Teaching is a Dead-End Job: Part II
If you are committed to leaving teaching, there are ways out. There are other leaky boats waiting for you at the dock. You can try to get a different job, in or out of education. It stands to reason that something within the broader field of education would offer better prospects for the aspiring ex-teacher.
But being a teacher doesn’t automatically make you an attractive candidate for any ol’ job in education. It is important to remember that remaining in education as a principal, curriculum writer, trainer, non-profit program manager, or district bureaucrat is a change of career. It is not a lateral move and it won’t necessarily be a move up. You will be exiting one career in order to enter another that happens to be in the same field. Working at a gas station does not qualify you to work on an oil rig. You may well have to go back to school, take a pay cut or start at a lower level than you had expected. And that’s if you are lucky. After all, how many ESL Program Coordinators and Assistant Directors for Social Studies Curriculum Development do you think they need downtown?
Anybody moving from one career to another will likely incur some transaction costs. The whole enterprise will be more difficult when unemployment is high because employers will have a broader pool to choose from in filling vacancies. It is more likely they will have no reason to try to imagine why a school teacher could do this job when they can hire somebody who actually has done this job.
In addition, the longer you have been a teacher the more difficult it will be for you and your prospective employer to imagine you doing something else. For the most part, the skills and experience you have gained as a teacher are good for one thing only. (It starts with a ‘T’ and rhymes with ‘eaching’.) And, if you’re like me, your circle of professional contacts slowly becomes filled pretty much with just other teachers. These people may be your friends, but they are useless if your networking goal is to someday stop teaching. Make sure you stay in touch with the people you know who got out.
In addition, rightly or wrongly, employers will form an opinion of you and your abilities very quickly because they have a clear, if flawed, idea in their heads of what a teacher is and can do. They might not care much if you are on the Planning Committee for the Winter Holiday Festival Program, started an after-school science club, “develop and implement curriculum”, or organize the best field trips ever. Their impression of your profession was formed long ago and is drawn mostly from what they remember from high school or watching movies and TV.
Perhaps you seem like a Mr. Kotter-type; funny and affable. Your earnest, vulnerable and compassionate spirit may fill the room like Robin Williams in Goodwill Hunting or maybe you’ve performed miracles like in the white-lady-in-the-city movies. Maybe you seem a little like that weird teacher with the long hair on Freaks and Geeks; the no-nonsense dick, Mr. Hand, from Fast Times at Ridgemont High or a sadistic asshole from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Favorable or not, these impressions will have nothing to do with the work of the job for which you are applying. The worst case scenario is that they see you as a high priced babysitter.
What knowledge or skills could this person possibly have that I might in any way be able to productively deploy in my office?
What can you say to that? You’ll have to be very smart and deliberate about talking yourself up and being creative about it without sounding ridiculous. One of my greatest fantasies was to tell a prospective employer that running a classroom is a lot like running a business. It’s like running a business where half of the employees are either morons or hate their jobs. And most of the rest are simply unqualified. But I can’t fire anybody. In fact, I spend most of my time trying to convince my worst employees not to quit. My goal every day is to make sure that everybody feels good and believes they are working hard and doing a great job even if they suck.
Are you kidding me? It’s a miracle we get any damn thing done at all. I am a modern management genius.
PS — Here’s something funny from our friends at The Onion.