Looking for replies from those who changed careers to enter public education.
May 8, 2008 8:21 PM   Subscribe

For a friend: If you have ever changed careers to become a public school teacher, I would love to hear your story, especially if you were already at the "married with children" stage of life when you made the switch. Are you happy with your choice? Do/did you regret it? What happened that you didn't expect? What was it like. Answers to any of or all of those questions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, as always.
posted by 4ster to Work & Money (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My mother went back to school for a teaching degree after my parents divorced--she had been a nurse, and wanted a schedule that worked better with our school schedule.

She's been teaching for twenty five years now and has loved every minute of it.

One of her favorite things about her career is getting to take advantage of courses and certifications that are paid for or subsidized by her district--she takes computer courses all the time, and is incredibly up to date with technology and programming and knows just about every major software inside and out. That's definitely a side benefit she hadn't counted on in the beginning.

Now that we are grown and I have kids of my own, her salary goes much farther and better yet, her schedule allows her to travel to spend time with us and with her aging parents.

She just said to me the other day on the phone "I could have gone to law school instead, but then by now I'd be a partner and I'd be way too busy to come spend all my money on you".
posted by padraigin at 9:21 PM on May 8, 2008

I'm a first grade public school teacher and career changer (former librarian), but I'm only 26. No kids, no family. I do, however, work with many teachers who were career changers. Here's what I've heard them say:

"I wanted to become a teacher because I would be able to spend afternoons with my own children."

Truth: Teachers have to go to a lot of meetings after school. Then we get home and grade papers, plan for the next day, and prepare our materials. It's a 9 hour-a-day job, minimum. I leave home at 6:30 a.m. and I get home at 4:30 p.m. Then I do at least an hour of work once I get home. Your first few years will be especially time consuming. Your mind becomes consumed by school. When you go out, you see everything through a teacher's lens. At restaurants, I ask for extra menus to take to school and use for math lessons. I steal extra maps at Disneyland to use for geography lessons. I dig through dumpsters to find cardboard for art projects. You can't turn your teacher brain off, no matter how hard you try.

"When I get home, sometimes I don't feel like listening to my own kids because I'm tired of interacting with children all day."

"I love teaching because it helps me understand my own children better."

"I became a teacher because I thought I'd be able to be creative. State mandated content standards and rigid instructional curricula give me less autonomy in the classroom than I expected."

High stakes testing makes the profession very stressful. Teaching, I once read in a professional journal, is as stressful as being an air traffic controller.

"Teaching is a LOT more work than I had anticipated, but I love it too much to ever quit."

"Considering the pay and workload, I should have stayed at my old job."

"Even though the pay is crappy and the workload is intense, teaching is the most rewarding career I have ever had."

I'd have to say that 90% of the career changers I work with are pleased with their decision to teach. There are days--and sometimes weeks, months, or even a year--when they feel they've made a mistake, but, all things considered, they're happy.

You're a pastor, so teaching and crappy pay is something you're probably used to. I work with a former pastor who is incredibly happy he left the ministry to become a teacher.

P.S. You're choosing a bad time to get into teaching--unless you plan to teach math, science, or a foreign language. The economy is such that scores of teachers are getting laid off. Pray about it and ask some people in the field (make an appointment with a school administrator) for their advice on whether this is a good time to try to get a teaching position. Also keep in mind that when you do your student teaching, you won't have time to work. I had to student teach all day long for 15 weeks and go to teaching methodology classes 3 nights a week. Plus I had to grade papers, plan lessons, and go to meetings. I completely depleted my savings.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:57 PM on May 8, 2008

My husband closed a failing business at 29, when our daughter was one, and spent three years in school full-time to get two more bachelor's degrees and teacher certification. This was more than 10 years ago, before the growth in lateral-entry programs specifically designed for professionals who want to transition to teaching.

From the perspective of the job itself, he loves it. He's an elementary school art teacher and a genuine rock star to the kids. He enjoys the hours and the summers off (and Camp Daddy is much cheaper than the YMCA). He feels like his job is making a difference in the lives of children.

What he hates are most of the other teachers. Apologies in advance for broad, sweeping statements here... but in his experience, elementary school teachers tend to be high-strung women who aren't very smart. They're control freaks and extremely catty, and gossip and bitchiness can run rampant in a school with weak leadership from the principal. I'm not sure this experience is too different than what any of us experience at work, but it's there.

As a special-area teacher, my husband doesn't have the pressure of being directly responsible for students' academic achievement (i.e. test scores). However, he and the other "specials" are considered second-class citizens in the hierarchy, at least by the classroom teachers.

The pay sucks, at least where we live. In his ninth year of teaching, his salary has yet to top $40k. That has put quite a bit of pressure on me as the primary breadwinner. Not that I'm raking it in myself, but I find myself wondering if I should put myself on a more intense career track to make up for the money he'll never be able to bring home. On the positive side, we're optimistic that our children will qualify for financial aid for college.

Hope this helps.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:29 AM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by plinth at 6:33 AM on May 9, 2008

After 25 years as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, my mom went back to school to get her teaching license. She's not taught 5th grade for about a decade, and I think regrets it every minute. Prior to this career change she was working in private practice, seeing clients only part time so that she could make raising me and my brothers her main priority. Obviously she didn't expect teaching to be similar to a part-time (or even less) private practice, but I think she's been shocked by truly how much time she spends at school. It's not unusual for her to get there by 6:30 or 7, and not leave for 10, 11, or 12 hours. Sure, there are a lot of jobs where hours can be that intense, but most of them don't require you to manage 30+ children at the same time.

My bros and I were much older by the time she made this switch, but it would've been a shock to the whole family if we were younger. I'm not sure what your friend's family situation is, but i think he/she should be sure that they really understand what would be expected of them as teacher, and how it might not just effect your friend, but the spillover on children and spouse.
posted by jk252b at 6:46 AM on May 9, 2008

Oh yeah, and I second what Sweetie Darling said about "high-strung women who aren't very smart." Except for two close friends she's made at the school, my mom complains about this aspect of her colleagues *constantly*. Chances are my mom and Sweetie Darling's husband aren't at the same school.

Also...my brother who just began college won a scholarship from the Teacher's Union, so, that's a fringe benefit.
posted by jk252b at 6:49 AM on May 9, 2008

My sister's an elementary school teacher specializing in literacy and bilingual ed. She's amazingly great at it -- wins awards, teaches other teachers the curriculum, implements new programs. But when she and her husband adopted a baby from Guatamala, she moved out of the classroom into a support position. Running a classroom while raising a young child was too much intensity, she decided. (My sister loves her co-workers -- I've never heard her complain about them. But there is a tendency for some teachers to resist any changes in how they run their classrooms, even if the changes would be better for educating the kids. Because my sister does curriculum she has had to deal with this.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:53 AM on May 9, 2008

I did this a long time ago -- 1986 -- and so my response might not be as useful as a more current switcher's. I was an electrical engineer, and wasn't happy with how much time off I got and with the purpose of my job -- I had a hard time imagining myself 40 years on being satisfied with having developed somewhat better products. I taught half-time on an emergency certificate for one of the 2 years it took me to get a teaching certificate -- now many states have quicker programs. No regrets -- I loved teaching from the first day I tried it. Part of this might be that I was teaching physics, which is an optional subject, and I didn't get the discipline problems we've all heard about. High school age kids are a lot of fun to be around if you have their respect and they trust you. I also liked the creative aspects of the job, figuring out how to present different topics and what lab activities we could do. I left teaching after 6 years for graduate school, and now teach at a university and do research into how people learn physics. For me this is a nice balance, but there are days when I miss teaching kid-adults.
posted by Killick at 10:43 AM on May 9, 2008

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