2007 is Quarterlife Crisis year at AskMe!
February 8, 2007 9:17 AM   Subscribe

I just left Teach for America....and I think I might be professionally ineffective for the rest of my life

Before anyone launches into a searing tirade about my inability to uphold commitments and how heartless I am....please don't. The TFA staff has already done a great job for you, so that would really be pretty useless, and it's got little to do with the actual question I've got. No one who joins the program thinks they'll step into their classroom and have an easy time, and I certainly didn't think I would. And yes, I know I should have done more research about any potential work situation (although I wish I'd had a say in my school placement), and I've learned to do that. So I'm learning from the experience, and looking towards the future.

But in that regard, I'm worried that after this experience, I'm never going to be professionally ambitious or really, usable at all in the workplace again. Currently, my only requirements for a new job are:

1. No one threatening physical harm, or actually trying to assault me or the other people in my workplace
2. A workplace whose management can take effective action regarding people who threaten violence
3. A work situation that doesn't result in a daily half-hour crying jag. Yes, I know that's a mindset issue; I'm working on it, but it didn't happen before, and it doesn't happen now.
4. A wage that doesn't require my dipping into savings to get by on the monthly bills. (Normally, a childless unmarried teacher would be okay, but post-NCLB we had to pay for our own credentialing to keep our jobs; being under 24 with no prior full-time, permanent job meant the credentialing program rejected my trying to file for aid as an independent student, and since summer training is unpaid, I didn't have any summer earnings to help with the credentialing tuition, my parents couldn't help after helping with four years of college, and Americorps awards for are only applicable to federal loans and are given at the END of your service anyway...it was something of a bureaucratic nightmare.)

I know that as far as job-searching goes, I should be looking for things like, "room for advancement," or "opportunity to learn new skills," but those just seem like frills that I'd be lucky to have, and I feel selfish for wanting those things when there are millions of kids who are still in the sorts of schools I taught in, especially when the poor state of said schools has been facilitated by yours truly. Anyhow, you could argue that those criteria for a new job indicate that I've got a confidence/guilt issue now, and that I am probably very burned out.

I'm lucky to have enough money saved up not to worry about living expenses for several months, and I had the sense to take care of the health insurance issue immediately. I don't want to travel and possibly end up in another situation all alone and crying (say, when my passport is stolen in Prague). Besides, I like being close to my non-TFA friends here.

So my actual question is: what can I do for the next few months while I job search to regain my confidence and make myself emotionally and mentally ready for the workplace again? Could anyone recommend some good short-term endeavors that would help me ease back into a working state, and provide some perspective on life?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (48 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
you can probably pick up some low-or-no-commitment volunteer work that would satisfy your no-violence requirements and provide you with the satisfaction of completing tasks and working with others...maybe in a soup kitchen or a library. or with the elderly.

i've also found choosing increasingly challenging projects around the house to help, even if you start small and work your way up to painting rooms or minor landscaping.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 9:25 AM on February 8, 2007

I think I might be professionally ineffective for the rest of my life

Get a grip. One bad experience does not justify such conclusions.
posted by caddis at 9:27 AM on February 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Run, don't walk, to your nearest giant soul sucking corporate chain bookstore. Ask if they're hiring.

I work in the Seattle's Best in a Borders, a job I got after getting fired from the best position in what I thought was going to be my career, and I'm happier here than I have been in years. I have health insurance. I make enough money to not be completely and totally broke. And I get a friggin sweet discount on books. I work with awesome people.

You'll gain your perspective in life. You'll make some connections. And in the meantime, you'll have a pretty easy and sweet job where if anyone threatens you, they have to leave the store.

I recommend Borders to all of my friends who are in between jobs and looking for something easy and steady.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:33 AM on February 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'd find a job in some nice children's school, something non-traditional. Healthy curious kids are great for renewing your optimism. Don't try to teach caddis anything, though.
posted by ewkpates at 9:34 AM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Um, could I suggest that there may be broader issues involved here than just finding a new job and that having "someone to talk to" may be a good idea at this point in your life? There should be some community-based mental health care where you are.

That said, it sounds like what you should look for a job or volunteer gig where you work with people who you like and who will support you, and where you're engaged in something that doesn't let you think about yourself and your problems. Habitat for Humanity perhaps? Some kind of civic activism or political campaign? They're a great way to meet lots of like-minded people.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:36 AM on February 8, 2007

On review, also seconding grapefruitmoon's book store idea.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:36 AM on February 8, 2007

TFA volunteers are young. Employers know that. Quitting TFA isn't going to torpedo your career and it won't really even affect your chances of going back into the classroom one day, if you ever decided that you might like teaching, just not in such a difficult school. As a former teacher, I completely empathize with your frustrating experience in teaching. I left the classroom after a year for some of the same reasons. I'm now working with an educational non-profit, putting to use the skills that I hoped I would use as a teacher.

TFA likes to promote that its "graduates" carry their experiences with them forever and use them to affect positive social change in a number of arenas. But I'd argue that you're in as good a position to do so. You've seen how rotten teaching can be. Look for work that might afford you some opportunity to change it.

When I first left the classroom, I ended up in a menial tech support job for a local university. Being around an academic setting really convinced me that I wanted to do something in education, even if my tech support job didn't have any direct application to learning.
posted by RossWhite at 9:37 AM on February 8, 2007

Huh. Reading your post I was thinking: you're really ready for corporate life.

Low expectations are the key to happiness in this life. You're in a position to take any old job, and absolutely revel in your enjoyment of it. Go for it. You've earned it.

Ambition is highly overrated, but it will probably sneak up on you again one day. Enjoy its absence while you can.
posted by tkolar at 9:38 AM on February 8, 2007 [7 favorites]

You'll hear no judgment from me. I taught for five successful years in private schools but only lasted one semester in the horrid public school i was in last fall. I had the physical harm, incompetent administration, burnout, etc., too. I'm sure you're also finding out what stress does to a body. I quit after I couldn't get rid of the stress-induced hives all over my body.

But that's another story. To recover and heal I took an office job where I sit in a windowless closet of sorts and permit new construction houses. It's not rocket science, my skills are terribly underused, and I feel like I'm making a difference in no one's life. But it's what I have needed to recover and I know it's just for a time. I plan to work on my masters in educational leadership next year and pursue administration eventually... but for now I have the equivalent of temp work, and it's great. Consider just getting some work to give yourself a routine. Add in some inspirational activities every week or so-- go to an art museum in the evening, the symphony, the theater, a massage, a weekend trip with a friend to a b&b, etc. The house projects and gardening projects are also helpful as you get to enjoy your work daily. Take a class for fun, volunteer as a reading tutor at a kindergarten, do meals on wheels. But first priority is to take care of yourself.

You have not ruined your professional life, by the way. If you want to pursue teaching but don't want prefer the way of the gauntlet, consider working in a private school while getting your certificate in the evenings. It's possible.

Good luck to you.
posted by orangemiles at 9:39 AM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've always found most types of retail jobs very good for this kind of transition period. Without knowing where you are located, it's hard to gauge how well retail would support your living expenses. On the other hand, if you were making it on a Teach for America salary, retail would probably be a piece of cake.

I worked at several locations of a big chain bookstore for many years, and despite the non-glamourousness of it, it paid the bills while improving my people skills. I was a manager by the time I left, and at every level I felt like hard work was valued and recognized. Retail also provides a good mix of achievable short- and long-term goals that I think help build confidence. One last plus is that the hours are often very flexible, so you can work Wednesday through Sunday, say, and have Monday and Tuesday off to go on interviews and do other job-hunting-type stuff.

I think violence in the workplace is pretty rare in general; I doubt there are many retail jobs where your safety would be at risk on a regular basis.

If we knew what your educational status or interests are, we could maybe provide more targeted advice. Can you tell us through a mod what your major was, or if you had any prior work experience before TFA?

on preview: thirding grapefruitmoon!
posted by slenderloris at 9:39 AM on February 8, 2007

I hate to be the token askmefi cliche, but: Get some therapy. You need someone to talk to who can be completely objective, let you vent, let you cry and let you work it all out for yourself. Failing at something you very much want to do is hard. Accepting that things don't always work out is hard. You don't have to suck it up and do it all alone - and professionals are better at this sort of thing than friends.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:39 AM on February 8, 2007

I have nothing but sympathy for you. I seriously thought about going into TFA when I got my Bachelor's and was counselled against it by a professor of mine because he had concerns about me ending up in exactly the situation you describe. I reconsidered and went in an entirely different direction because I knew I could never handle something like that. I really feel for you, having tried to go through it.

I won't insist that you get therapy, as I'm not convinced that your quitting TFA shows any kind of inability to cope - I think the situation you were in was perhaps far too much to handle, and you had a very realistic reaction in backing away. On the other hand, it's clearly left you so shaken that talking to an objective counselor-type person might be very beneficial for you. It's something to consider.

In the long term, whatever you end up doing - the previously-suggested bookstore idea (or Starbucks, which also provides health insurance as well as stock options and often a laid-back, fun environment within which to work, if you don't mind slinging coffee for a living), volunteer work, or perhaps some lower-stress teaching (if such a thing exists!) - will help you build your confidence back up and will allow you to look back on your TFA experience with more perspective. The wound is clearly raw and open right now, but in time it won't be. Focus on the best short- and long-term choices you can make, but above all take it easy on yourself for a little bit. Work on building up your confidence in your abilities and your decision-making and you may find that other aspects of life and career fall into place.

Best of luck to you. You've been through a lot!
posted by AthenaPolias at 9:51 AM on February 8, 2007

In an effort to make you feel a little better, I can vouch that quitting TFA doesn't ruin your career. I quit a TFA school after 2 months, and my TFA coworker quit after three, and neither of us have anything nice to say about them. I ALSO cried every day before I went to work, and I wasn't depressed, I was just in the worst situation imaginable. After I quit, I felt like a miserable failure for a few months, but it got better. I realized that I simply could not be an effective teacher in that environment, and I wasn't doing the kids or myself any good.

One specific thing I did to feel better was to write down all the horrible and hilarious stories that I had, which made me feel so very thankful and strong to have even made it that far. I also then taught Princeton Review (to rich kids) and an afterschool reading program (to poor kids). Both were small groups, and both were really structured, and it went great. Things will get better. Just think, this is the absolute worst job you will ever have. That was (sadly) such a relief for me. The worst part is over, and things can only get better! If you want to swap stories, I'm putting my email in my profile. YOU WILL BE FINE.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:54 AM on February 8, 2007

It sounds like the main issue is the threat of physical violence -- which is a complete non-issue at every other professional job. It's bizarre to think that would even be a factor in the future if you're not going to be teaching.
posted by smackfu at 9:55 AM on February 8, 2007

Oh sorry, both I and my coworker went to grad school for science afterwards. Then I went to grad school for something else. Then I became a librarian. Essentially, I wandered around, and everything worked out great.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:58 AM on February 8, 2007

I think the "chillout and get a safe simple job for now" advice above is great! I think there are three kinds of these: brainless retail/service, brainless clerical, and brainless physical. All should be easy to find with a BA, although that depends somewhat on your location. True brainlessness varies from workplace to workplace, and you should take big cues from your interview about how stressful the environment is going to be. Track down an employee where you interview and ask them point blank if it's an easy place to work. Set your sights on slack.

I have a great, good paying, flexible, perks intensive job where I am encouraged to do nothing but ride a hermann miller and surf the net. Mine would be a great recovery job. I found it on the University's job board. These cushy jobs exist, and I always bring myself up to encourage people to find a job that serves them.

On the other hand, perhaps you'd feel better landscaping or something else outdoors. Working a hotel desk is usually super mellow. The biggest perk of working retail or service, imo, is the social, easygoing aspect. Those work environments always felt somewhat like high school to me, with jokes, rivalries, crushes and a minimal definition of professionalism. It's nice and somewhat therapeutic to look forward to spending the day with a dfferent batch of people different days, and getting to know folks whose career aspirations go no further than getting paid provides great context for your sense of societal contribution.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:11 AM on February 8, 2007

I also feel much sympathy. After 14 competent, successful years in the corporate world, I experienced a year working for a company that was so toxic, so physically demanding and so emotionally unhealthy that I broke into hives all over my body. I was working 80 hour work weeks and traveling for work 6 out of 7 days...continuously. Rolling off of one project just to roll onto the next. Getting no sleep, it began to feel as if I was part of a torture experiment. A passive-aggressive culture. I finally got out of there. I should have left sooner, but I have worked in a variety of tough situations before and I was determined to master the environment.

That year broke me for awhile. I had a therapist friend tell me that what I was describing when I talked about my experience was akin to some kind of post traumatic stress disorder. Now, I don't imagine that my experience was anything like going into battle or seeing people around me die. I resist this label for what I experienced. However, I did experience strong physical symptoms and crippling anxiety when I attempted projects or working in a corporate environment after leaving there. My memory was toast, I struggled with piecing together the complex strategies that I was used to navigating with ease. I shook with fear if anyone had expectations of me (stress and deadlines used to invigorate me). I felt like I wasn't going to be able to practice in my field ever again.

I finally took a few low-demand temp jobs that were far beneath my skills, just to get used to being in a work environment again and conquer my anxiety.

I'm back in the work force and almost fully functioning again. And I have a MUCH better sense of my boundaries and how to protect myself. My career hasn't suffered for it.

Best of luck to you.
posted by jeanmari at 10:26 AM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

The whole point of teach for america is that it sucks. That is what it is about, it is about people who could get a better deal rolling up there sleeves and taking jobs that other people don't want.

So you didn't want to do something that most people don't want to do. That doesn't mean that anything is wrong with you. So don't be so hard on yourself. It is normal. There are plenty of jobs that pay ok and aren't too hard. I have one of them now. Do I feel I could be doing more, should be doing more, and getting more out of a job either financially or 'spiritually'? Sure I do, but the thing is there is a place and time where you can be okay with not moving mountains and not fufilling your potential. The place is earth and the time is most of the.
posted by I Foody at 10:29 AM on February 8, 2007

I think the root of the issue is that you were either threatened with or one the receiving end of physical violence.

Sounds to me like you've got a nice little case of PTSD. Treat that and the rest will come along.

Since the TFA programs are typically in sketchy schools, the likelihood of this happening is unfortunately higher than average.

Choose a job where the likelihood of workplace violence is lower than average, if you're looking for a short-term coping strategy. Ambition, as is fit your circumstances will come back in time.
posted by plinth at 10:30 AM on February 8, 2007

You really should not feel too bad about yourself for quitting. Some people thrive on conflict, on starting with nothing and making something out of it against all odds. Other people thrive on a healthy work environment where they have already mastered their task instead of having to learn it under stress. So you're one of the latter. So is more than half of the workforce of America. It's okay, I promise (I'm one of them, too).

You definitely haven't ruined all future job prospects based on this one thing. Others have given good advice - find something simple that pays your bills (retail, temping, etc). Do it for a while. In your spare time, start living for yourself - see movies, read books, take a class, learn to knit. After a while, your ambitions and goals will return naturally and you'll find yourself impatient with that job. Then you can start looking to move onward and upward, since by then you'll have a better grasp of what you do and don't want from a job/career. (Or else, you know, you won't find yourself impatient. You'll just find yourself happy. That works, too.)
posted by marginaliana at 10:45 AM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'll chime in with what others have said: try retail work, coffee-slinging, possibly temping--something fairly low-key with easily reachable expectations and regular hours. Look for a good working environment (safe-feeling location, sane co-workers) and don't worry, for the moment, about whether it is a "dead-end job" or whether you're making the world a better place while you're doing it. Plan to work this job for a year or two or however long you need to decompress and shake off the badness of the TFA experience.

My unscientific, anecdotal observation is that this kind of retreat-and-regroup move is not at all unusual for twentysomethings, and does not interfere with (may in fact help) long-term accomplishments and happiness.

In the meantime, maybe it would help to take a self-defense course? The RAD courses for women are good; if you're a guy, I'm not sure what to suggest, but other mefites might have ideas. When you have experienced fear for your physical safety, it can be soothing to practice defensive moves (both physical and verbal).

You could also keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities that would be low-commitment and that would not expose you to the same kinds of frustrations as the TFA situation. Habitat for Humanity is a good suggestion; you could also see if your favorite political or arts organization needs office help, or try something outdoorsy and physical (trail building, river cleanup, etc) to burn off stress. Volunteer a few hours, and if you find them rewarding, great; if not, shake hands and politely bail out. It doesn't make you a "quitter" to keep looking for the optimal match between a non-profit's needs and your own.
posted by Orinda at 10:53 AM on February 8, 2007

After getting my JD and clawing my way into a much-desired job of my dreams, my working conclusion is that the best job I ever had was making pizza when I was 14.

There's no need for your job to fulfill all your needs and values. You can work for money and do good deeds in your time off.
posted by footnote at 10:54 AM on February 8, 2007

..and I think I might be professionally ineffective for the rest of my life

Welcome in the club.

BTW, I think you might benefit from this book:

Winning Through Intimidation by Robert J. Ringer
posted by yoyo_nyc at 10:55 AM on February 8, 2007

My wife has taught in the South Bronx and on the Southside of Chicago. She once had a meeting at school to discuss the weapons policy. Huh? Should be a short meeting right? NO WEAPONS?! But it was more complicated than that. She taught me that when you see two teenage girls taking off their earrings, it means there is a fight about to happen. Don't want those torn earlobes. Anyway, she learned that teaching was not going to satisfy her desire to help. She is now a school social worker. I think that the TFA folk browbeat you into thinking you failed them and the kids. Bullshit. You can view this situation from a more positive standpoint. Heck, you got out of that teaching situation knowing that the students and the environment would not give you the opportunity to succeed. You weren't a teacher at that school, you were a babysitter in a combat zone.

To get back into the proper state, if you still want to be an educator, I would take a job at a upper middle class private school, a catholic school, a preschool or as a substitute teacher in wealthy school district. You will then find out if teaching is rewarding for you. If not, no big deal. Move on to another profession or a different part of the deucation environment such as social work or administration.

Or, get a job at Borders, in retailing or anywhere you can mark time, make a few bucks, meet good people and take the time to decide what is the next step. Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:06 AM on February 8, 2007

I second tkolar; you've seen how "interesting" a job can be, maybe it's time to find work in a nice, comfy cube? You didn't mention what your degree is in (IIRC TFA doesn't require that it be in Education...or does it?). Anyway, assuming you don't have massive interpersonal issues, you can use Microsoft Office, and you can manage to show up to an office on time in the morning, wearing business clothes, you'll probably find that non-violent, comfortably boring corporate work is easy to find.

If you want corporate work without commitment, you could also think about going through a staffing/temp agency; I think that they generally offer health insurance, and you'll probably end up making somewhat more per hour than you will working retail.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:12 AM on February 8, 2007

Just one note: It sounds like you're feeling guilty because you should be doing more to help others (or because you think you should want to be doing more to help others). You can't help anyone if you're scared, or burnt out, or overwhelmed. It is perfectly fine -- and, in fact, a good thing -- to make sure you're taking care of yourself and in a good position (whether that's physical, mental, or emotional) before giving yourself over to others.

Others have suggested jobs, and if you need the money, then that's great. If you do have the luxury of not needing to work for pay (or, actually, even if you do), then just spend some time recharging yourself with whatever does it for you. Go to museums. Go to the gym. Take lots of long walks or hikes. Start going to the farmers' market and cooking good food for yourself. Get sleep. Go out with your friends. Maybe talk to a therapist or career counselor. Paint, write, draw, make music. Just do those things that calm you and make you remember who you are and what you want from your life and how much you already have and how wonderfully powerful those resources will be for you, and for those you help, as you move forward.
posted by occhiblu at 11:19 AM on February 8, 2007

You have some good and bad advice here. I will let you figure out which is which.
Just FYI, not all districts make you pay for your own professional development. I haven't paid for mine in a very long time. My district even pays for the things I do in the summer.
posted by nimsey lou at 11:51 AM on February 8, 2007

I came out of training into a collapsing industry. The first lot of work I found (through a friend) was only tangentally related to my degree -- it was something I was able to do because of my hobbies more than anything.

I recommend against volunteer work, the egos are often worse than in a small office job. Instead, try to find some work where your personal interests and professional qualifications overlap, even if it seems a little menial.
posted by krisjohn at 12:12 PM on February 8, 2007

You'll be ok. And take heart, your situation is common enough to have inspired an Onion article, so my guess is, you're in plenty of good company.

"All people—even children—are just nasty animals trying to secure their share of the food supply. I don't care how poor or how rich you are, that's just a fact. I'm sorry, but I have better things to do than zoo-keep for peanuts."
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:16 PM on February 8, 2007

My husband (leotrotsky) and I are both TFA dropouts, so I think I understand what you're going through right now. Both of us felt that same sense of ineffectiveness, self-doubt, and anxiety you feel. Afterwards, he got therapy and took some CS classes, and I tutored a high school student for a semester- and we both went straight to grad school at the earliest opportunity. It's five years later for us, and we're getting closer to living the lives we envisioned back then, as idealistic 22-year-olds. Take a job at a bookstore, library, coffee shop. Enjoy the things you did before TFA. Try not to let the TFA "dogma" make you feel guilty- if they're the same now as they were then, it can be pretty powerful stuff.
I wish you the best- life will get better, and you will find something you enjoy.
posted by mrstrotsky at 12:24 PM on February 8, 2007

As a former employee of the Chicago Public Schools (I worked in the main office, but was a substitute teacher for about a year) I've great sympathy for TFA graduates. The organization simply doesn't prepare teachers for the reality of the urban classroom. What good are progressive teaching practices and learning exercises when you're not able to control the classroom? When you're concerned for your own safety?

There's clearly a dire need for teachers who can manage a situation like that, but TFA isn't producing them. You're not letting anyone down - you were placed into a situation for which you weren't prepared. A friend of mine recently went through a similar experience and emerged, much like you, with some serious emotional scarring. It took her a long while to get over it and move on with her life.

Now she manages a local theater company and is having a great time. You'll move on too - just give yourself a little time. Good luck!
posted by aladfar at 12:40 PM on February 8, 2007

You're 24? Definitely get a job in a bookstore, or at Whole Foods, or some similar retail-type environment. You need a nice dose of relaxation, and you deserve it.
posted by miss tea at 12:49 PM on February 8, 2007

Reading other people's experience in TFA might be consoling; try one titled How I Joined Teach for America—and Got Sued for $20 Million, for example. Another implies TFA has a suspiciously close relationship with the charter school movement.
posted by jamjam at 1:17 PM on February 8, 2007

Nthing the advice to get a low-stress, low-responsibility job. Maybe start with this list of good employers. I've heard that Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are great and my friends at Barnes and Noble and Borders have few complaints. I think you'll be surprised at how quickly you'll recover as you move away from your TFA experience-- environment makes a huge difference.

I also think it's important for you to seek experiences where you'll receive immediate, positive feedback, as that will help you get back in touch with your sense of personal efficacy. Maybe you could sign up to be Big Brother or Big Sister on the weekends, or go read to the elderly in a nursing home. Volunteermatch.org should have some good ideas for you.
posted by chickletworks at 1:19 PM on February 8, 2007

Starbucks is where it's at. Part-time == health insurance (or at least when I was working there). Can't go wrong with that.
Re: Physical Violence. In most jobs dealing with 18+, just call the cops and it's taken care of. My brother worked in a last-chance school, so I feel your pain. Now, he teaches 8th grade in a suburban Altanta school where the most he worries about it having to pass the star athlete because his/her dad is on the school board.
Seriously, though, I don't think violence is a major problem at most jobs. I worked the coffee shop and restaurant industry for years and I never once felt in fear of physical danger. Where you worked is an anomaly for most all industry jobs.

Please, follow everyone else's advice and realize what you went through is not indicative of the trials you'll go through at other jobs. Starbuck's most stressful part was dealing with the yuppie whose cappuccinos was too dry even though he told me to make it extra dry.
posted by jmd82 at 1:32 PM on February 8, 2007

You quit something I wouldn't have even been brave enough to contemplate. I think I'd rather go to Iraq than teach at one of the public schools here.

I'm going to disagree with the "go retail" consensus and encourage you to find a job that does not work with the public, because although Starbucks customers are generally nonviolent, some of them can be morons and pricks. As is true in any public job.

I'd approach a temp agency and see if you can find some back-office job for 3-6 months. You can get lost in the (relative) monotony of the work, forget about the chaos of TFA, and figure out your issues. Calmness is the antidote to crisis.
posted by desjardins at 1:58 PM on February 8, 2007

Firstly, congratulations on having the courage to leave what sounds like a pretty awful situation. Don't underestimate that - quitting takes guts - please don't put yourself down about it, be proud of your bravery.

Secondly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with going for the comfort zone for a while. Your ambition will return with your self confidence. And it will return. You have plenty of years left to find your dream job! And you will.

Good luck!
posted by finding.perdita at 2:05 PM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to say "good for you" for trying something that was hard. As it turned out, it was too hard. And honestly, from what I'm imagining it was like, it was probably too hard for anybody, let alone a 24 year old trying to do a first job. I certainly couldn't have done it. I respect all teachers and I respect you for giving this important job your best shot.

I also respect you for having the courage to fail, and to pick up afterwards and move on. That's hard but it's so important. Learning how to fail - and to do it gracefully - is one of the important lessons in life. If your life is anything like mine has been, I promise you will use that new skill again and again! And it won't be the end of the world, now or ever.

Your requirements will be extremely easy to meet. You'll easily find a job. And when people ask you, say that you couldn't bear to remain in a job where you were being assaulted and threatened on a regular basis. No one will find that unusual. No one wants that job.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2007

I can imagine that the experience was very traumatic - I taught 14 year-olds for a semester in a "normal" school and almost pulled my hair out.

That said, I find it interesting that the most popular answer seems to amount to hiding out in safe, white, suburban Borders until you figure things out. The cordoning of America is in full-swing. Have a few Frappaccinos and read a Harpers ... ah comfort.

My suggestion is international travel if you can afford it - look into a working holiday visa for Japan, SE Asia, the EU etc. I think a big of global perspective can help with local traumatic experiences
posted by Dag Maggot at 2:42 PM on February 8, 2007

Great comments, here. Also, quick story about my sister -- she quit her first teaching job (middle school in a "good" school district) after one semester, finding the kids and administrators bitchy, and finding herself depressed and suicidal from the experience. She thought she would never teach again.

Fast forward 15 years -- she recovered, she went on to great success, and eventually had a series of jobs at which she succeeded, finding her niche with younger kids, literacy training, and bilingual education. She's won awards for teaching and curriculum. You just can't know what will happen.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:13 PM on February 8, 2007

what grapefruitmoon said, and good luck
posted by matteo at 4:17 PM on February 8, 2007

I thought bookstore or Starbucks, too. Pay is okay, environment is relatively normal. To work in any kind of job with the public, you have to be able to be somewhat cheerful. Otherwise, cranky jerks may dump on you sometimes.

And, try to do some volunteer work with sick kids, or animals, to help you regain perspective. I'm so sorry you had a horrible time, but you'll be okay, and it helps to put yourself in some positions where you see that other people have it worse, and there are lots of kind people trying to make it better.
posted by theora55 at 4:52 PM on February 8, 2007

While I'm not in the exact same boat as you, anon, I find your story all too familiar. I spent the summer working for a big name youth-focussed non-profit as a computer teacher in the inner city. I couldn't handle it either, spent more than my fair share of time crying each night, and finally quit giving two hours notice (in addition to the nervous condition I was starting to develop around children outside work, there were fleas in my classroom, and I gave up). Being depressed and desperate because of a job (especially one that's supposed to feel at least a little rewarding--i.e., helping kids is good) isn't worth it.

I'm only 25 now, and since I really didn't know what I wanted to do, I decided to temp for a while. I have a job with insurance (albeit, the crappiest kind), and I don't have to worry about money while I figure out what I'd rather be doing and build my self-esteem back up.

Good luck, and take care.
posted by monochromaticgirl at 5:05 PM on February 8, 2007

Rent this for a bit of therapeutic revenge fantasy relief.

Best of luck to you.
posted by flabdablet at 5:19 PM on February 8, 2007

From my g/f who is a second year teacher:

There is nothing wrong with feeling broken. I definitely did.

Don't feel any guilt about getting out of a situation like that. Teaching is hard. Teaching without a lot of training in a tough school is inconceivably hard. After graduating from a one year education program, I started teaching in an urban public middle school in Canada (so not nearly as tough or underfunded as it could be). I had fist fights and written murder fantasies (of classmates) in my classroom, days when I couldn't come close to teaching over the noise, constant destruction of equipment in the room etc. I even had one student scream "See you in hell, bitch" and then run from the room and the school. Crying after work was not at all uncommon and neither was getting really drunk on the weekend.
That being said, after the summer, I was more than ready to go back and work has gotten immeasurably easier with experience.
There is nothing wrong with feeling broken. I definitely did.

As for work exprience, two things have made me feel really strong and calm. Working outside and working early in the morning. I spent some time as a breakfast waitress in a hotel. Up before dawn, a comforting routine and a very manageable amount of stress. Those jobs are easy to get and don't always require experience.

Anything that can get you outside is great...it's a totally different kind of challenge, and the quiet far away from civilization was exactly what I needed last June.

Good luck and don't feel bad about it. Anyone who has taught has been there.
posted by thenormshow at 6:22 PM on February 8, 2007

Well, I don't think it's a single-cause problem. I think it's both burnout and the effects of threatened violence. Luckily, both will pass, although on the second you really owe yourself a number of conversations with someone you trust, who respects you, and who can give you perspective when you need it.

You needn't imagine you are a failure for not coping with a situation where you were not given the support you needed to cope with it. Imagine you have been training to climb mountains. There's a pitch you should be able to do—tough, but you can do it. Except that there's a fifteen-foot patch devoid of holds, and no normal person can get past it without ascenders. TFA and the school promised you ascenders, but then when you were on the rock they said, 'Whoops, no, we've run out.' And then some awful kids showed up below you, got drunk, smashed the bottles, and started throwing rocks at you. You are unable to climb the pitch to the top. Should you feel inferior for it? No. Is it OK to be physically weak, frustrated, and unenthusiastic about climbing for a while afterward? Sure. That means you still have your natural defenses against wilfully submitting to sucky circumstances. It's like an immune system for your soul. The fever will break once its purpose is accomplished.
  • I trust you'll ignore the advice to settle for boring, stupid jobs for the rest of your life. Temporarily working in a bookstore, on the other hand, sounds really, really good. Or if you want to be outside and up early, work for a landscaping company. Two of my favorite acquaintances are landscapers.
  • Don't consider this 'being out of work because you couldn't take it', or as a 'quarter-life crisis'. Consider it 'taking a sabbatical so you'll be prepared to effectively face worthwhile challenges that will come'. Consider it 'taking the time to do the job search right, to find the job that you can do well and that can do well by you'. Even consider it 'pre-empting a mid-life crisis by properly balancing your priorities ahead of time'.
  • Volunteering in a safer, better-supported environment will slowly start feeling great.
  • Travel is eye-opening, but it can also make great demands on your patience. If you can go somewhere where you'll be in a new environment, and just enough in control of your own circumstances to make it mentally endurable, that might be great. My qualifications to advise you? Well, I was a little burnt out by my own attitudes after college, and a little doubtful about my career plans, so guess what I did? I took a 'sabbatical', I volunteered, I sunk roots into my community a little bit (which it sounds like you've done). Then I interviewed with (and was declined by) TFA, and then I took a teaching job overseas at a place whose endemic dysfunctions and failure to support (gratefully, not as bad as at your school) forced me every day to learn something new about what I may expect of myself with proper support, and what I must not expect of myself when proper support is absent. I only wish someone had told me, during my sabbatical, to go work at a bookstore.

posted by eritain at 1:14 AM on February 9, 2007

I detect a pattern with this TFA thing. Hire young and inexperienced, send them in unprepared, unsupported. Chew them up, spit them out, tell them they're no good.

In the Great Tradition of AskMeta:
Lawyer up!

IANAL, but I smell a class action suit. What you describe is PTS (I know, I have it). Your former employer is responsible.
posted by Goofyy at 6:12 AM on February 9, 2007

You did nothing wrong. You protected yourself. You failed nobody. Find something you love.

When I was 22, I naively took a job with a jackass. A different type of jackass, but a jackass nonetheless. I took a little time and then eventually went back to work (I looked at bookstores and temp agencies and serendipitously was placed by the temp agency at DC's public tv and radio station). That job is still one of the greatest job's I've ever had, 10 years later. It was the yardstick by which I measured all my other jobs because I knew I was making a difference, even when I was doing mundane things.

Just be good to yourself and find something to do for now. Then figure out what you want to do in the future. You've been through the wringer.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 7:46 AM on February 10, 2007

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