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For Love or Money:
By Kevin Jarrett

Kevin Jarrett gave up the monetary rewards of the corporate world to fulfill a lifelong desire to teach. Why did he do it? Would he make the same choice again? What advice does he have for others who are considering teaching as a first -- or second -- career? Does Jarrett still Love Teaching?

In September 2002, I walked away from a secure, high-paying job in the corporate world to fulfill my lifelong desire to teach. Today, I have the job of my dreams, teaching K-4 students at my local elementary school about technology. Although the financial sacrifice (a cut in pay of almost two-thirds) was enormous, I would do it all again in an instant. Why? I am surrounded every day by the two things I love most in the world: children and technology. And "extra-curricular" work outside of school has substantially reduced the financial impact of my career move. I have never been happier.

Kevin Jarrett

Kevin Jarrett worked for 17 years in the corporate world before taking a substantial pay cut to pursue his dream of becoming a teacher. Having completed New Jersey's alternate route provisional teaching program, which he found to be "practical, inspirational, and convenient," Jarrett is in his second full year of teaching at Northfield (New Jersey) Community School. For more information, see Jarrett's blog or personal Web site.

Like many others considering a career in education, I was discouraged by family and friends when I started talking about wanting to teach. I always have loved to write. Soon after entering college with an undeclared major, I decided I wanted to become an English teacher. I'll never forget my father's reaction: "Do you know how many Ph.D.'s in English I have working for me!?!? You'll never make enough money to support a family as a teacher!!!" Funny thing about parents ... they only want what's best for you, even if it's not something you want.

Anyway, for your readers who find themselves in a similar situation, I offer this advice:

Follow your instincts. Do you/did you love being in school? Can you name teachers from your past, vividly recalling the impact they had on your life? Do you like public speaking, or are you, at least, comfortable in front of a small audience? Are you organized, focused, and a hard worker? Do you want to change the world? If the answer to most (all?) of those questions is yes, look hard at teaching as a career.

Be honest with yourself about your desire for financial wealth and material possessions. You can make a nice living as a teacher, particularly toward the end of your career, but initially, the pay will be much lower than that of many of your peers. How will you feel when your non-teacher contemporaries are buying fancy new cars, taking exciting vacations, splurging on the latest home technology? If those things are important to you, you will be frustrated by the financial rewards of teaching. However -- if you can look 20 or 30 years down the road -- don't discount the value of teaching's retirement benefits. Many states still have lucrative "defined benefit" pension plans, and many offer medical coverage to retirees and families. Trust me, those are worth their weight in gold -- and you won't find many (any?) private sector companies that take better care of retirees.

If you are thinking about teaching because it would be nice to have "summers off," watch out! Talk to teachers you know and ask them how they spent their summers, particularly in the early years of their careers. Chances are, they worked very hard at second jobs to earn extra money, and had very little time off. (Depending on your interests and marketable skills, the summer months can be a great way to boost your income to a respectable level.)

Do you get a thrill helping people experience an "a-ha!" moment? Do you love the expression on the face of a person of any age who suddenly figures out something for the first time? For many teachers, guiding students to those kinds of realizations is an intensely rewarding experience. It is for me!

Bottom line: It's your life. Don't let anyone else's expectations drive your decision. "I come from a long line of teachers, so I have to do it." "My parents always wanted me to be a lawyer. I can't disappoint them." "All my friends are getting great jobs in (whatever field). I guess I should consider that too."

Don't be one of those people who live a lifetime regretting an early career choice while singing the tired refrain, "If only I'd done what I wanted with my life." Newsflash! You are in control. It is your life. Just keep the big picture in mind and stay true to your values!

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