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A Life After Teaching

The National Center for Education Statistics released a report last April detailing the exit rate of teachers that began their careers in 2007-2008. Despite analyst projections, fewer newer teachers left within their first five years of educating than expected. Of those monitored for the study, 10 percent left within their first year, but at the end of five years, 83 percent of the teachers were still in the classroom. Previously, it was believed that 40 to 50 percent of teachers were leaving the field within their first five years. 

Still, more and more teachers are walking away from the profession long before retirement, and the years between start and end dates for careers in K-12 education are getting shorter and shorter as time progresses. Many teachers once saw their careers out until retirement, and it’s those that leave after five or ten years that are taking their valuable experience with them. 

Former teacher Meredith Myers is the Co-Owner of Romp n' Roll, a children’s gym in Wethersfield, CT. They facilitate art, exercise, and music classes with an emphasis on enhancing cognitive and physical ability. Before that she was an elementary school teacher who taught at schools in Connecticut for 13 years. She worked with students at differing levels of ability and need during her teaching experience. 

“I left teaching due to being unhappy with the direction the education curriculum, testing standards, and core values has taken. I went into teaching special education to help children and I ended up feeling like I couldn't do that because of the system,” said Myers. 

She discovered the opportunity to try Romp n’ Roll out after realizing that she still wanted to work with children.

“I still get to work with children, but do not need to grade them. All of the children grow and learn at their own rates and I can enrich that now,” said Myers. 

Other teachers leave education and working with K-12 students entirely, or occasionally tutor on the side to offset loan payments and other expenses. One former teacher from Holyoke, Mass. (Education World allowed him to remain anonymous for the purposes of this story) left after his first year in the classroom; referring to his teaching experience as one of the most difficult challenges he’s ever tackled. 

“When I became a teacher, I knew to some extent what I was getting into. There were certain parts of my practicum experience that I wasn't crazy about – namely, working in front of 18-24 sets of eyes at almost all times and the lesson planning – but I figured these would take less of a toll on me when teaching was a full-time job rather than something I did while taking classes and working part-time at another job. I also reasoned that the frequent vacations would offset some of the nights and weekends spent planning and grading,” said the former first-year teacher from a community school in the Springfield, Mass. region. 

Working in urban settings can often times be difficult, and many new teachers don’t factor in the resulting complications of underserved communities. 

“It was estimated that over 90 percent of the students at my school were traumatized, and certain reactions could put students in ‘panic’ mode. Many students had issues with teachers doing things such as looking directly at them to address undesirable behaviors or speaking in anything resembling a raised tone of voice. Many of the students also talked to teachers the way they were used to being talked to at home – which is to say, in language that I was not used to hearing from middle school students,” said the teacher, responsible for teaching English language arts to seventh and eighth grade classes. 

“These things being said, I would not want to teach again whether or not I was placed in an urban setting.” 

The report mentions that teachers in undeserved communities have a slightly higher exit rate, but does not record the number that transferred into different types of school districts; an unsettling trend that’s yielding staggering turnover rates for educators working in poverty-stricken areas. 

He said that his transition out of teaching has been seamless, as he ended up being able to take back the position he had held at a private security company while he was working to pay for his master’s degree. Noting that he enjoys the job, he said that no one should have the plan of “stumbling” into a great career. 

“I’m not sure whether I should be thrilled or disappointed that I make roughly the same amount of money now than I did while I held a job that I paid for a Master's Degree to earn. I am glad I tried teaching because if I didn't, I would always wonder if I was missing out on profession that gave me a greater sense of purpose and happiness than I was experiencing with my current job,” said the teacher. 

Myers believes that other teachers would “definitely” enjoy working with youth beyond teaching. Her experience has led her to nourishing young minds outside of the classroom, but it’s not for every former teacher.  

“I teach gym, art and music lessons weekly. I incorporate my background knowledge daily in my lessons,” said Myers, highlighting that these things come easy to her after her experience as an educator. 

What wasn’t easy in Myer’s experience was remaining in the environment associated with the profession, as political pressures, internal problems and budget issues often negatively shifted attitudes school faculties that she was member of. For the former Holyoke teacher, the school setting was also a major problem that transformed his attitude towards K-12 education. 

“My view of the educational field did not change during the course of the year, but my relationship to the profession did. I had previously put teachers on a pedestal, believing that they were all motivated individuals working together towards a common goal. After all, they were chasing a higher calling, and their unique place within society would not allow for the types of workplace squabbles and grudges that I had experiences at other jobs. However, the elevated stress of the vocation led to more drama than I had experienced anywhere else. While this might not be the case at all schools, the pettiness and self-serving nature of many teachers was extremely off-putting,” said the teacher of his work environment. 

“I still believe that teaching is one of the most worthwhile vocations an individual can hold, but after spending a small amount of time inside the system the lack of a common mindset among educators – both between teachers and administrations and among teachers exclusively – I can say that the same issues that permeate most workplaces are alive and well in our schools.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics report from April, first teachers with starting salaries above $40,000 were more likely to continue teaching, as were first-year teachers with mentors. As of 2013, the average yearly income for career teachers reported by the National Center for Education Statistics was $56,383. 

The report also showed that more men left the profession than woman, teachers that started in the profession when they were older, particularly above the age of 30, were also more likely to leave within their first five years. 


Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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Copyright © 2015 Education World

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