor. So be careful there.

(Incidentally, some states require certification to teach at CCs, just like public schools.)
posted by thomas j wise at 2:08 PM on December 24, 2003

Because it's come up a couple of times here on AskMe already, I've written a very long and somewhat detailed introduction to teaching EFL in Korea, for you or anyone else who might be interested.

I would probably never go back to teaching high school in Canada, for which I underwent post-grad certification many moons ago. I loathed it from the get-go. Although I'm more a corporate trainer than language teacher, for the most part, these days, I really did enjoy what ESL/EFL teaching I did.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:03 PM on December 24, 2003

I'm a professor who is also partially in charge of 60 adjuncts. The adjunct system is pure evil, at least for anyone who depends on it for a living. Getting the upper administration to increase pay, etc. is impossible without unionization.

College teaching slots, at least tenure-track, feel like they are about 20% teaching and 80% administrivia and petty politics.
posted by mecran01 at 8:34 AM on December 26, 2003

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