Note: I attempted to write this almost like a conversation…
I have been hearing the question more and more lately: “Brandon, you left teaching and seem to be enjoying your new job. I’m thinking about the same. Can you tell me about it?”
This is a hard question to answer for a variety of reasons. My original reasons for leaving the classroom included a chance to move and have a guaranteed job that would pay the bills in a cool area and I was already in a bit of a transition teaching-career-wise having moved to a TOSA role. While I was in the Admin program, I wasn’t 100% sold on its relevance to what I wanted to do career-wise.
If you’re leaving teaching because you’re getting burnt out – I will say I would suggest something else. Many of the same frustrations you may feel in teaching will be present in any other industry. However, there are also many ways to leverage your strengths as a professional educator in other fields. The classroom isn’t for everyone for their entire lives, and you can’t feel guilty about trying something different even if for a few years! Personally, I’d rather have someone who was burnt out leave the classroom rather than be a less-then-excellent teacher in the classroom.
Things I Left Behind
I left behind students! There are a lot of days I miss that feeling when a student understands something for the first time, for the art of teaching – even the art of disciplining a kid and watching them grow throughout the years.
Things I’ve Learned
I was always frustrated with teachers who would say things like, “Well I need training for XYZ if they want me to use it with students,” because I felt that some things were just part of the job! (Examples: Being able to copy and paste on the computer, etc). Then in my current job when I was expected to know things like how to, “load standards into Postgres,” and not given a how-to… I realize payback can come in many forms! I still find myself almost objecting to some of the things I’m asked to do because I have no training in it, but have realized that I am expected to learn what is needed as it is needed. I was good at using technology in the classroom, but realize now I had little idea how things worked behind the scenes.
I did not take this job to get rich, I took it because I knew I was missing something about my knowledge from a technology perspective. I’m still not where I want to be yet, but getting there. I love reaching students and companies around the world I don’t see myself leaving Ed-tech anytime soon. Being part of ACT has been a great experience to see the bigger picture of the educational testing industry for the good and bad, but also to be part of something that reaches millions of students a year.
Things I Wish I’d Known
I wish I had taken more time to learn how to program/code in college and earlier… in fact I’m not really sure what interrupted me between learning basic html at 14 and NOT learning how to do basic coding after that. I also wish I’d known more about the world of business although that would have been impossible as a teacher. Words like “project manager” were just that and it’s assumed that I know exactly what an NDA means and implied; but I usually look it up just to be sure.
Pay-wise, I did not know what to ask for in a pay contract. The cost of premiums and deductibles are still a bit of a mystery (when does the individual and/or the family deductible begin or end?) , the fact that teachers are getting paid for 180+ days a year but yet full time also needs to be taken into account. Figure out your hourly rate then work out from there what you’re worth and you may be surprised. I saw a higher salary number without taking into account vacation days, the fact that before I wasn’t working 260 workdays etc, figured out the monthly net and said “wow!” until I realized that the cost of living in the Bay vs Fresno isn’t higher just in rent but also in groceries and any restaurant. Admittedly, we have also gone from pretty much just the two of us to four humans over the past three years – when we moved Madelyn was only nine months!
I also wish I had realized just how much I was used to the cyclical nature of teaching! It’s not the days off I miss so much as it’s the being able to look forward to the next break, or school year, or sports season etc. Of course things are now defined by different projects and that sort of thing, but it’s more artificial and I think affects how well I’m able to get into the workflow of a certain project.
Things I Wish Business Knew More of About Teaching
Education time is measured in semesters and school years, not so much days/weeks/quarters. Teachers don’t have time or energy to try everything, and just because something is ‘better’ than another product in the same category doesn’t mean they’ll use it. They’ll use what is comfortable, what works with what they already have, and what their students like. And most teachers don’t have time to seek out new technology for their students – they either wait for it to be introduced at PD sessions (with minimal followup?) or for a friend to use it and show them how to integrate it into their classroom. Edtech wants to act like a business where people are constantly evaluating the best out there and going for it – again, even if it should, that’s not quite how schools work. It also bothers me a lot when salespeople say a product can do something but to actually use said feature is buried within the product or it doesn’t really do what they think it does at all.
Is Leaving Right for You?
As I mentioned, in the past month at least four people have mentioned they’re looking for something other than teaching. These are often brilliant teachers. My own checklist was:
- Can I use my experience as as teacher to help impact an industry that will help make things better for other teachers?
- Am I looking for a change of pace (And in my case, I felt once my kids were older it would be much harder to move to a different city and take a big financial risk.)
- Am I ok with working with adults not just teenagers after all these years?
- How well do I learn things on my own without prompting?
I would strongly recommend a ToSA role first – I absolutely loved that job even if it did get caught up quite a bit in politics etc. My own personality is pretty well suited for that because I’m calm but can push my agenda when needed without alienating everyone around me. But that too means a move to the District Office usually and your job/what you do everyday is not your own as it was as a classroom teacher.
I really do feel I’m making a difference in the world of education just from a different perspective. I am often the only former educator in the room and can connect well with others from the tech, pedagogy, administration and teacher side of things given my past experiences. My favorite part of the job is still talking to teachers about how the products and tools I’m helping develop will help students achieve more in the classroom. Due to a shift in time, I’m able to stay up on tech trends and devote time to organizations like CMC as well as continue my adjunct work at Fresno Pacific University. My favorite part of working at OpenEd has been learning how to modify postgres queries for my own use, learning a lot more about the OER world, and being able to travel.