About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

The Teacher Who Can't Find A Job

For this post, I want to tell you about one of those everyday occurrences – routine, commonplace – that take a surprising turn, that go off script and reveal the complex layers of another person’s life.
I phoned a call center to have a gift basket sent to a friend, and as I was giving the man on the other end my email address, he paused and repeated: “UCLA?” Then, “May I ask, do you teach there?” I said I did, and he then asked what department. When I told him education, he said that he was a teacher, and began to tell me his story. I often have little exchanges when ordering over the phone, thirty-second small talk about the weather, or the economy, or the charms of whatever I’m ordering, but I’ve never had an exchange like this. The man spoke for about ten minutes. I chimed in now and then, but he did most of the talking. He was expressive but not overly so, had a story to tell and told it with a mix of frustration and conviction.
He came to teaching later in his working life. He had been an air-traffic controller. “But,” he said, “you know what happened to them” – a reference to Ronald Reagan firing 11,000 controllers when they refused to call off their strike, one of the early assaults on unions during the Right’s ascendance to power.
He then was a businessman for a number of years – he didn’t tell me the kind of business – but he said he always wanted to teach, and, he added, his friends and his wife told him he should go for it, get an education degree. So he went back to college and got certified to teach gifted and talented children. He got a job that lasted for two years and really enjoyed it. But then the recession hit and with it his state began cutting its education budget, for it has a balanced budget amendment in its constitution, something, he said, he thought every state should have. “As a businessman I understand that.” But because of it, he and a lot of others – art and music teachers – were let go. He said that Gifted and Talented isn’t like Special Education. The parents of Special Ed kids “made a big stink,” wouldn’t stand for their kids’ teachers being cut.
He couldn’t find any teaching jobs for a long time. “They see gray hair and wrinkles, and they go for someone younger.” He spoke for a while about his disappointment, how he had all this experience, all this knowledge to share, how much teaching meant to him and how many of his friends and family supported his career shift from business to education.
He said his wife suggested that he get an administrative credential to increase his chances of finding work, so he did. Eventually he got an interview for a supervisory job, overseeing a small district’s GATE program, but, finally, though the superintendent told him he did well on all counts, the district couldn’t afford his salary.
So here he is, working two jobs – he didn’t say what his other job was – and hoping he’ll still get the chance to teach, though he realizes that the odds aren’t in his favor. “It’s what I’m meant to do.”
Who knows exactly why this fellow was let go and is having such a hard time finding other work in education, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his rendering of his recent job history is accurate. There are so many Americans like him, people with education and a long employment record who are currently unemployed or underemployed. And his story, like the stories of the others in his shoes, reveals how complicated and contradictory the present situation is.
To begin, we hear continually that the ticket to prosperity is education; we will “educate ourselves into a better economy.” Yet there are a lot of educated people who are not prospering. The problem isn’t education, but the absence of jobs, or the cutting of jobs. And a huge category of job loss has been public sector employees as states slash budgets. Then there is the push to get people from non-education careers into teaching, something this fellow did. Yet there is also in educational reform and policymaking a valuing – though not explicitly stated – of youth over experience.
There are budget cuts in education across the states, and certain subject areas often get disproportionately hit – and that happened here. The disproportionate nature of the cuts can engender conflict between teachers – in this case, the tension the man expresses between GATE and Special Ed.
Then there is the common irony we’ve been seeing in our political culture of people supporting economic and social policies – like the balanced budget amendment – that directly hurt them. I was so caught up in the urgency of the man’s story that I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask him about President Reagan’s handling of the air traffic controllers’ strike and about the austerity measures that cost him his teaching job.
I wish this man well. He’s spent a lot of time and expense to redirect his career, following not only his desire to teach but also the call to non-educators coming from the government and school reformers to switch careers and enter the classroom. The nation issues that call, but the current economic and political environment doesn’t provide much support to honor it.
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30 comments:

Teacher Rich said...

I can attest to the same basic situation. Left due to cancer, beat it, back in the market, but I'm nearly 50. Can't even get an interview. I was an awesome teacher, too.

Tina said...

Now a days I hear about the same situation quite a few times. Teacher candidates with multiple credentials who are truly interested in the job, enjoy teaching and have a passion for it, are unable to get interviews because of their age or the fact that they have a master's degree or two master's degree from previous careers that places them higher on the pay scale, which school districts look at as a disadvantage. The educational experience of the teachers are viewed as hurdles for school districts. Is this what a better economy looks like?
It's sad.

Denise said...

Holy Cow. It could be my blueprint. I am teaching, but only as an adjunct -- since I went back for my M.Ed, at 47 and graduated in 2005. And those cuts?? Every one of them has taken a possibility away from me. I have tried to get back into industry -- now at 59, I can't seem to do that either.

Bug said...

I am a young teacher and have been looking for my first job for over 2 years now. So, it's not as if young people are having any better luck that older people. I've sent out 70+ resumes to deaf ears. I can't even get the time of day, let alone an interview. I assumed that my lack of experience was a major factory so, I have been volunteering at a local middle school everyday for the past year. Yet, despite my efforts I remain unemployed. And to top it all off, I am viewed as over-qualified for many entry level jobs. I don't want to leave the education profession, but I'm almost out of options. This has all been exceedingly devastating.

tlw said...

Pittsburgh Public Schools, as an organization, is about to lay off over 200 teachers based upon seniority and not performance. First in, first out must be revised! All of us dedicated to education must contribute to conversations and research about how best to assess teacher practice in meaningful ways.

Marken said...

This is an amazing article i really like it........
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amber said...

I have been involved in education my entire life and obtained my teaching credentials 2 years ago along with a MA last year. I have been fortunate enough to peace meal jobs together. Ones that usually start after the school year, but this has been a persistent challenge to get anything in the teaching profession. I am devastated financially and emotionally. I love what I do when I can find a job teaching, but I am thinking I may have to go back to dental assisting to keep paying the bills.

laja5 said...

I'm in the same boat as those here. Went back to school at 41, left with Masters. Worked 3 years, first year on my own with no mentoring and creating curriculum on my own for brand new class. Worked as co-advisor for yearbook. Taught SAT prep classes for the school in the evenings...did everything I was asked and never had any problems...but denied tenure because of cuts (admittedly by principal). Substituted for a year, then found a data entry job. Talk about morale killer...the comments here help convince me to move on and find my "thing" in some other field. Sad. I loved teaching and was good at it. Sigh.

Finding love it the mud... said...

It isn't only older teachers. I am a first year teacher just getting over the crushing loss of no job for my first year out of school (along with lots of debt, of course). In fact, in my district even the substitute pool is so bloated I have had to find full time work outside of education as a receptionist. It's a shame because I am VERY good. I had a perfect score on my content praxis and worked my butt off to graduate cum laude from a prestigious (expensive) school. The students I had during student teaching scored very well on their semester tests, and I performed with excellence. I was a tutor for 2 years in college in writing (I am an English teacher) working with ELL and remedial students who could barely read and taught them to write essays, research papers, and lab reports. But I sent of 20+ resumes, called, stopped in, worked connections, and still no job. I do have the blessing of being young, so I am going on to completely different things but with no lack of regret to leave the students I love so much. Now, even after a year out of the classroom, every single one of my students still recognizes me and asks me if I am teaching yet and begs me to come back to LHS. The school that I student taught at actually hired an English teacher (put in for that job). I had to get a job, but I know that the longer I work outside of education, the slimmer my chances get. So I am moving on. The worst part is all of the TERRIBLE English teahcers I see working in my district. Lazy. Judgemental. Ugh, just what a waste of time and money. But I can't even say that. Just the 16 weeks of teaching I had was a blessing. Wish me luck in Medicine. And paying back my loans of course. No job in education means no public service loan forgiveness. Sorting this out is going to be fun over the next few years.

annoymous said...

I am 55 and cannot find a teaching job. This will be my 5th year i believe subbing for one district and 4th for another. I received my Master's Degree last Dec. in Spec. Ed.I was told I'd get in quicker with this kind of degree. It does me no good. I have gotten 1 interview. I have applied for 3 jobs at the city level but have not gotten an interview. I don't even get a rejection letter. I think they want you to be already employed full-time for them, when you apply and I am not. Subbing is usually only part-time. I only 1 1/2 of retirement due to this, too. My husband has been unemployed for 4 years and almost cleaned out his retirement, so we can live. I'm awaiting my sub license now. It will probably be another 2 weeks. This is a living nightmare. I'm more than disheartened; I'm depressed and packing on the pounds. Don't say to get on antidepressants; I can't handle the side effects. One increased my migraines and made my hands shake horribly. We go to teh VA for our healthcare but you can only get certain prescriptions. We are blessed for having them, tho;. We always get food stamps, which I hate receiving. If we were doing well; we wouldn't be getting them.! I have over $35,000 in loans to pay back, too. I am not suited for the healthcare field in any way. I just applied for Teach for America. They place you where they need you where students who are at low poverty levels live. You do have 3 preferences but I'm not sure if you get any of them. We reside in southeastern Ohio now.I'm getting kind of desperate. If I get through all the processes; we will have to move. We have a very small house but will have to take a loss on it. Don't become an educator! They are cutting & cutting; even special educators. Districts are running out of money.

Kimberly M. said...

Same here. I graduated college in 2009 with a BS in Education. I'm a certified teacher in 2 states (I live close to the border) and have been applying to all the school districts in our area (there are about 7) every summer and throughout the year when a position opens up. I've landed a small handful of interviews and not a single job offer. I'm a third generation teacher in my family and I honestly believe I'm a good teacher. I've had many other people say I'm a great teacher. I am volunteering my time at the moment being a homeschool teacher for a friend's kids. However, I've always dreamed of having a classroom of my own. It's so hard to hear that you didn't get the job because they thought someone was better than you.

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Darlene Habecker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darlene Habecker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ira rubenstein said...

I am dual certified special ed and earth science because of my certification I get interviews by the bushel but no job offers just subbing I was in businesses for 25 years one interview at a charter school I was one of a few with the needed certs and half ways through the interview principal leaves the room and left me to finish with an advisor guess what no job offer I am convinced of age discrimination I have no problem finding a job grooming dogs I demo my skills and I get hired but I want to teach

Leah Bellew said...

I can say that I don't think younger teachers always have the advantage. I know school districts vary greatly in their rules. I just graduated this past spring with a degree in education and could not find a teaching position, so I'm subbing. In the district I am in, I was told that I had zero percent chance of landing a position because the jobs are given to those with experience. I applied to so many positions and never landed any true interviews. I did receive a phone call from a principal in another county one day - didn't go that well, since his main concern was if I had any experience outside of my student teaching. I can't really gain experience until someone gives me an opportunity to get that experience. So I think the economy just sucks for everyone right now.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that there is not enough teaching positions to go around. My husband graduated in May 2012 with a B.S.Ed. and a B.S in content. He's 42 his age/experience ratio could count against him. He has sent out over 150 job applications and out of that has only had approximately 15-20 interviews. He has not limited himself to a "radius" around our home. He has applied to everthing within our state and after 6 months has applied for certification in two other states. He's been lucky to sub on average 2-3 days per week, but he has had to get on the sub lists for 5 different school districts. The one thing that is frustrating is every application package mailed out costs approximately $1.50 and for every interview he has gone to it has cost us between $30-60 in fuel. No wonder so many people give up.

Anonymous said...

I am in the exact same boat, but I have been looking for a teaching job for 4 years now. I did get a job teaching private P-K for about six months, but it ended up being a horrible experience (owners with bad morals). I previously owned my own business for many years, but saw the economy declining and decided to train as a teacher for my second career. In fact I always dreamed of becoming a teacher. Every student teaching placement, sub job, and even the Pre-K parents said I was one of the best teachers they ever saw. So here I am four years later with no teaching job. I am ready to throw in the towel (my references and degree are becoming out-dated) or go back to school. Just when I want to pick up and start fighting to get a teaching job again, I start looking online at all the negative comments from current teachers regarding the aweful state of education. It's all just confusing right now! If I can't become a teacher, then what should I be?

Judy Jones said...

I am in the same boat! It's so disheartening! I am 36 and I've had my Masters in Teaching since 2005. I left public school for one year in private, but I couldn't afford to live that way after my divorce....so I've been trying with NO AVAIL for 3 school years now to get back into public school. I've done subbing and long-term subbing, but it stinks! It's NOT the same as having your own class or being a "real teacher" - they put you anywhere and treat you more like a "warm body" than anything else. They just want you to be a glorified babysitter. I've done my best to make the situation tolerable, but now, honestly, I'm going to have to leave teaching all together if I don't get a job in September. I see so many teachers that should retire, but won't. I see so many bad teachers, but they never get let go. I'm someone with incredible passion and conviction for education. I love my students and I really am a great teacher! Yet, here I am with no job. Makes me very sad.

Amy said...

I am young and having this problem. My degrees are in Early Childhood and Elementary education. I am good too like a teacher said above. IT SUCKS that there are 250 applicants for one open space. I do not have a ton of experience yet, because I am right out of school, and that is what I hear constantly. "We liked you, you interviewed great, but we went with someone with more experience"
I have a passion for teaching too and cant imagine myself anywhere else. I would be devestated if I had to move on, because like you said, if I keep trying, and keep getting older, everntually I am going to be the old lady trying to get the job up against these babies :(

Anonymous said...

I am in the same boat. I have been sending resumes everywhere, even across the country. I love teaching! I subbed for three years, and then couldn't wait any longer subbing. I got just one interview. I got a job at Starbucks that just pays minimum wage. It is humiliating. I just pray everyday that the job market for teaching will come back. I have a huge education debt. I live in California, and no one is getting a job, young or old. You have to have experience, not just subbing, to get a job. I don't know what else to do.

Anonymous said...

I have had the same thing happen to me. I have worked in a school system as an educational assistant for fourteen years. I went back to school and earned my Masters in Special Education two years ago. My principal at the time urged me to get certified. I had been working on my certification for several years as I had the chance. I earned my Masters and became certified in Art, Special Education, Gifted, and Elementary.
I know that I am a good teacher. Teachers request me to be their assistant all the time. Before becoming an assistant, I taught PreK at a private preschool for seven years, and my students were well prepared for kindergarten when they left. I have helped with sped students, gifted students, as well as the general population. I love teaching, but no one will hire me as a teacher. I work at the school all year long, and get paid less than $12.00 an hour, unless I'm tutoring for them. I get $17.50 a week if I tutor. You're only allowed one hour, you don't get paid for planning. It is humiliating. I feel like associates look down at me because they think that there must be something wrong with me. My bills are enourmous, my pay doesn't match. I wish that the university would have let me know that I wouldn't be able to find a job. In our district, most new hires that I met are from out of state, too.

David said...

At 45, as a second career, I decided to go into full time teaching. I was able, due to my MA,to get a teaching position at a Catholic school. Three years later, I enrolled in a credentialing program and received my teaching credential along with my second MA in education. Since then, there are two things I can count on: great letters from my supervisors, and a pink slip. I lost one job when my principal said said would not recommend me for next year, and in the same breath told me she would be happy to write me a letter of recommendation. I teach english, but I'm afraid because I don't speak Spanish or teach ELD, there is no future.

Anonymous said...

For all of us who are out there looking for teaching jobs, I myself is the same situation. I've sub for a district for 7 years hoping for a teaching. Recently, this district hire 10 teacher and I wasn't even considered. I'm a terrific teacher who has such a passion for this field. I felt so bad about myself all I can think of is my age 47. So I'm not going to let this get me down. I recently study for my real estate license and pass the test!!! Hooray, Real estate will be booming in Southern California hopefully I can sell enough property so I can have a more tangible retirement. Don't despair seek other alternatives. Believe me there is something else out there for you....

Roberto Rodriguez said...

I have had three different teaching jobs other than substitute teaching since receiving my teaching credential in 2006. My wife encouraged me into teaching after my employer moved the company out of state in 2002. I am credentialed in both mathematics and social science but it does not seem to make a difference. I get the feeling that when I am being interviewed that my 53 years of age is being factored into the hiring calculation. I have sent out dozens of applications since March with not even a thank you for applying response. I have considered going back to school for a MA but will that make a difference. Should I try another career change?

Larry McAwful said...

At 39, I quit my job and decided to go into teaching. I finished a master's program and have certifications in ESL, ELA, French and history. I've sent out over six dozen résumés, I've gotten four interviews, and no offers. During each interview, I was promised "We'll let you know either way," but only one actually did. I can figure out what happened with the others.

I've been wondering why I'm apparently so radioactive. After reading all these comments, I'm starting to realize that it's my master's degree that's probably driving away employers, and I'm wondering if I shouldn't see if I could find a way to lie that I don't have one. I'd take a hit in salary, but that's better than no salary at all.

I don't get it. I'm a native English speaker, I speak French fluently, and I can manage in Spanish, yet no one's interested. I see jobs at charter schools, but if I were to take one, we wouldn't have enough money left over for both rent and daycare. Thank God my wife works, but the family can't live on one salary alone.

Hearing others' testimonies on this thread, I feel like less of a loser, but it's clear that there's really no future in education in the United States. I'd leave the country to teach in Europe or east Asia or even South America, if I could convince my wife to move.

What's my future? $70 a day subbing—which doesn't go very far in Boston—sleepless nights, credit card debt and lottery tickets. In American education, there is no future.

Anonymous said...

The other problem is that all the old ass teachers will not retire, and are milking the great salaries that they accumulated over the years. Stop being a bunch of pigs and let the next generation get on their feet!

Anonymous said...

I'm an English/math tutor and I can't find work in California anywhere. I used to work at a tutoring center since all of last year, but they stopped calling me in since November for whatever reason. They don't reply to my emails and don't explain why they don't schedule me. I couldn't complete the teaching credential program either because it was costing me too much, so I'm not certified either. I've been trying to put myself out there on the market, but there are never any takers. I'm young and I connect well with students, but nobody seems to care that I can help kids master the material. I've honestly regretted this path for many years now.

Anonymous said...

A friends photo on Facebook of her and her school staff - ALL OF WHOM ARE OLD - no young teachers - prompted me to do a google search of "it's impossible to find a teaching job" and I found this page. I am 44 almost 45 and I had no trouble finding a great job in 93 and then tenure 2 years later. In 2000 I quit to become a stay-at-home mom thinking I could go back when the kids were older (mistake # 1) and while I was home I got my masters (mistake # 2). Then the recession hit, and teachers were bring laid off. I did manage to swing a temporary position in 2007 but was pink slipped at the end of the year. Nothing since then. No interview, not even a response. And now my letters of recommendation are old. I'm afraid I'll never teach again. Why should any young person strive to become a teacher if this is their destiny? Get in early and NEVER leave, or forget about it.

Anonymous said...

In case any one else stumbles on this blog post, I'll leave my experience as well. I didn't enter education as a 2nd career. I went to college with the intent of becoming a social studies and history teacher. Received my BA from one of the most prestigious private universities in my state. Since so many of my courses were education based and I really loved history, I went on and got my MA in history before I started my job search, figuring it would help me land an AP teaching position. 3 years later, I've received no job offers in teaching. I've been working as a sub "making a bit more than I would at starbucks" during those 3 years and schools don't seem to care that I have more experience than someone straight out of school. I've been to over 20 interviews and applied for thousands of teaching jobs. I get an interview about 1 out of 50 times I apply. My experience with trying to become a teacher has resulted in hundreds of dollars wasted in gas as I drove all over my state to interviews, each one taking away a day I could have subbed (except in the summer). Some of the interviews were at inconvenient or far enough that I needed a hotel room. All the premium movie channels were pretty cool and sometimes the free breakfast was decent. Its not just older people, I'm in my mid 20s and look very fit, yet can't find a teaching job. Maybe rural districts think I will move away in a couple years and urban districts think I don't have enough experience. Unless you plan to teach special ed or math, or are a male looking to teach elementary, don't go into teaching unless you have a relative or spouse teaching at a school who can insure you get a job there. At some point, I even started looking for jobs using my history degrees not in education, but the market there is even worse. Everything I find I never get interviews for or it pays even lower than subbing. Like others have said, please don't consider subbing a gateway to a classroom of your own; unless you know someone or have a relative teaching it will never happen. You will be used as a warm body to babysit a classroom as a substitute and pass out worksheets used to keep students busy, which will never be graded. The classrooms will have enough disruptive students that if you spend time helping students on the worksheets, instead of controlling classroom behavior, you will lose control of the class. If you chose to punish students to insure a stable learning environment, you will be labeled an ineffective sub and asked not to sub at the school again after one or two times. At 27, I fear my life is over and that I'll never work in the field I spent 6 years getting 2 degrees for. For 6 years through all the challenging assignments, exams, term papers, research I used to think with each course completed I was one step closer to a classroom of my own. I can't remember a single truly happy day since the day I defended my thesis almost 3 years ago. If you're reading this after not finding a job as a teacher shortly after college, or as a college student, please think long and hard about continuing in the education field.