A Former Teacher Engages Reality: Looking For Another Job

Ending my career in education has given me a taste of the unforgiving job market. The thousands of teachers who flee the classroom each year know this experience. Although I’m currently chasing an atypical second career, recent months have enlightened me to the struggles of other job seekers. As a teacher, I had avoided this reality. Stepping outside the security of education has plunged me up to my neck in it.

The build to my departure from the field was long. From the start, I didn’t have strong convictions about teaching. I felt uncomfortable throughout my career. My last few years in the classroom wore at my resolve. Being a special education liaison convinced me I had to leave. While working in that position, I spent my days distracting myself from the misery of my job by fantasizing about doing anything else.

All along, I planned what I might do after leaving. I investigated options and weighed costs and benefits. I devised several contingencies. My schemes for alternate careers excited me more than my actual career. I figured this was typical across professions. Contemplating how many people loathe their jobs was disheartening.

I had a vision of how I would leave. In my fantasy, I would stride proudly from the tumult, leaving behind those who felt bound to the profession. From there, I would move on to something more dignifying and personally engaging. I would look back and sneer at the rubble of special education. Surveying the ruins, I would feel no regrets for deserting. All would be on my terms.

My actual departure was notably different. For three years, I searched for a new teaching position and an escape from my administrative trap. I wanted out of special education. I had a high school English certification, but no one wanted me for an English position. All of my experience had been in special education. In my third year of searching, I conceded and accepted the lone offer I got from a public school (some charters offered positions, but I was leery). To my chagrin, it was for a special education position.

When I started at this school, I found the job was going to be drastically different from what I had agreed to do during the interview. Due to staffing issues, I would be doing two jobs simultaneously without the resources to do either adequately. The working environment was going to be absurd. The teachers around me didn’t seem happy, but they did seem ready to accept ridiculous expectations and substandard conditions. I wasn’t going to play along. The indignity was too much. I left at the beginning of the year, abruptly severing my relationship with the district I had served for twelve years.

I hadn’t expected to leave so suddenly. I wasn’t ready to enact any of my contingencies. Although I had no debt and enough savings to sustain me for a few years, I panicked and decided to find another teaching job. During this round, I opted to include special education positions in my search. I applied for ten positions. Every position was at a charter. Once again, none of the schools seeking general education English teachers got back to me. Out of the ten, I got four interviews—all for special education positions. Three schools made offers. I misguidedly accepted one. Upon seeing what I was going to do all day, I rescinded my acceptance. I didn’t need money that badly. My patience for dealing with special education was gone. At last, I acknowledged I was done with the field.

My plans for what to do post-teaching included trying to write for a living, pursuing a doctorate, or starting a business. Writing interested me the most, but I wasn’t ready to get started with any of these endeavors. Staring at what living without an income was going to cost me, I chose to seek another job for the interim. Someone would hire me, right?

Admittedly, I didn’t put forth a tremendous effort. I only applied for eleven non-teaching positions. Some were administrative positions at local universities. Others were fundraising positions with non-profits. I applied to work for a publisher. I applied to work for an educational software company. Hoping to capitalize on a previous job, I applied to work for a human service agency. In addition to my fourteen years working in schools, I had a smattering of volunteer, human service, and advocacy experience. My roles in schools were varied and dynamic. I figured I made for a viable candidate. No one gave me so much as a courtesy email in response.

These bleak results shouldn’t have been surprising. I had fled the field over a decade earlier. After two years of teaching, I decided I was done (this pattern is revealing). I spent months looking for another job. I applied for a supervisory position with my then part-time employer. I applied for social work positions. I applied to several entry-level insurance, real estate, and financial positions. Nothing. A retail manager snubbed me, as did an office supervisor and a landscaper. My teaching degree wasn’t a hot commodity.

With my pride in tatters, I returned to teaching following that first departure. Getting new teaching positions had never been an issue, as long as I sought special education positions. After quitting my first job, I found another almost immediately. After quitting the second job and spending a year out of the classroom, I got offers for several new and better special education gigs. When I started looking for positions outside of special education, I faced brick walls. I had stayed in special education too long, undermining my chances. The degree and experience continued to offer little mobility.

My resume wasn’t stellar during my first attempt. I think it looked much better for my second search. I had acquired what I thought were transferrable skills. Those who received my resume apparently disagreed. I laughed about how the job searching techniques I taught my former students had failed me. Perhaps I was being too naïve. The current job market is a dark place. I probably should’ve applied to forty or fifty positions before declaring myself unwanted. Rather than doing that, I elected to work for myself.

Currently, I’m trying to write for a living. This has been what I’ve wanted to do for years. I’m doing it while I have the financial security to give it a try. I run this blog. I’m working on a book that will critique special education. I take whatever freelance work I can get. The results after several months have been frustrating. Writing is about working really hard to get casually rejected and then repeating that indefinitely. I knew this before the start. For as taxing as it is, I can say with certainty I enjoy it much more than I enjoyed working in schools. From this vantage point, I can look back at the smoldering disaster I left behind and feel good about my decision. I might have to abandon writing and try something else when I start to go broke, but I feel better about this than I would have about slinking back to public education.

I might be happy, but I’m not making any money. Considering how I got shut out while job seeking, I have to wonder how others who leave the field manage. Most of the people I know who left teaching did so over a decade ago. I know far more people who came to teaching from another career or who returned to teaching after a long break. When I read about what teachers do after they leave, a substantial number pursue new degrees. Some people are able to move laterally with teaching degrees, but I wonder if these degrees are becoming less transferrable. If this is true, I’m more worried than ever for those currently planning to teach. I’m among those ex-patriots who would never recommend this field to anyone.

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A Former Teacher Engages Reality: Looking For Another Job

12 thoughts on “A Former Teacher Engages Reality: Looking For Another Job

  1. An important discussion, Jeffry. I imagine recent cuts to funding for education and social programs will only continue to make an already burdensome situation for families with children who have special needs even more challenging and discouraging. Mainstreaming seems like just another way to stigmatize and ghettoize those who are different, creating a daunting challenge for the teachers and administrators in special education roles who want to make a difference in children’s lives. I hope your writing career provides an income and gives you a platform that will lead to improvements in public education.

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    1. Thank you for the words of encouragement, Carol. The field is suffering in many ways, but hundreds of thousands of dedicated people remain willing to work within existing paradigms to help needy students. I gave my time and decided to move on. The wheels will keep turning.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It sounds as though you made a wise decision, Jeffrey. I retired early from teaching at the public university level – dealing with bureaucracies and bureaucrats really can make it impossible to breathe your spirit into something you would otherwise love doing…

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  2. John Thomas says:

    Jeffrey, I’m so sorry you had such difficult experiences in education. Good luck with your dreams of writing- it is a very difficult path, but you seem to have some great things to share. I read your SPED post on Edutopia tonight (I’m an Edutopia Facilitator and noticed your piece strolling through the website) and you provide some solid tips for special educators. I’m also a recovering school administrator and adjunct professor for administrators. I’m not sure what your thinking of writing about, but you might think about a text that speaks to future (and current) administrators and how to fully support special education. I’m unsure what is out there that speaks to administrators on the topic of SPED (I teach finance for educators), but special education students are the most important segment of students to administrators in this day and age of standardized testing. In my experience when the administrations fully understands the dynamics of special education, it works and works VERY well. I have been in schools where students NEVER get released from special education support. I am currently working in a school where we periodically release students due to the successes we have found- or at the very least the major interventions are dropped and the students is kept on an IEP to support their transition from elementary school to the middle school. I sure hope you find success writing, but if you need to seek employment elsewhere you might think about higher education- it seems you have a passion for making change, supporting others in education, etc. There are so many wonderful initiatives going on in higher education around school change- maybe there is a way for you to become involved. Perhaps there is a professional development facilitator path for you. Are you on Twitter? I strongly suggest you explore Twitter as there is a fantastic network of educators utilizing twitter for professional development. There is also quite a network of professional development and private sector businesses popping up and making a presence on social media like Twitter. If your unfamiliar with twitter, there are education chats that take place just about every night of the week depending on the subject area or grade level. Good luck to you and if you ever want to run ideas past anyone I am on Twitter @flyfish29

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    1. Thank you for the detailed and thoughtful comment. I like your idea about writing special education guide specifically for administrators. Currently, I’m working on a critique of the thinking behind special education law. Your idea has me thinking ahead, though.

      I’m hoping to adjunct this summer or fall, should anyone wish to hire me. The pursuit of a doctorate might be in my future, depending on how my writing scheme unfolds.

      I started a Twitter account last week, largely to promote my blog. You can find me there: @jhartman1276.

      Once again, thanks for sharing.

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  3. skippingandcrying says:

    Your post is so interesting to me because although I love teaching, I regularly contemplate leaving. The reasons are too numerous and too nuanced to tick off in a comment. (A whole post, perhaps?) I realize May 20 isn’t the day to take any teacher at her word about how committed she is to the profession, but I’ve decided to stay in at least one more year. As for your experience, I find it so frustrating that administrators don’t see the value of hiring people with special ed experience for the gen ed classroom. As a gen ed teacher who has anywhere from 2-6 students every year with IEPs, I wish I had more training in your specialty. School districts are always looking for ways to mainstream kids, but they forget to mainstream teachers! We need more “cross-pollination” because so many of the best practices in Special Ed are good for all students. As for getting hired outside education, I often feel like a teenager complaining to her parents, “No one understands me!” People outside schools really misunderstand what teachers do, and how many skills we have that could be invaluable in other fields. I once heard a teacher explain it to a parent this way: “You know how every so often you have a presentation to do and you do research, and you research the clients, and get your team to work on it, and you make a powerpoint, and you get in early to set up the tech and be sure everything is just right? Yeah? Well, I do 4 or 5 of those a day.”

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Your reply does read like a solid first draft of a great post for your blog! I particularly like the presentation analogy you share with parents. Also, I agree with the need for “cross-pollination” as you put it.

      Regarding career paths, I likely would have remained in the field a few more years had I not spent three years in an administrative position. The position was a good fit for my personality, but I despised the work. It threw me in the middle of the worst aspects of the field and left me too bitter to do much of anything else.

      Whether you stay indefinitely or move on to some new adventure, I hope you maintain or find an position in which you are valued and you value the work. Keep your head up for the last few weeks of this year.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I left teaching because i was “bored,” taught for 5 years as an instructor for a computer company, and then returned to teaching as a substitute while raising my sons. Substitute teaching was wonderful because I could go to the classrooms that I wanted to and not have all the paper work and conferences. Of course, my pay began at $40/day! Since I’ve become a blogger after formally retiring from teaching, I’ve learned about numerous private consultants who are needed by parents searching for answers to help their children. By the way, Jeffrey, I totally enjoy all your comments you leave for me on my blog.

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    1. Thank you for the compliment and for sharing that link. Digital marketing would appeal to teachers who leave the field with the financial stability (per savings or spouse) to try starting a business. I’ve known several teachers who’ve had that advantage, but just as many who’ve needed a stable income immediately and wouldn’t have been able to pursue something like this. For many teachers, I think part of the draw to working in schools is stability. A select few would be willing to get into digital marketing. Some teachers do leave to try ventures such as real estate. However, most of those I know personally would look to do something much more traditional and secure.

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