When I announced to my classrooms that I was leaving for a career in software sales, a few of the students were really perplexed. It honestly did make me feel like I was choosing to abandon my kids. I didn’t know how they’d react. In one of my sections a girl said “ughhh why are you leaving?!” It was said in somewhat of a playful understanding tone, but a sad tone nonetheless. I didn’t know how to respond. Fortunately a boy in the back did it for me.
“Mr. Frasier just needs to chase the cheddar!”
I had literally never heard someone say that phrase before but I immediately knew what he meant. He gave me an approving head nod that I found comforting. I didn’t know I needed my 17 year old class clown to tell me it was OK. I did. But in the moment I was able to somewhat break down why I wanted to leave and now 3 years later I’ve been able to synthesize a bit on the wording of why I went from a passion profession to one that is not associated with public good. This comes in handy often.
I was just at a wedding for a family member. My cousin came up to me and said “Are you still teaching?” It’s been almost three years. This identity permanence is one of the hardest things about the transition out. I have developed a lot of talk tracks around these conversations. Here are the highlights.
- On why I left the classroom– I spent years telling my students to reach for the stars. I told them I believed in them. And it was true. Anytime I had my students not realize their full potential a part of me was sad and I put even more energy behind getting the students where they should be. Even after their graduation, I would find myself in mentor roles. I wanted them to live their best life and find the limits of their capabilities. I realized that for me, my professional and personal growth rate had slowed down in the classroom and I wanted to have the same hopes for myself as I do my students. The last sentence is now my answer on why people ask why I left. And it feels more true now than it did 3 years ago.
- So do you miss teaching? I get asked this all the time. I honestly never ask my friends if they miss their old job. It wouldn’t make sense. It’s a harmless question but I hate it. It encapsulates our views on teachers being monolithic entities, forever wiping down dry erase boards until we go to old folks homes for teachers where we talk about how good freshly printed tests smell. The answer to the original question changes. Sometimes I say yes. When I say yes, I have to clarify what I miss. In the classroom I felt totally in control. Every day’s lesson was up to me. That might not be every teaching situation but there are elements of every day where you are in charge. I feel more beholden to something else now and sometimes that’s stressful in a new way. Sometimes I do miss interacting with young people. I quickly became out of the loop of the younger generation. Like many millenials, I don’t have regular tv. I don’t see commercials. I don’t listen to radio. Every piece of content I consume is curated by algorithms to reflect back new things that already fit my preference. Students keep you young and knowledgeable. At one point it was so bad that when someone was talking about knowing how to floss I legit thought we were talking about dental hygiene. I miss being in the loop of stupid trends. Sometimes I miss feeling like I’m truly changing a life. But now my answer flows mostly like this: So it turns out the thing I loved the most about teaching wasn’t math or working with young people, it was the feeling of helping someone change for the better. Luckily, I still get that feeling a lot from my job. It turns out I can get that same feeling from helping adults as well.
- So how does it feel being a corporate sell out? This is a very personal section and I hope that the reader is patient as I wrestle the conflicting thoughts. I was never too far entrenched in leftist politics but I do own more than one book on anarchist philosophy and I hold a few radical thoughts on how to correct the wage gap between workers and their CEOs. Many of my journalings in college and early teaching days were focused on my rejection of societal expectations. While my engineering school classmates were daydreaming up what cars they would buy someday, I decided to not even bother with our engineering exit exam that would allow me to work in the industry. I chose a life of service and financial constraint in order to adhere to my value system. This has honestly been the hardest part of the conversations with friends and family. I know what the lives of my students look like when they don’t have food beyond what the schools provide to them and, therefore, the idea of people throwing $80K at a Tesla doesn’t sit well with me. What would happen if that $80K was put into a program that helps young folks get their foot into the community college and into a life that changes everything? Even when people say “But the person with the Tesla worked hard to get the money for that car and it’s their right to do whatever they want with it.” I have a hard time reconciling what I would do in that situation. So while I personally struggle on how to strike a balance between the selfless service of teaching and now earning more, I’m reaching to audit all the things I can do in my life now that are more meaningful because of my career change. It all boils down to one thing: family. Around the time I was planning on leaving the classroom I was also planning a wedding. My wife wanted to go back to college. I had a car with 150,000 miles on it. I own a home in an up and coming part of town but there have been two incidents of drunk drivers hitting parked cars within 100 yards of my house this month. There was a shooting 3 months ago. Kids aren’t found running freely around my streets. There are big life things that are different now that I’m a sell out but I also feel a sense of pride that I’m able to do things for my family. But I go back to response in section two. I’m not doing this 100% because of the pay. I’m doing this for personal and professional growth and it just happens to pay more.
The most frustrating thing about this is that teaching is one of the only professions that struggles with this. If you’re leaving a non-profit, you may experience a bit of this struggle but people change jobs all the time. People leave companies to take promotions elsewhere. People work in industries that don’t contribute to any social good but the career allows them to provide for their family or provide them with time and energy to give back to the community. No one really questions these things for other professions. And, it’s really possible no one else is questioning these things for me. Maybe teachers are doing this to themselves. But if you decide to leave, these are things you will come across. Whether it is self inflicted or societally imparted, there will be fleeting moments of identity struggles.
The best thing we can do for ourselves is to create situations where we can maximize our own good, our family happiness, and our impact on the world. Sometimes you can do those things and your career is irrelevant, for once.