Sunday, April 22, 2018

My Next Career

So, I'm retiring shortly-- June 3 will be my last day working for my school district-- and like many retirees, I'm wondering about my next career.

For the immediate future, my primary job will be Stay At Home Dad; the pay is terrible but the benefits are immense. And I'll continue writing here, where the pay is also terrible.

It's odd how this works. If I had only taught for two or three years, I would be qualified to run an entire charter school, or even serve as the education chief for an entire state. But as I understand it, having worked an entire teaching career instead of just a couple of years disqualifies me for that kind of work.

Meeting with my new Board of Directors
I could set myself up as a consulting firm. That seems to be a pretty sweet deal. Take Antwan Wilson. Wilson spent just a couple of years in a classroom, but upped his skills by attending the Broad Fake Superintendent School and then worked several school administration jobs, then got himself hired for the Big Show in DC Public Schools-- and then got himself booted for skirting the rules of the system. But that's okay, because Denver schools, where he previously worked, hired him to be a consultant with a contract that pays $60,000 for 24 days of work (two days a week for twelve weeks)-- plus per diem and daily lodging expenses. The fee is based on a $150/hour rate. And for those of us considering the consulting biz, here's the kicker-- the Denver COO justified the huge no-bid contract by noting that other consulting companies would have been way more expensive. From which we can deduce that $150/hour is the low end of the money that a well-connected consultant could make (meanwhile, substitute teachers in my district make $100/day). That would certainly help put my board of directors through college.

I like traveling and speaking; maybe I can con people into hiring me to travel to where they are and to talk at them. It could be fun to work at a thinky tank and crank out position papers in my robe at home while my board of directors plays on the floor, but most of the thinky tank money is going to tanks that support ed reform. Hardly anybody is operating a pro-public education thinky tank. Whether you're left-tilted (Center for American Progress, the Century Foundation) or right-tilted (Fordham, American Enterprise Institute), you have to be a fan of charters and choice and privatization and busting Those Damned Teachers Unions. NEPC hires actual scholars, and NPE, while they support the values I care about, does not have the kind of money involved in hiring a bunch of tanky thinkers.

Politics? I suppose, but it's a tough path-- look at how few retired teachers are in office anywhere. And of course there's always Wal-Mart greeter.

Like many teachers, I have managed large groups of not-easily-managed individuals, handled logistics and budgeting for every kind of enterprise from elaborate dances to theatrical productions to sales of merchandise that nobody really wants to buy. I have developed a unique constellation of skills (though I don't have the micro-credential badges to show for them). And all of this qualifies me to do.... what?

It has always been a mystery to me-- in the private sector, employers poach people all the time, including people who don't even work in their particular industry. Government hires private sector people constantly. Where is the teacher poaching? We think lots of folks can enter the classroom after a career in other areas-- why doesn't the door swing both ways?

Why do newly-elected governors never say, "I need a new education chief-- get me a list of the top ten teachers in the state!" Why don't government education agencies issue lists of positions that Must Be Filed by trained and experienced teachers? Why do corporations never say, "We need someone who can herd cats and stretch tiny resources to accomplish great things-- get me a teacher." I mean, it's not like a local school district is hard to outbid-- government or the private sector could easily less money than is typical for such jobs, and still be offering a teacher more money than she's ever made in her life.

But not even teaching businesses go looking for teachers. Colleges and universities can rarely be found stalking local high schools, looking for their next hires. And I'll confess-- at one point I thought charters might be good for teachers because a sensible charter business model would be, "Go out and find the most well-known, best-beloved, most successful teachers in the local public schools and offer them top dollar to come work at our charter school." But that never happened; instead, charters have largely built their business model on being cheap bastards when it comes to staffing.

Teachers are widely respected, trained to be trustworthy, experienced at multi-tasking, well-and-continuously-educated. We can learn new things quickly. Most of us have developed a whole set of "extra" skills, on top of skills like the ability to grab and hold a not-entirely-interested audience. Need someone who can sell something? I sold Julius Caesar to fifteen-year-olds. And nobody-- nobody-- knows more about navigating bureaucracies and foolish red tape than teachers do. But still, about the only folks who regularly look to hire teachers are vendors who want someone to sell their stuff to teachers.

Why doesn't every government and business office include at least one person who says, "Yes, I had a good career as a teacher going, but the opportunity and money that they offered me here were just too good to pass up." People certainly leave the teaching profession (in fairly large numbers these days), but their Next Career is a matter of their own necessity, not of corporate or government raids on teaching staffs.

Could it be that career teachers are really committed to their profession? Could it be that teachers are seen as too ethical to really fit in some corporate or government settings? Could it be that our cultural disinterest in children extends to people who work with children? Could it be that most teachers are women? Could it be that in the government and corporate world we just don't trust people who come out of the collegiate box not focused on grabbing money and power?

It's a benefit to schools that they don't have to worry about poaching-- a relatively stable teaching staff makes a school stronger and more effective. And most teachers are not even looking for their next career-- at least not until they've hit retirement. It's a win for education that folks don't try to poach teachers, but I can't help feeling that it's a lose for everyone else.


  1. Peter, I deeply appreciate your columns and hope you love life in retirement--but please keep blogging!

  2. Peter you would be a tremendous asset in nearly any job but I think particularly valuable as a regular columnist for a mainstream media outlet. Also, you ask "Why do newly-elected governors never say, "I need a new education chief-- get me a list of the top ten teachers in the state!" see who Ralph Northam picked as his Ed Secretary when he was elected VA Governor:

  3. Congrats on being a stay at home dad, but don't retire the blog. The real public education supporter will need somewhere to go for real if we should ever decide to move from advocacy to action.

  4. You have the BEST Board of Directors....ever! You have the best job (stay at home dad)....ever!

  5. There's plenty for you to do. As you noted, you're already accustomed to working for peanuts, so there are tons of education-related things to do, in addition to writing and speaking, gigs that will come to you, if you stay open.

    Nothing makes me crazier than the way we overlook the incredible gifts and skills and opportunities to use retired teachers. We can coach (not just sports, but all kinds of intra-and extra-curricular stuff, in schools). I currently do that a couple half-days per week, with young musicians, and it's a gas.

    You have a lot of knowledge that other teachers don't have--policy and research knowledge. Would your union like you to teach a course or mentor novice teachers or work on PD?

    You could write a book. You could run for office (I'm serious about that one)--or perhaps get politically active. No better time. I've had two jobs, since retiring, as music directors in churches. The hours are very regular, and I get to make music with people I like.

    The thing is--you just need to be on the lookout for opportunities, and put yourself out there when something pops up. I've been involved with a handful of organizations around stuff I am passionate about--mostly because I asked if they wanted help. Stay open.

  6. Where I live charters do actually poach staff. They explicitly target who they want and offer them a job they think will tempt them (and pay the same). However, they are properly funded and genuine non-profit.

    The issue isn't really charters as such, but charters who are out to make a profit (even if formally non-profit).

    International schools (US or other curriculums taught in a language other than the local ones) show exactly the same pattern.

    For profit ones are notoriously cheapskate on staff and over-work them. Meanwhile non-profit ones are usually really good employers.

    Education is not a sector where profit is a useful, or successful, motive.

    It pays not to confuse the issues of charter vs state with the issue of profit driven vs service driven. A for-profit school owned by the state would also be terrible.

  7. You touched me with this piece, which has a vulnerability that is at the heart of teaching. Thank you for sharing. I wish I had career advice as you are clearly well-prepared to do anything. Again, thank you for sharing yourself.

  8. Congratulations on your graduation, and thank you for your work educating teachers and others about the deception behind so-called education reform.