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Subject:  Re: Transitioning from Private Life to Public??? Date:  6/17/2008  11:28 AM
Author:  AcmeFool Number:  46494 of 49684


Thanks for contacting me offline about this. If you like, we can communicate more offline as well, but I thought it would be good to put this all out publicly since it can never hurt others. Warning, this is going to get VERRRRRY LONG...I'm going to give a full background before giving my impressions, suggestions, warnings, etc.

Wow, where to begin. I guess at about 18 months ago will work...

I used to work as an engineering consultant. I traveled. A lot. And for long stretches. It was not unusual for me to be off in another country for as much as 3 months straight. And I once had back-to-back trips like this so I was gone around 5 months scattered among Chile, Austria, and Germany. The job was interesting and the pay was very good, but I was miserable. Something had to change; I decided I was either going to move into teaching or becoming a financial adviser.

Now, I've always been skeptical of people when they say something like "G-d told me to do such-and-such." And I don't know if that was what happened here. But I can say that there was something inside me pushing me to try teaching.

In Georgia (and most states) there are Teacher Alternative Preparation Programs that allow qualified candidates to start teaching immediately while they spend 2 years working towards their certification. Since there was NO CHANCE I was going to leave my job and pay for school, this was the path I needed to take. In my case, with an engineering degree I was eligible to teach math. (It is a crazy quirk that does not allow me to teach Chemistry even though there are maybe 1-2 people in the school that have taken more than me in their life. But I would rather teach math anyway.)

So I applied to the program and flooded the county schools with applications. I quickly heard back from one of the 21 high schools and interviewed with them. They had 4 open positions, but they never contacted me again. The next few months were among the most frustrating of my life. I had previously decided to quit my job whether I had a teaching position or not. And at the end of June, 2007 I left my job without anything in hand.

Here, teacher planning starts the first week of August. As July came to a close without anyone returning my calls, responding to my emails and faxes, or seeming to care about my applications, I figured I would do some substitute teaching and work as a tutor for a year. Then on the Thursday a week before teacher planning, I received calls from 2 principals within 15 minutes of each other asking to interview me for an open position. I met with both the next day and each of them offered me the job.

The decision was fairly easy -- one school was bad and the other horrible. The bad school had a new principal whose plan was easy to see; the horrible school had a new principal whose plan I could not follow. At the bad school, I would be filling an open position to teach upper-level math; at the horrible school, the principal told me to pick the subject I wanted and he would put me in that spot, even if it meant displacing the department chair to be the calculus teacher.

The bad school won easily.

Once I had the job, it was time to figure out what I had to do! A whole lot of assumptions are made by teachers when someone new comes in. The process can be completely overwhelming. You have so much thrown at you in an incredibly short week. And since you have no experience, it seems like even more than it is.

After getting through that week, the really tough stuff began -- teaching the students. I work at a difficult school. The education level among these students is generally poor; the desire to learn is generally poor; and gangs have crept into the school.

I could go on and on about specific events, but I will just give the high (and low) lights here:

** I have really enjoyed teaching. FOR ME, this was the best decision I could have made.
** There have been days where I was close to walking into the principal's office and quitting.
** Teaching is incredibly demanding -- emotionally, physically, etc.
** If you do not absolutely love kids, you cannot make it in this field.
** If you are not willing to work insane hours the first year, you will not do a good job. You have so much to learn that it just takes a lot of time. As you gain experience, you will not have to work as long to achieve the same results.
** Good teachers work harder than bad teachers (in most cases) because they never settle for the level they have reached. Even in classes I have previously taught, I will change at least 10% of my lessons each year to make them better.
** Teaching requires you to be a jerk (the students might use a different word). As long as you are a fair jerk, you are on the right track.
** The kids will idolize you if you are doing a good job. Even the ones that you think hate you will look up to you.
** Teaching is far more political than any corporate job. Be careful what you say and to whom. There are very few secrets in a school.
** Keep your old contacts in good shape -- if you try teaching and it does not work out, those contacts could come in handy for getting back into another field.

There is so much I can say about becoming a teacher. It can be the best or worst move a person makes. Some people that think they will be good teachers will fail; some that you would never think could teach will succeed. But, generally, I think people with a passion for education and a love of children will do well in the field. They might have to work at it (anyone that says it comes naturally is lying IMO) but they will get there.

If you have specific questions, please ask away. I am always happy to help. Additionally, I would advise you post at the Teachers board -- -- as the people there really helped me get started.

One final CRITICAL note... changing jobs is not a panacea that makes everything better. There are major frustrations in every job. What you do can help you be happy, but it is not enough by itself. You also have to take care of yourself outside of the work world. Do things that make you happy. Some suggestions: go for hikes; volunteer (I love Habitat for Humanity -- when I retire, I plan to work there one week each month and maybe use what I learn to rehab houses for some extra cash); plant a garden; whatever you can to add depth to your life. Without these other interests, your job defines you and that will create frustration in any career. Teachers burn out at a high rate; part of this is the tough work but I think a part of it is the lack of outside interests. Don't let that be you.

You could still find a job as a teacher for this fall. But it will be tough if you have not even started the process. And it sounds like you are not sure of the path to becoming certified. So maybe you need to plan for 2009 rather than 2008. I also advise taking your time so that you do not rush into things before you have really worked through the options. This is NOT something you want to do as a rash decision. I had considered things as much as 12-18 months before the time my "story" above began. Since I had worked through everything -- my career, our finances, etc. -- for a while, I had a better base to build on.

So unless you have a strong base in place, I would advise working towards a career shift 12 months from now rather than immediately. If you think in these terms, you might try going to some local schools and seeing what you need to do to work as a substitute a few times. Subs do not get the same view of teaching, but this will give you a chance to network with the administration and other teachers.

And it will put you in a position where you can learn. During your "planning" time, you can observe teachers. This will give you a feel for what it is really like...and it will teach you what works and what does not work!

Best of luck.

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