Should I leave my cozy cubicle and go get a teaching degree?
November 13, 2007 9:03 PM   Subscribe

Should I leave my cozy cubicle and go get a teaching degree?

I am freaking out a bit, trying to decide if I should quit my job and go back to school to get my master's in education and become a junior high school teacher. I live near a university with a good gradaute education program, and I believe that I have a chance to get a full scholarship for a 15 month master's program for teaching science and/or math. One catch is that the scholarship would require me to teach in a high-needs school for 2 years afterwards.

About Me:
- living in northeastern U.S.
- white guy under 40
- wife and 2 kids (kids under age 10)
- undergrad degree in the sciences (dual major)
- master's degree in web/multimedia/telecommunications from a big-name school
- been volunteering for 4 years at an inner city homework help center for k-12
- current job: interesting and ever-changing multimedia stuff for a stable company with 500-1000 employees.
- not making a huge salary, but my job has a lot of flexibility, and i feel respected and challenged - most of the time.
- i am not really a programmer - more like a multimedia jack-of-all-trades

Possible Reasons to Jump Ship and Become a Teacher:
- people have forever been telling me "you'd be a great teacher!"
- i like working with kids
- i like teaching kids about science (i think...)
- i like the idea of having summer vacations off
- although i am content at work right now, i feel i am in a dead end job. i don't want to ever become a manager, there isn't any sort of career track for me other than manager within my company, and i REALLY don't want to be pushing pixels in Photoshop and counting frames in Flash in 10 years. (though i really don't mind it at the moment.)
- being a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none makes me nervous, but i don't really want to become a programmer.
- i sometimes feel sheepish and not terribly proud of my career - like i should be doing something more worthwhile.
- i am slightly concerned my job may eventually go overseas (my company has been increasing the work we send overseas for several years - even stuff where everyone always said, "we won't ever ship that type of work overseas.")
- my job takes a toll on my body in terms of RSI, though i take steps to combat this, and don't seem to have any permanent problems like carpal tunnel.
- Hey! Free master's degree! (I probably would not go back to school if I had to go into debt to do it.)
- my wife's freelance work can mostly get us through the 15 month program, and we have a bit of money saved

Possible Reasons to Stay in My Cozy Cubicle:
- fear of the unknown
- moderate fear of teacher burnout
- mild fear of high-needs teaching work (even for 2 years)
- moderate fear of walking away from my current cozy and safe job
- fear of having a job with never-ending challenges, instead of my current job challenges, which all have end dates.
- fear of a job where all responsibility falls on me (currently i can always share my work with several other people when things get hairy.)
- not making a huge salary, but my job has a lot of flexibility, and i feel respected and challenged (in a good way)

Thanks for any and all advice! If for some reason you need to email me, use
posted by anonymous to Education (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
As someone in the midst of completing my student teaching, I can tell you that I love every day of going into the classroom. I, however, teach 5th grade. Many friends of mine who have taught middle and h.s. have said that middle school is the best. The kids still have a sweetness and they look up to adults. Now, that's not to say that they won't challenge your authority everyday.

One thing you should be aware of is the amount of time that goes into teaching. It's a LOT of work. You teach for 6 hours, get to school an hour before class starts, stay for 1-3 hours after school lets out, and spend countless hours every night working on lesson plans and gathering resources. Middle school is a bit different than elementary because the kids can be a little more self-directed when they're older. You can tell them to read a chapter and do a project on it with their peers. It's much harder to do that with little kids. Maybe that means a little less time will be needed for you to plan your lessons, maybe not.

The notion of a summer vacation is sweet, but much of that time should be spent getting ready for the coming school year. There are always things to do. Once you find your groove and you've been teaching for a few years, you probably won't have to spend as much time writing lessons as you did before. You know what works and what doesn't, you have old lesson plans, etc. But it can still be an overwhelming amount of work.

It's a challenging career, but it is very rewarding.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:27 PM on November 13, 2007

One more thing: you are almost guaranteed an instant job if you want to teach math or science. Many districts will hire you without your credential and give you a couple of years to complete it. So you can get a paying job and get a free education.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:29 PM on November 13, 2007

From Jessamyns mini FAQ for frequent AskMes which is listed in her profile;

"How do I stay at this terrible job?: Don't."

Now admitedly you don't say your job is terrible, but it seems clear that there are many things you aren't happy about there. And teaching sounds like it would make you happy. So I agree with Jessamyn. Go teach. It's a noble profession and the world can always use more dedicated educators.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:31 PM on November 13, 2007

posted by InnocentBystander at 11:02 PM on November 13, 2007

Someone far wiser than me once pointed out to me that just because you leave a particular field "doesn't mean you put those skills in a drawer, never to be accessed by you again." Yes, leaving a cozy job is scary - but it's not the only cozy job out there. From the sounds of it you've got some solid, marketable skills you could return to if need be. If you try the teacher gig but decide it isn't working out for whatever reason that doesn't mean you're done, game over, roll the credits and clear out the theater - all it means is that then you knew the teacher gig wasn't for you after all, so perhaps you could return to the realm of cozy jobs (or seek something else entirely!) with a few less "what if?"s in your heart. On the other hand, it certainly doesn't sound like this is something you're doing just on a whim, or just because you're trying to "escape" where you are right now - it sounds like there's a good chance teaching COULD work out well for you and wouldn't it be a shame to never have given yourself that chance?

If it helps at all, I spent my first 6 years out of grad school in a cozy job which I ultimately realized was unfulfilling, and so I'm now back -in- grad school, this time as a PhD candidate in linguistics (my previous degree was in corporate training design). Money most definitely is a lot tighter now than it had been, but lately I've been doing contract work on the side (with the company with whom I'd previously been employed, natch!) and realizing that there really -are- ways of making this work. Those corporate training design skills I have didn't dissolve when I signed up for my linguistics program and so - even though I no longer intend to base my life's work around them - I can still rely on them for a little cash when needed. This is my third year in the program and I haven't regretted leaving my cozy job for a second ... and of the many aspects of grad school I love, one of my favorites is that my assistantship requires me to teach an undergrad class. True, my undergrads sometimes don't listen, they sometimes complain about their grades, they sometimes give me all sorts of headaches ... but lord help me, I LOVE it and I love them =) Teaching rocks and if it's something you're interested in I hope you do give yourself that chance - "leap and the net will appear," yeah?
posted by zeph at 11:23 PM on November 13, 2007

If you do it, remember that every job has good and bad parts; but if you already have a job with bad parts, why not give it a go?

Just make sure you like people, are authoritative, and actually give a damn about teaching these kids. And avoid high school teaching if you possibly can.
posted by davejay at 11:59 PM on November 13, 2007

Your reasons for leaving sound far more compelling than your reasons for staying. It sounds like teaching may be a good match for you - and it probably seems tempting exactly for that reason. And as zeph points out, if you find that it's not what you hoped it would be, you can always take your skills into another cubicle. But apply for the scholarship, or see if you can do teaching work that would pay for your degree, and go for it.
posted by bassjump at 4:14 AM on November 14, 2007

Not necessarily.

I've always been told I'm a natural teacher, too. One-on-one or in small groups I do fine. But when you get to a certain group size, you'll find you're doing less teaching and more cat corralling--making sure kids aren't goofing off, asleep, cheating, or otherwise disturbing the lesson.

I taught High School English for a very short time and learned quickly that while I'm good at teaching individuals, I quickly lose patience when dealing with large groups. Everyone's different... if you're good with large groups, if you have a natural ability to take charge and get tiny, unsocialized people to listen to you... by all means go for it.

Teaching, particularly public school teaching, is one of the noblest of professions. But before you take the recommendations to "Go For It!" to heart, I'd recommend a test-run or two. Some college exam companies like the Princeton Review or Kaplan offer in-school teaching to "at-risk" students for state-mandated exams (the kind you have to pass to graduate). Typically the sessions are a couple of hours long, and you can bow out at any time if you feel it's not for you. It's a relatively quick and easy way to see if you're cut out for it (well, quicker and easier than quiting your job and going back to school).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:48 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, if you think your current job takes a toll on your body. . . well, I'd be willing to lay dollars to donuts that Teaching will be far more physically exhausting. Speaking of teaching, mine just got released from metal detector searches, so time to go teach. I'll try to get back to this later. If I forget, feel free to email me.
posted by absalom at 6:26 AM on November 14, 2007

You may not have to go back to get a Master's degree to teach. Look on your state Department of Education website and see if Alternative Certification is offered in your state. That is a fast track way to meet the requirements while you are teaching. You will probably have to take the subject area test and a Praxis/General Knowledge/CBest type test to get your foot in the door. With the critical shortage areas of math, science and special education most states are offering financial aid and loan forgiveness programs. Some are tied into teaching at particular schools, some are not, it really depends on the needs of your state. I think it will be the "toughest job you will ever love". Good luck with it!
posted by 45moore45 at 6:43 AM on November 14, 2007

Could you really go through life with this what if. . . .
posted by kowboy at 6:44 AM on November 14, 2007

If you want to do teaching as a career, why not?

But will teaching as a career help you meet your financial goals?

I went back to school for a teaching degree, but I left the profession because I wanted to earn more money.

In terms of burnout, although teachers complain a lot, most professional jobs contain high workloads and high amounts of stress. There isn't any more stress and burnout in teaching than there is in anything else.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:19 AM on November 14, 2007

I have been researching leaving the business world to enter teaching. The best thing you have going for you if you do decide to take the leap is that you already have a science degree.

I have a Business degree and the main hurdle I am facing is that not many schools have jobs teaching classes in business or computer applications.(at least this is the case in the regional area I am looking to get a teaching job)

My problem is that to teach a subject like science I HAVE to get a masters. In order to get a masters I need a background in undergrad science classes. This makes my process a lot longer and at this point a little too long for my liking.

As a side note to all those that read this: I find it pretty scary that any high school would not offer Business classes as electives. All of the college advisers I have talked to have said basically the same thing, "We don't offer an MST in Business because Business is not taught at the HS level."

that amazes me...
posted by remthewanderer at 8:45 AM on November 14, 2007

Pros: 2 months off in the summer
teachers make okay pay, and the market is quite good, esp. sciences
generally a great pension if you stay with one school system for 20 years
Teachers have a lot of freedom within their classroom
Teachers usually have good benefit plans
2 months off in the summer

Con: Loss of pension if you leave before vesting
Many teachers are frustrated with the increased emphasis on testing

Look carefully at the money issues. Many people think the money doesn't matter, and find out later that it does.
posted by theora55 at 9:28 AM on November 14, 2007

I did something similar. Scary but 100% worth it.
posted by nax at 2:15 PM on November 14, 2007

Wow, I'm almost in the exact same situation. I'm a jack of all trades, been working in a boring office with zero career prospects, have applied to go back to uni to complete a Bachelor of Science/ Bachelor of Education. Have also applied for a teaching scholarship that will pay for the entire 4 years of university I'll need, plus a guaranteed job when i finish (although probably in a remote community that needs teachers) Probably the one difference is I am in NSW in Australia, not the US.

Yeah teaching will be kinda hard, but if like me you're stuck in a rut in a dead end job you'll appreciate the challenges it'll bring. I'm a pretty shy. extroverted person, but I'm looking forward to gaining the confidence to be able to stand in front of a group of 30 teenagers and shout them into line and teach them the wonders of photosynthesis or igneous rocks or whatever.

I'm 28 years old now, and been thinking of doing this off and on for five years or so. With me its now or never, either do it or shut up about it.

Hell, even if i don't get the scholarship I'm gonna do it. I need to be challenged and can't wait.

Plus 2 months off over summer will rock - my wife is a teacher too so we'll be having some awesome holidays soon enough.
posted by robotot at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2007

If at all possible, go sub for a jr high. You should have more than enough schooling to do it. I was all prepped to go into the Masters in Teaching program at my college and after a couple semesters at the local high school student teaching I realized I was a complete fish out of water. I think you'd be wise to test things out a bit first. Good luck! I have the utmost respect for teachers.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:27 PM on November 14, 2007

I teach sixth grade math and science in a high-poverty area on the west side of Chicago.

I am all for people becoming teachers. It certainly isn't boring - it's the most rewarding thing I could imagine doing.

However. . .

robotot says "yeah teaching will be kind hard. . ."

This is an almost comic understatement. It is the hardest job I have ever had by at least a factor of five. It is hard for me to adequately describe it to those who haven't done it, but I'll try.

*I arrive at work at or before seven each day, and usually stay til six.

*I spend my Sundays planning my lessons.

*I spent the first half of my summer break recovering from last year (as in sleeping all day), and the second half preparing for this year. Anyone who thinks the hours/vacation are a perk is working someplace much easier than I am.

*I spend all day being directly responsible for the wellbeing, safety, and learning of 29 young people. I am never "off," I can never be in the background. This is exhausting.

*Many of my students come from violent and chaotic environments. They bring that violence and chaos, along with lots of other emotional baggage and distractions, with them to school every day. If I am not 100% vigilant at maintaining order and sanity in my classroom, it quickly devolves into chaos. I am getting better at this but I am not perfect and sometimes we still have horrendous days where I feel like quitting.

*I have been sweared at, hit with flying objects, yelled at, threatened. I have put out fires in my classroom. This was in my old school, which was a lot more difficult than where I work now, but I still deal with cursing and rudeness.

*My students come to me way behind academically. It is my job to catch them up. If I fail at the job I have to answer to their parents, the administration, and the high-stakes testing insanity. It is a big burden.

*My kids are 11-13. They are in the throes of early adolescence and it shows. They have trouble accepting authority but they are often incapable of solving their own problems.

*The number of little things that I am supposed to remember to do in a given day (notes and calls home, paperwork, helping students keep track of their belongings, keeping the classroom tidy and inviting, dealing with technology, making sure no one is plugging the bathroom toilets with paper towels, etc) boggles my mind.

I could go on but maybe you get the idea, sort of. I live this job six days a week. I come home and rest and have very few adult thoughts in my head until the next day comes. I dream about my students.

I don't want to give an entirely negative impression. Sometimes I even think I might be good at my job. Would I trade it for a desk job? Absolutely not. My kids are the most interesting people I know.

But go in with your eyes open. It will be harder than you can anticipate.
posted by mai at 8:30 PM on November 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

I turned my science degree into a science teaching credential and I love my job and my life. I teach elementary, but I wouldn't mind teaching jr high or high school. Before my degree program I wouldn't have said that...

Anyway, questions to ask yourself:

Are you any good with paperwork? You don't have to love paperwork, but you have to be able to cope with it efficiently. You will process a 12" stack of paper daily, minimum. If you fall behind, your teaching will suffer.

Are you organized? This is crucial. You will be in charge of 150+ children (or 400+ if you're in elementary science...), and you have to know what is going on. Can you put a system into place and tweak it if necessary?

Can you deal with the fact that you will have to put a lot of time and work into classroom management, especially in the beginning? You don't get to just walk into a class and start teaching 30 eager kids. You have to show them how your class works and how they need to behave. Some people can do this without a fuss, others get very stressed out about it. Which are you?

How are you with the idea of other people telling you what you can teach? Some districts are very regimented, i.e. all teachers give Unit 1 test on the same day, etc. Can you stick to a district guideline without feeling like you're compromising yourself?

If these questions don't sound too bad, pick up a copy of Harry Wong's book "The First Days of School". Read it cover to cover, and see if you put into place the kind of systematic management practices outlined in the book. I you get excited reading about that stuff, then teaching is for you.

For what it's worth--teaching doesn't have to be a 14 hour a day job. I'm in my second year, and I get to work at 7 and leave at 3 or 4 to be with my baby. Last summer I didn't even think about my job until mid-August. If you put the time into organization, you don't need to work this long!

I started my career last year, three days before the school year began, 7 months pregnant. I didn't have the time or energy to work late into the evening or bring work home every day, so I invented systems to decrease my workload while still teaching my students. I am now a very happy, well-respected (by staff, parents, students, and admin) award-winning teacher. My kids know the subject and do the work. I am considered to be "rigorous". I think I still have a long way to go.

In the end, if you 1) are organized, 2) don't mind spending time on infrastructure, and 3)love the subject matter, you will probably make a great teacher and love your job.
posted by lisaici at 10:55 PM on November 21, 2007

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