A Silver Lining to the Recession?


I have been reading a lot of articles lately about people who are turning to teaching in the down economy, because they were laid off or because they are looking for a more stable line of work. Teaching is not recession-proof, of course. Plenty of school systems are talking about cutting positions and raising class sizes, but you can only cut so much and still provide the basic services required by a host of laws.

Today I noticed this story at U.S. News and World Report about a new training program in New Jersey that will prepare former financiers on Wall Street to teach mathematics in public schools.

Is there a silver lining in this recession for teaching? Do you know of any people who are giving the field a second look? How are they making the jump?

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  March 23, 2009; 2:23 PM ET
Previous: Pi Day at the Math and Science Fair | Next: No Child Left Inside


Glad to see the blog's still active - I was getting worried there for a little while.

I don't think we want people going into teaching because they can't find any other jobs. Also, I can imagine there would be some opposition among parents who found out their kid's teacher is fresh out of AIG. Not to mention plenty of lampooning about how these people can teach math when they didn't understand enough of it to keep the economy out of the toilet.

Another interesting topic might be, how is the recession affecting students? Maybe with jobs drying up, more people are thinking about college and working hard to earn scholarships. Maybe kids who planned to go can't afford it any more.

Posted by: tomsing | March 24, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Tomsing: "I don't think we want people going into teaching because they can't find any other jobs."

Ye verily! I am a teacher and I don't like the profession of teaching being treated as just a recession job a person will take until the financial market or the job market comes back up again.

Teaching, like any profession, takes years of dedication and is not something you just jump into. Believe me I know.

I originally didn't want to become a teacher because most of my family are or were teachers, so I worked as a enviromental geologist for the EPA and DoD for 6 years.

I couldn't keep my mind off of the idea of helping students learn science. I constantly thought about my family and my former teachers. Plus working with engineers and government regulators was pretty boring socially.

In 2001 I quit a well paying profession making over $50k annually and went back to school to earn my secondary science certification. During that time I subbed and got to know the science teachers in the local district.

Becoming a teacher has been my greatest life challenge and I was surprised how much my previous professional experience didn't play into teaching in the beginning. I wouldn't have it any other way either, low pay included.

You have grand notions until you actually step foot into the classroom and manage class after class of hormone laden teenagers. It takes a few years to really start understanding all the sublties of excellent classroom management and student learning. The first two years is more about survival with a steep learning curve.

You can't just change careers and become a teacher without being willing to look deep down inside and be willing change yourself on almost all levels. You have to really understand that tough kids aren't born that way. You have to learn to love past the tough shell caused by whatever life experiences have dealt them. Unless you have selfless determination, a deep deep sense of humor and and iron constituion, you won't last and the students will never respect you.

The author of this editorial has done an injustice to the profession of teaching by making it sound like it's some burger flipping job anyone can do.

This is not a good way to promote the profession of teaching if we want great and dedicated teachers.

Posted by: tazmodious | March 25, 2009 2:31 AM | Report abuse

As an experienced Principal of an urban elementary/middle school, I can say with confidence that most career changers to teachers don't work out.

How about if I turn to medicine and become a surgeon?

Posted by: rickyroge | March 25, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

It seems that the few people who think it's easy to jump into teaching from another career have never taught. Why else would you carry the delusion in your head that 'anyone can teach'?

Posted by: cc1221 | March 25, 2009 7:58 AM | Report abuse

I do have a comment to make. I have known musicians who have become great researchers and Deans of Professional Schools later in life. Therefore, if you are in the profession where mentoring and supervising junior employees is a part of your job content, with a little work, you can be a successful teacher, be at a high school or University.

Posted by: BP10405 | March 25, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

With no child left behind, you can't just turn to teaching and be highly qualified for education if you haven't ever taught. I am so tired of hearing teaching is a good recession proof job. I am a teacher, I went to college and got my degree in teaching it is where my heart is. I do not want a colleague or someone teaching my son that felt "oh well I lost my job, Hey I can always teach!" There is so much more to teaching than picking up the teacher's manual and lecturing in the front of the classroom. We are not talking universtiy level here, most folks mean public schools.

Posted by: jkinderteacher | March 25, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I am a "career changer" entering my eighth year of teaching math in private secondary schools. I believe it has worked out well. My extremely supportive colleagues in two different schools have helped me fill in the gaps in my training and experience. My spouse, who is a trained teacher, has also been enormously helpful. I must be doing something right in the classroom since the schools have continued to offer me contracts and I receive positive feedback from parents and students. I recognize that my experience might have been different in a public school setting.

Posted by: HappiAbbi | March 25, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

As a parent, I am disappointed in the teacher comments. Why not just take job applicants one at a time before cynically writing-off a whole population? How can more competition be bad? While I have met many great teachers in my son's school, I can tell you that there are some poor 20-year veteran teachers too.

Second, the mid-career folks are coming in at the bottom of the pay-scale. Why do you think a mid-career, life-experienced, advanced-degree mathematician would be a worse teacher than a newly minted teacher just out of undergraduate college? It often doesn't work out for the "fresh out of college" teachers either.

Finally, school systems that are pushing for more AP Math and Science classes will need folks like this who understand and have a passion for these advnaced subjects. These people selected previous careers because of their math and science skills and now they want to teach math and science. This is a career change, but it is not a gigantic leap of faith. It is actually utilizing prior skills that have been developed. In fact, many of the most celebrated in this profession will be welcomed with open arms into universities, why not let the others come into high school. Sure, they need to develop new skills like classroom management, but they also will be paid as new teachers. School systems should work hard to remove barriers for mid-career hires that demonstrate a desire to teach. This is a bargain for the school systems!

Posted by: jmII | March 25, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Re: "disappointed"

It is definitely a plus to have teachers coming from elsewhere in the labor force who can teach AP and other advanced classes. Most people with advanced degrees spent some time teaching at the college level while in grad school, so some AP level classes may be within their skill set.

On the issue of compensation, it is unusual for anyone with significant work experience to come in at entry level pay. Where I have worked as a teacher, my years in my field plus graduate degrees were taken into account when setting my salary. I believe that the public sector has similar guidelines, although I defer to those with more direct experience.

Posted by: HappiAbbi | March 25, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

happy to jostle the burn-outs aside and jump in. proud of my experience and proud of my dedication to kids.
these grumps are jealous and under-qualified. so kick 'em to the curb.
time for professionals with real-world experience who haven't haven't spent careers shielded by union contracts to assume leadership roles.
retiree early to make room for us!

Posted by: nancyjeanmail | March 25, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I've been thinking of becoming a teacher for years and having recently been laid off, I now have the time to pursue it. There must be some evidence of success with careers switchers; Virginia has a whole program dedicated to it. Besides, I think I would make a better teacher now than if I had pursued it fresh out of college.

Posted by: mediajunky | March 25, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

My problem is the filter that is used to pick teachers. There is nothing wrong with changing careers and becoming a teacher but what if like simple economics, high demand = high standards not needed. I have friends and family that are great teachers. But I have also had some lousy teachers in junior/high school that would have been fired if they worked in private industry. Parents can help too: www.doyouspeakmath.blogspot.com.

Posted by: jazzymom | March 25, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I don't really understand the negative feedback on career switchers. I myself am in the process of making the switch from corporate to classroom. The important thing to understand is career switchers can't just send a resume to the local school district and get hired... Career switchers have to take and pass tests and in Virginia that means 5 to 6 including the praxis I exams, and also participate in a masters level training program. Add to that training and testing years of professional experience.... how is this a bad thing. No one wants to downgrade the profession of teaching, career switchers just want to help! If a school district can hire a PHD with a math background for 50K a year to teach AP calc II, I say more power to them.

Posted by: markb_2 | March 25, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

rickyroge - In your experience, what is the success rate for certified teachers, fresh out of college, who come to urban schools? Do most of them "work out"? Just curious.

Posted by: obamamama31 | March 25, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

In response to those who are planning to change careers to teaching, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, just that this article made it sound like something you do until the economy picks up again.

My parents and family who are or were teachers have been extremely supportive along the way and I feel fortunate to have their expert advice. Some one else may not necessarily have that kind of close support.

I do feel that my prior experience as a scientist has been extremely beneficial too as I expect students to act and perform as they would in any professional job setting.

In my next unit after spring break, Rockets, I am having students produce work as an engineer is expected. They will be required to write an RFP (request for proposal) and a final report. Furthermore, each team will be "applying' for a job as rocket designers for the fictitious Ajax Rocket company. Each team will have to show to Ajax Corp that they have the knowledge to build and understand rockets with respect to Newton's laws of motion.

Last year students loved it and felt like they were doing something real.

I always remind them of how their attitude and performance in school can be related to landing and keeping jobs.

A teacher keeping it real.

Posted by: tazmodious | March 25, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

I am a career switcher also. Like many women who grew up in the 60s and 70s, I Women in my mother's generation pretty much had three career options--teacher, nurse, or homemaker. My mother told me she would not send me to college to be a teacher, because I had choices she didn't have (notwithstanding the fact that she was an excellent teacher who loved teaching). In my certification coursework I met many women of my generation who had more or less the same experience. We ended up teaching for a variety of reasons. Perhaps some have left the field again or are not yet proficient teachers. But the silver lining Ms. Chandler mentioned is the chance to examine where you are headed, and make a change if you feel it is warranted. Sure, anyone who turns to teaching as a temporary job until the market turns is less likely to succeed at teaching. But someone who, during a downturn, decides to take stock of his or her life and career options, then realizes that teaching is the right choice, can be very effective.

Posted by: janedoe5 | March 25, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Yes, some people can change careers into teaching. However, teaching requires a certain selflessness, a caring about the students. Financiers? Don't most people go into that field to make money, not save the world? Although there must be some exceptions, financiers aren't known for their caring, social-service oriented personalities. I don't see this working.

Posted by: SilverSpringer1 | March 25, 2009 10:39 PM | Report abuse

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