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 smartened 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 for people on the brink of leaving. 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 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 a dozen or so 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 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’m taking 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 remain among those ex-patriots who would never recommend this field to anyone.