Preferable Complications

Teachers tend to refer to other careers in glowing terms, as if other careers had no downside. But when I hear my entrepreneur friends, as well as friends in the travel and construction industries, talk about the downside of their jobs, I’ll stick with teaching.

My jumping off point for this piece is a scene from the 1999 movie Stigmata  starring Gabriel Byrne as a priest investigating attacks suffered by actress Patricia Arquette. Byrne tells Arquette that he wasn’t always a priest, and she asks if he doesn’t miss you know what. He says yes and that it’s a struggle and that he thinks about it a lot but that he made a decision and considers that he exchanged one set of complications for another.

And that’s the point. I think teaching as a career comes out pretty sweet with you look at the downside of pay, working conditions, and our yearly calendar.

First up: Pay We don’t get paid what we’re worth. A talented person who is deciding between teaching and a better compensated career, as well as a veteran who is tempted by an opportunity beyond the classroom, has to face that head on. But the better compensation in other professions is often complicated by a lack of job security and no pension. Granted more pay allows a higher standard of living with money left over to put aside for retirement, but when the economy turned in 2008, many also lost their jobs and had to dig deep into their savings, if not exhaust them together. Many still haven’t recovered fully. During it all, I was secure in my job and never missed a paycheck. I know that when I retire, I’ll get a large percentage of my salary for life. 

Second: Working conditions Most my friends outside of teaching seem to like their jobs a lot. But they tend to have fairly routine jobs, work within a well-defined group, travel a lot, and often work weekends and holidays. They may have a fair amount of autonomy in their work, but the cost of poorly exercising their autonomy may cost thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars and last for years. It may also get them fired.

My career has never come close to being complicated by routine. I may do some unremarkable “office” type work, but also face challenges that little has prepared me for. I go to boring meetings that could have been handled with email, but also attend a stimulating professional development that motivates me to try a new teaching method or work-flow technology. I’ll work alone, in small groups, and in large groups. I’ll work with people of all ages, demeanors, and skills. Sometimes at work I’m in the audience, sometimes on the stage. I travel some – but usually to do something special like make a presentation and almost always on someone else’s dime. My work does extend into evenings and weekends, but I have holidays off and usually take them. I must comply with lots of policies, but also have tremendous autonomy in how I execute my tasks. In exercising my autonomy I get to be creative, and the cost of failure is usually short term and can quickly be corrected.

Third: The Yearly Calendar Most my friends get two or three weeks off a year, plus a spattering of state and national holidays. I know entrepreneurs who I’ve never seen take more than a week off. By comparison, I work fewer contract days a year than anyone I know outside of teaching. I can feel the heat already, but I’ll stand by it. My contract year is about 200 days, spread over nine months. During those nine months, I get weekends off, paid national and state holidays, a week’s paid vacation after the first and third quarter, and two week’s vacation at the end of the first semester. During the year I earn a generous amount of paid personal leave (which I rarely take) and sick leave (which I take as needed).

And, drum roll… I get summers off. I know that’s a heresy to claim in teacher leader circles, but again, I’ll stand by it. From the last day of one school year to the first day of the next, I have over 60 unpaid days I can call my own. In a typical summer, I’ll CHOOSE to update my lessons, attend and help facilitate at conferences and professional development events (often for compensation). But any work I do in June and July looks nothing like what I do from August through May. Moreover, no one is twisting my arm to do this; I am exercising an option if I work in the summer. There have been summers where I took the entire time off.

I’ve generalized a lot in these comparisons but no more than teachers who only compare about the upside of other careers to the downside of teaching. So here’s a walk away question: In a sober analysis of everything the job entails, what career besides teaching best suits you?

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  • SusanGraham

    Best Job in the World In Reverse Order….

    It’s always interesting to hear about this from teachers who did not begin their careers as teachers. Here’s what I’ve heard more than once.

    Yearly Calendar: Teaching is one of the few careers that offers the luxury of starting over with a clean slate every August and a firm completion date every June.

    Working Conditions: While the career path for teaching is relatively flat, it is also highly flexible. You can opt out to parent fulltime, explore another field, go back to school, and return to teaching without penalty or starting over from scratch.

    Pay: No you don’t get rich; but teaching is comparitively stable as far as job security and yes, insurance and retirement benefits are usually good. In addition, teaching skills and experience are portable, giving teachers mobility options that many professions lack.

    Besides, the real compensation for teaching isn’t the paycheck. It’s the kid who gets it. The parent who thanks you for helping their child through a rough place. The former student who comes back years later saying “Remember when you taught us…”

     

  • SandyMerz

    Starting over each year!

    Thanks Susan. I meant to include starting over and completely forgot. It definitely is a plus.