“Miss Education” is a public-school teacher in the New York area. Until she finds herself a shiny new career and can leave the blackboard jungle behind, she’ll be posting anonymously.
The New York Times recently published a great op-ed by Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari on “The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries.” They argued that teachers need to be paid higher salaries to make a decent living, and that the government should consider paying for their training. They cited a McKinsey study showing that 68% of 900 top American college students would consider teaching if salaries began at $65,000 a year.
I read this article with mixed emotions. On one hand, teachers are receiving a heck of a beating in the media every time I open a newspaper or turn on a television, and whenever I see a prominent face clamor for higher teacher salaries (as opposed to cutting our benefits), it makes me want to go back to college, get an accounting degree, and do that person’s taxes for free for the rest of his or her life. (If only I weren’t allergic to math.)
On the other hand, I looked at the suggested $65K starting salary and thought, “I certainly wouldn’t say no to that kind of money, but my low salary is the least of my problems with this job.” (Granted, I am a single woman with no kids or dependents to worry about. I rent an apartment and commute by subway, and I’m debt-free–someone with kids and car payments would probably feel different.)
In fact, my reason for leaving teaching has nothing to do with the money and everything to do with the lack of respect–and I’m not talking about the eighth graders shouting profanities when I tell them to put their cell phones away. I’m talking about the lack of respect I get from higher-ups–and their lack of faith that I am a trained professional who knows what she’s doing in the classroom.
A few years ago, our school was in danger of losing funding because of low scores on the English Language Arts test. The No Child Left Behind Act mandated that the school adapt a literacy program to improve those scores. A handful of administrators selected one literacy program without consulting any of the teachers who would have to teach it.
It was a bad idea from the beginning: a literacy program based entirely on writing, not on reading, when many of our students were already four years behind grade level. The curriculum was based on students reading a handful of excerpts and imitating the styles in their own writing–but that didn’t address the fact that our students needed to read and understand the excerpts before they could hope to imitate anything.
To top it off, our weekly department meetings consisted of the department head lecturing us on what we were doing wrong, even though we got no proper training. We were expected to follow it without understanding it, and if we didn’t do it “right,” it was our fault.
Because of approaches like this, I wouldn’t stay in the profession if I were making $200,000 a year. Money means nothing to me if I walk into the building every day expecting to be criticized for problems that are beyond my control.
How does this lesson apply to the rest of you changing careers? Well, you have to know your limits. Before you decide to leave that job or that career that’s crushing your soul, identify why it’s crushing your soul. Think about your deal breakers and think about your must-haves: what must you have in your career in order to be happy and fulfilled? Figure that out BEFORE you quit, or you’ll make the same mistakes in the next career.
Me? I know I want a job where the company gives its employees proper training instead of throwing them into the deep end of a shark-infested pool without a life vest. I also want constructive criticism. If I do something wrong, I want to know it, but I want to know why it’s wrong and what I can do to improve, not be slapped on the wrist and sent to my bed without supper.
I’m about to venture into a world that I don’t recognize, leaving a job that has health benefits and some stability. But I know I want a modicum of power and creativity in the next career I have. I don’t know what that dream career is yet, but I know my must-haves and I know my deal breakers. And suddenly, the uncertain future seems less scary and much more exciting.