Teaching: Dead-End Job: Part I
Happy New Year. That was a long Teachbreak I took just there. I wouldn’t say it was relaxing. The holidays and family visiting isn’t relaxing. I’ve been working on a major Teachbad-related project and another non-Teachbad-related project which have both kept me unbloggish for a bit. Plus I have a job, kids, dog and a house that’s 115 years old.
But I’m back. And I missed you. I hope your heat shields maintained their integrity upon reentry into your classroom this week. I know it was rough, but, be honest: Was that horrible anticipation you put yourself through for most of the break really worth it? No. We both know it wasn’t. This is one of the great mysteries of teaching. Why do we allow this to happen?
Anyway, let’s get to the post. This is the second-to-last in a series exploring the fundamental shittiness of teaching. These are unambiguously negative things about teaching, no matter where you teach or how much you might tell yourself you love it. (Links to the whole series and the survey from whence the idea came can be found below.)
Teaching is a Dead End Job
There is no career path in teaching. Or, there is a path, but it is flat and circular. The teachers’ job is to do more or less the same thing with the same level of responsibility every single day until they die. There is no obvious professional progression or next step for the teacher except to go around the track again. You will never, ever be recognized or rewarded for your work with a larger than expected raise, a meaningful bonus or a promotion. You’ll take the Kudos! in the newsletter and walk away quietly, both grateful and emasculated.
If you want professional adventure, it’s up to you to start a new school club, become the assistant soccer coach or sniff butts on this or that powerless and irrelevant committee. But make no mistake; these things are not your job. Your job is to plan, teach and grade. Anything else is elective supplemental work you are doing for the extra money, because you enjoy it, or because your actual job makes you want to drink bleach.
Aside from taking the loop around again, the only other career move a teacher can make after reaching the point of not really wanting to teach anymore is to get out. You can try to stay in the field of education, hopefully leveraging your teaching experience to get the job you want. Or you may choose to leave teaching and education all together. I have known many people in each of these three boats; those who stay, those who leave but stay in education, and those who strike out for something completely different. Results have been mixed. All the boats are all leaky and fraught with peril. To be honest, I have been in all three and each one sank.
Staying Put: The Path of Least Resistance
Teaching is definitely one of those jobs that can slowly trap you over a period of years. The more you stay, the easier it can be to stay and the harder it is to leave. Nobody expects their first year or two of teaching to be easy. So when it sucks and you feel like almost everything is going to hell most of the time, you shake it off. Depression, anxiety, increased alcohol use, hair loss, night sweats, withdrawal from family and friends, weight gain/loss, erratic sleep, diarrhea, nicotine addiction, risky sexual behavior, bloat, nightmares, blurred vision, violent fantasies, short-term memory loss and dry-mouth are all common in the first two years of teaching. That’s the way it’s supposed to be and most teachers make it through. Then it generally gets better for those who stay on. Not a lot better, but enough to remain living. Still, hundreds of thousands of teachers leave teaching after their third, fourth and fifth years as well.
After the fifth year the exodus slows down. But why? After five years does everything click and teaching becomes awesome? Teaching was clearly the right choice. I am now comfortable in this job and I like this job well enough. I will continue being a teacher because it satisfies many important criteria I have for a job and a career. Many, many thousands of teachers come to this decision every year. They stay and they are happy.
However, in addition to the teachers who leave in the first five years, many thousands of teachers in their 6th or 11th or 20th year are not particularly happy to still be teaching. Maybe they changed their minds in the last few years or maybe they never really liked it in the first place but just kept waiting and hoping. Or, just maybe, the essence of the job itself has come to suck more in recent years. Either way, they keep thinking about getting out.
But if nothing acutely horrible is happening and there isn’t anything else obvious to do, it can be easy to just stay. You’ve made your peace and lowered your career expectations for yourself. You’ve developed calluses where you need them, and you make a little more money every year. You could just stay here for another year. Besides, looking for a new job takes a lot of work and it is a stressful, uncertain proposition. And most teachers probably don’t even know what kind of a job to look for. I thought I was going to be a teacher and that’s what I’ve been doing for a long time. What the hell do ex-teachers do?
You’ve achieved relative comfort after investing a great deal in it. And it’s not like you are looking at a clear choice of something better. It can be very easy to show up again in August. Every year that a teacher shows up again in August makes it more difficult to engineer a smooth transition out before next August. The inertia becomes like a weight with compound interest. The amount of energy needed to reach escape velocity increases every year. (Physics teachers…did that last part make any sense?)
But if you are committed to leaving, there is another leaky boat waiting for you at the dock. We’ll discuss this, the ferry out of the classroom, next time.
On an unrelated note, it occurred to me today that Kevin Bacon, Denis Leary and Bryan Adams might all be the same person.