I Left Teaching, and You Can Too

In Authenticity, Productivity, Teaching, Tips + Tools by Jenn0 Comments

“I can’t imagine doing anything but teaching.”

“Teaching is the only thing I know how to do.”

“I want to use the degree I worked so hard and paid so much for.”

“I’m going to be teaching FOREVER.”

These are not the resolutions of veteran teachers, or even the starry-eyed promises of teachers in training.

These are the laments of early to mid-career teachers spiraling toward burnout. And I hear them all the time.

I graduated with my masters and a teaching license in 2010. My classmates who have stayed in the classroom since graduation have all passed through the mythical five-year crucible when half of all teachers leave the profession. If you look at our cohort, that statistic seems to bear out. (I have three total years of teaching experience over a calendar span of six years, so I’m not sure what category that puts me in.)

I’ve heard from former coworkers and classmates that the seven year itch is setting in. They’re tired of testing, frustrated by a system that has failed to prepare students for success, and fed up with increasing demands and decreasing support. Most tellingly, they are torn between being good teachers and good parents and partners.

“Well, why don’t you quit?” I ask.

Maybe they love enough parts of teaching to balance out the stuff they don’t love. Maybe they still believe that things will get better. (I sure hope so!)

But what I hear most often is that people are afraid. Afraid of losing their insurance and retirement benefits that they’ve accumulated. Afraid that their skills are not useful or valued outside the classroom. (But c’mon, are they really being valued as much as they could be inside the classroom?) Afraid that they can’t get hired for anything else.

I can’t really help with the first fear. But I want to help dispel the last two.

I’m only one person, but I was able to transition out of (and back into) teaching twice in six years without a lot of hassle. Full disclosure: I did not always have benefits. Not every job was great. Sometimes I patched together 3 part-time jobs to make less than a full-time living. But it can be done. It’s a matter of selling your skills and not just reciting your experience. (Which is a decent rule of thumb with job searching in general.)

From full-time to freelance, here are a few jobs I’ve held that teachers are uniquely qualified for.

Neat desk with laptop and coffee.

Obviously my office looked like this every day. BAHAHA.

Administrative Assistant/Coordinator

Teachers are masters of juggling multiple moving parts (and personalities) at once. Most of them are also fairly good at staying calm in the face of chaos, planning for contingencies, and winging it when the plans and backup plans fall through. (I had a lot of lessons fall apart during first period, which I then I had to find a replacement for in the 5-10 minutes before second period. Talk about improvisation!) Those organizational and strategic skills are very useful in an administrative setting. Rather by accident, I found myself working in real estate administration for two and a half years between teaching positions. While real estate isn’t my passion, I was pretty good at my job, if I say so myself. In the words of my former boss, there are people who are good at selling houses and there are people who are good at helping the people who are good at selling houses. Those two categories usually don’t overlap. The more organized teachers among us can easily parlay their planning and management skills into supporting other professionals. (Also worth noting, I earned a higher salary working in the private sector than I did at my first teaching job.)

Informal Educator 

Teachers aren’t limited to the classroom. Many museums, parks and recreation centers, arts organizations, university departments, and non-profits have an outreach educational component. With teaching experience and specialized content or industry knowledge, you can help bridge the gap between school and life. (The fact that such a gap exists is a conversation I’ll save for another day.) During college, I worked for a science education outreach program run through my university chemistry department. We trained volunteers to teach short science demonstrations in urban elementary and middle school classrooms using pre-made kits. As a staff member I also helped develop and maintain the program website. This was actually one of my favorite jobs. (I would have loved to be the program coordinator for this had the existing coordinator ever decided to finish his doctorate and leave the university, ahem.) A high school classmate taught special education for several years before taking an administrative job at a local educational organic farm and nature preserve, a position she enjoys greatly. Informal education allows you to “just teach” without the extensive grading, assessment, and planning of classroom teacher.

There seem to be an inordinate number of bulletin board ideas on Teachers Pay Teachers, which I cannot capitalize on because as a high school teacher I was born without the bulletin board designing skill.

Teachers Pay Teachers Content Creator

Teachers Pay Teachers is an online marketplace where educators can sell their teaching materials. When I first started teaching, I took too much pride in spending waaayyyyy too much time creating all my own lesson plans, projects, review games, and homework assignments. Eventually (after I worked a job that actually ended at 5:00 and got intoxicated by all my free time in the evening) I figured out that sometimes it was totally worth it to buy a set of printable flashcards for a dollar instead of spending half an hour making my own. I know some teachers who think it’s unethical to charge other teachers money for teaching materials. While I firmly believe that knowledge ought to be free, time and expertise are not. So I personally have no problem supporting other teachers, freeing more time for myself, and obtaining great learning materials for my students.

I should note that opening a TpT shop is not likely to replace a full-time salary immediately, if ever. There is a large investment of time and energy up front to create attractive and high-quality materials, and if you calculate the hourly return on that investment it may look like a pretty terrible deal. But it is a good platform that, like your blog, can continue generating referrals and income long after you’ve uploaded a resource. After Fire Monkey was born, I had grand visions of opening a TpT shop to capitalize on the dearth of materials for high school and science. Since blogging turned out to be a lot more lucrative, I only ended up putting up two items, but I’m going to try and work on some new materials each month just to keep my toe in the education pool. Note: You need decent page layout, graphic design, and web interface skills for this to not be a massive exercise in frustration. Or hire me to help you!

Freelance [Fill-in-the-blank]

While I double-majored in molecular genetics and English (along with a minor in Nerdiness), my B.A. was never meant to be anything other than an excuse to read lots of interesting books during college. But here I am, a freelance writer, editor, and digital marketer. I have no marketing degree but I know how to read and speak to people’s motivations. (Teenagers didn’t give me much to work with, so I got very good at this. Mostly by overusing the word “sex” in biology class.) I also owned a very small and honestly mediocre-to-halfway-decent photography business. With no formal training in photography beyond a high school film class, I taught myself how to use a DSLR, Photoshop, InDesign, and front-end web development.

The best teachers are also consummate learners, and it seems like many of them have lots of interests outside the classroom. Take some of those skills and interests and turn them into money! Disclaimer: I am fortunate enough that our family doesn’t depend fully on my salary or need me to provide health insurance. But I work smart to have time and flexibility for our family and contribute meaningfully to our household income. And the funny thing is, it wasn’t as hard as I was afraid it would be. It was hard to make a living from photography because I wasn’t actually that good at it. I was also trying too hard to be like everyone else. Now that I’ve found and embraced my own voice as a writer and content creator, it’s a lot easier to run a sustainable and authentic business. (I also have an excuse to continue purchasing pretty office supplies on a regular basis.)

Something that I would eventually like to do is help people in their own career transitions and freelance journeys. If you’ve been thinking of making a shift (out of the classroom or otherwise), leave a comment below or shoot me a message about where you’re at. For now, my time, experience, and knowledge are free. Can’t wait to hear from you!

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