Wanted: Financially lucrative career…in education?

February 16, 2010

in hot topics

I used to think I would teach forever, mostly because I never wanted to be an administrator. In my mind, a principal’s daily schedule revolves around the most unpleasant of school-based tasks: dealing with irate parents, nagging stubborn teachers, disciplining out-of-control kids, attending hours of boring meetings, and creating budgets with a quarter of the money that’s needed. DO NOT WANT. But aside from the increasingly sparse curricular support positions (which are highly coveted yet poorly regarded, with district workers holding the reputation of lounging behind big desks downtown and creating extraneous demands), I simply didn’t see many other options in education. The status quo demands that educators contentedly bide their time in the classroom until retirement, passively watching as allocated funds shrink with each passing year while expectations increase exponentially. A master’s degree could earn a small raise, and a coaching or supplemental position may provide possibilities for growth and a paltry stipend. But where are the opportunities to truly excel in this field? What are the options for advancement?

I initially pursued teaching because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life, and I stuck with it because I’d rather get paid less for doing something I love than sell my soul to corporate America. But for the last few years I’ve been wondering…are those REALLY my only two options? Are the terms positive impact on education and financially lucrative career mutually exclusive?

At the first teacher in-service I attended, my jaw hit the floor upon discovering the workshop presenter earned more in a day than I earned in a week. Especially since the workshop sucked: it was impractical, patronizing, and irrelevant. Teachers work too hard for some know-it-all business major to waltz in and tell them how to do their jobs, I thought. I want to do this, and I want to do this right.

Professional development emerged as my niche from year one. I spent hours each day frequenting education websites and message boards to get new ideas. When teachers posted questions, I enjoyed sharing what I’d tried, and loved reading their replies: It worked! Thank you so much for your ideas! The same type of questions were posted repeatedly, so I started compiling my suggestions on a website where I could direct teachers to photographs and documents I’d already uploaded. The site took off with over 500,000 hits in its second year and grew to over 50 pages of free resources. Next I created a blog. After that, a classroom management book. And finally, my very own workshops and in-services.

Helping other teachers had become my real passion, bringing far greater satisfaction than I was getting from working with students. I could touch the lives of 20 kids a year in my classroom, but through professional development, I was able to impact tens of thousands of children around the world each year as their teachers grew into more confident, effective educators. And this, THIS is what gave me the courage to forfeit tenure and quit my job: the desire to encourage and support teachers, and earn a good living while I’m at it.

I’m not sure there are many opportunities for this in Florida, but in New York–where my husband lives already–I was blessed to secure consulting work in several capacities, which I’ll tell more about in a separate post. One of my positions is as Educational Editor for BrainPOP, Jr., in which my primary function is to ensure that their lesson plans, movies, and activity features are developmentally appropriate and genuinely useful as teaching tools. I’m also working for a consulting firm as a teacher mentor, providing ongoing literacy and math coaching to selected teachers. I visit their schools regularly to model lessons, observe and provide feedback, develop lesson plans, help assess student work, create materials for their classrooms, and basically support their professional growth in every way I can. And in addition to these two jobs, I’ve got that whole Cornerstone Classroom Management book-blog-website-workshop thing going on, too. So yeah, there’s that.

On my last day of teaching, I got a little misty-eyed driving out of the school parking lot and called my husband. “Guess what, sweetie! I’m not a teacher anymore!” I could hear in his voice that he was smiling. “Wow, that’s right.” He paused and thought about what he was saying, which is something I don’t do enough and part of the reason why I love him. “Actually, honey, you’re still a teacher. You’ll always be a teacher. You just don’t have your own classroom anymore.”

I am a teacher. I work in classrooms all over the world, some physically and some virtually. I’ve broken free from a system that wasn’t designed to support the goals I’m trying to accomplish, and created my own path. To be clear, I am also free from the paid holidays and no-cost health insurance the system provided. The path is not without its drawbacks. Especially since I’m only at the beginning, in a place where my earning power and opportunities are still limited…but somehow that’s the most exciting part. In the classroom, I knew exactly what I’d be doing and earning ten years from now: it was guaranteed, but it was also limited. The possibilities on this path are beyond what I can envision now…and since I know it’s my path, the places it leads will be divinely designed for me.

Though the educational system is broken in many ways, I know that my efforts to support the teachers and students who are caught in it are worthwhile. At least so far. My worst fear is to be seen as playing the “expert” who makes the demands of teaching more frustrating and exhausting instead of less, or be misperceived as one of THOSE people who don’t quite believe that teaching children is the toughest and most important role in our field (even harder than—gasp!—giving PowerPoint presentations at faculty meetings or bemoaning the lack of technology integration to other change-makers in conference halls). I’m just holding fast to the message I live, and the message I pass on to teachers every day:

There are always more possibilities than what you see now. Additional options exist. Things don’t have to be done the same way other people have done them. There are multiple solutions to every problem. It’s never too late to change something that’s not working. It’s okay to try something different, and it’s okay if it doesn’t go perfectly. What would you like to accomplish? What end result do you want to see? Let’s find a way to make that happen.

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What are your thoughts on promotion and advancement in our field? If you’re a teacher, how long do you plan to stay in the classroom? What do you see as your opportunity to advance and excel? Are there other roles you’d like to see made available to educators? <
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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous February 16, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I'm in the classroom 76 more days (after 10 years). I'm going back to school to get a degree in public policy to work on giving power back to the teachers (and ultimately the students). I'll make a lot more money and be so much happier.

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2 Sherrie February 16, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I am a lifer in the classroom and I am fine with it. I would love to teach preservice teachers someday, but right now with three young boys at home teaching full time is more than enough.

I always laugh at the people who do inservice and have not been in the classroom for years, It's easy to have an ideal lesson, but if you are out of touch with the reality of what it's like in the classroom your ideal lesson is crap.

I just remember some of my university professors were sooooo out of touch with the reality of what goes on in a classroom.

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3 Anonymous February 16, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I agree with Sherrie…I can see myself spending my whole life in the classroom BUT I really don't like PD where they haven't got a clue what we're dealing with in today's classrooms. I work in the inner city and its not the same as it was there 20 years ago when I was on the other side as a student!

I have found I am really good at delivering PD, something I never thought I would like, but I don't know that I would ever persue it full-time. Time will tell.

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4 Sarah February 16, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I wish there was more opportunity for advancement. Like you, I love working with other teachers, brainstorming over problems, creating materials, presenting something cool I've found that works for me. I just wish I could get paid for doing only that. After five years in the classroom, I feel ready for something new…. just not sure what!

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5 Anonymous February 16, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Angela, you are reading my mind! I often talk to my colleagues about this topic. Principalship is not a promotion, in my mind. Being a principal is being a manager, not an educator. I'd love to earn more money educating. I'm considering corporate training, educational consulting, or educational software. I'd love to know your process for getting your book published.

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6 SmWonder00 February 16, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Being a principal is not on my master plan, but making a difference in schools and school policy is. I'm eager to explore the opportunites to make a change in education. Though I feel that each day I make a significant change in my students lives, I'd like to iron out some of those bureaucratic details that limit their success. Where that will take me, I'm not quite sure yet.

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7 Tisa February 16, 2010 at 10:36 pm

I work in a small school district where I can see myself staying forever. Don't get me wrong, we have our fair share of problems, but I absolutely love my school and the small town community. I have no desire to become any kind of administration but I do see myslef taking a leadership role in the future. Maybe working with first year teachers or doing a few workshops for teacher training. There are a lot of those types of possibilities at my school.

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8 Angela February 16, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Wow, these are really thought-provoking comments. I'll come back and respond to each one individually later, but wanted to let you all know that if you're interested, there's a great discussion on this topic right now on my Facebook page. Check it out for more perspectives:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cornerstone-For-Teachers/71659544187?ref=nf

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9 Holly February 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Hi Angela,
I came across your website a couple of weeks ago and it really spoke to me. I love all of your ideas and how passionate you are. I feel like you are such an amazing person and such and inspiration! Sometimes when I'm feeling stuck or in a rut, I get such motivation from your site.
Guess I just wanted to say thank you and yes, you are still a teacher physically and virtually.
Thank you!!!

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10 Mrs. Tenkely February 17, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Angela, I am sitting here crying like a baby as I read this. This is my last year of teaching in the classroom. A perfect storm of events has lead me to this place. I am excited for the possibilities ahead but I am going to miss having my own classroom. Having a room full of students that make me laugh and smile. I am with you, I am hoping to make a career of education and supporting learning outside of the classroom. We are still teachers.

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11 Anonymous February 19, 2010 at 5:54 am

Dear Angela,
You have my admiration and respect for more than one reason, and now after reading your post, I just wanted to wish you the best of luck with your new career, and I know you will succeed. Competent speakers and in-services are hard to find anywhere in the world. If you happen to come to Brazil for some reason, mak sure to schedule a visit for us, here in Sao Paulo.
Good luck, and blessings
Ligia (From Brazil)

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12 Momma T February 20, 2010 at 12:29 pm

These ideas were on my mind as I laid in the bed at 6:30 this morning. I recenly finished my master's in ED Leadership, but being a principal would not be my first choice. I would rather be a part of strengthening curriculum to support the truest needs of kids or be a part of supporing teachers as they support students. One thing I know wherever I end up I know I bring a wealth of experience and knowledge from being a dedicated classroom teacher. When I started teaching I knew I had finally found where my heart belongs.

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13 VKT February 20, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Good luck to you Angela. I have been teaching for 34 years and I love it as much today as I did when I started. Let me know if I can help you in any way.

Blessings!

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14 Anonymous February 21, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I teach in WV and would love to have a crack at distributing stimulus money that is going to be used to provide internet to rural areas. I bet if I could reduce my first grade class size from 24 to 18, I wouldn't need the interventionist because I could reach my student needs myself. But with such large first grade classes, it is nearly impossible to even begin diagnosing the problems my students have. It would be nice if someone in upper levels of money distribution could come spend a week with me, and then we would see how the money would be spent. First grade is such a critical year in literacy, and some days I feel like someone pushed me down a rollercoaster and I'm out of control! Consulting teachers on how to spend money would be "thinking outside of the box"!

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15 Ms. Nelson February 22, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Good for you. I am with you that I don't EVER think I want to be in administration. I don't want to deal with ANY of that. I am getting my Master's, but you're right- financially that gets me nowhere. I am an artist, so I always thought that could suppliment my income, but I have always loved public speaking… so who knows?!? Best of luck in your new field!

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16 Anonymous February 25, 2010 at 7:13 pm

After 16 years in the classroom I took a position as a literacy coach. Although I miss having my own classroom, I love being able to be in so many other wonderful classrooms. I am able to provide PD and work with so many great teachers. Don't get me wrong…. there are a few who want nothing to do with me…..but I focus on those who are open and willing. I also mentor a new teacher which I am enjoying. Although this new position does not bring in more money, it was just the change I needed to keep me excited and enthusiastic.

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17 warrick February 26, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Just saw your post, and funny I was having a similar discussion with colleagues the other day, particularly about the dearth of curriculum roles in most schools or as you put it quoted below. We're too dominated by administration, compliance regulations and the pastoral, when the real well=being comes out of effective classrooms.

"But aside from the increasingly sparse curricular support positions (which are highly coveted yet poorly regarded, with district workers holding the reputation of lounging behind big desks downtown and creating extraneous demands), I simply didn’t see many other options in education."

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18 Angela March 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Anon: Public policy, wow–having former teachers making policy decisions is a powerful concept. I'm excited for you!

Sherrie: Our kids NEED good "lifers" like yourself. I'm glad you're where you're happy and making a difference.

Anon: If you like being in the classroom AND are good at delivering PD, then you'll be able to provide some really valuable in-services. I'm sure your school/district have opportunities for you to help them out. Awesome!

Sarah: I *do* think you could get paid for creating and sharing your ideas–maybe you could submit some ideas to Scholastic and some of those companies that publish teacher-created materials. I'm not sure it's lucrative enough to replace full-time work, mostly because school districts don't have money to buy materials (and often shun things that aren't tied to standardized test results). But it's worth looking into, I'm sure!

Anon: There are TONS of jobs for corporate training. Check out the New York Times (which lists jobs nationally). I will share more about my book publishing experience in an upcoming post.

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19 Angela March 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

SmWonder00: Ironing out those bureaucratic details is critical, and there are lots of different avenues to pursue that, even from within a classroom teaching position. You're on an amazing journey and in a good place right now in your career–I'm excited to see what you accomplish next!

Tisa: If you see opportunities to work with new teachers at your school, that's awesome! It's a great way to feel like you are contributing something to your school beyond your classroom walls.

Holly: Thank YOU for sharing that with me! It really made my day. I'm glad to know that in your eyes, I am still a teacher. :-)

Mrs. Tenkely: Wow, I'm glad to know that my words made an emotional impact with you. Knowing that you're in your last year makes every moment so sentimental, doesn't it? Like "this could be the last time I read this story, the least time I celebrate this holidays with students." But rest assured, you will ALWAYS be a teacher, no matter where your journey takes you, because your heart is for helping others.

Ligia: Thanks for commenting! I meant to email you back and forgot–glad you got the book and are loving it! I will DEFINITELY let you know if I am ever heading to Brazil!

Momma T: I think it is sad that both you and I (and many others) feel that being a principal does not really entail strengthening curriculum and supporting teachers. That's a sad commentary on the system. I hope you are able to find work doing this in a way that keeps you connected to where your heart belongs. :-)

VKT: Thank you for your support and encouragement! I love the letters from parents/students on your blog. Please stay in touch!

Anon: If you have the courage to navigate the murky waters of stimulus money distribution and funding allocation within your district, more power to you! We need people who understand classroom needs to have their voices heard in that process. Awesome!

Ms. Nelson: Teaching, art, and public speaking–those are three amazing talents and it sounds like you'll be able to find a creative way to utilize your gifts! Especially if you like public speaking: that's the average American's #1 fear, so if you're comfortable, then you've got an exceptional skill set. Keep me updated on what you get into!

Anon: It is a shame that literacy coaching was only a lateral move for you financially…but make a solid living at doing what you love is priceless! I enjoy working with the teachers who don't initially want anything to do with me–I think I like the challenge and it feels so good when you see them softening up!

Warrick: Curriculum roles are critical in ways that only educators can truly understand, and the people making decisions about fund allocations are NOT in touch with classroom realities nor are they necessarily well-versed in what makes an effective classroom. It's a shame. I'm really looking forward to exploring what's on the horizon via ASCD next weekend–see you there. :-)

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20 Paige Lomas March 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Love your blog, love this post. So perfect for this time of year…newness, spring. My friend and I just had this same conversation two days ago. We have both been teaching for 11 years, have our masters and kids…now what? Out or Up? We are applying for our doc in the fall of 2012. No principalship though…inservices, curriculum, directors of students. I have taught at the collegiate level and I am ready for more of that too. Good stuff teaching pre-service teachers and some master level classes for teachers. Really cool. Then again, I have flashes of me teaching 2nd grade until they haul me out the door. I do love those 2nd graders!

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21 Miss Teacha March 18, 2010 at 2:48 am

Angela, I too teared up as I read your blog! It feels like I won't survive this year. And as much as I love teaching (in year 5), if I can't find a more promising teaching job I will leave the profession after year 6.

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22 Erica DeVoti October 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Just stumbled on your site. Really appreciate and value your enthusiasm and the way you think. Thank you!
Erica DeVoti
Colorado

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23 Angela Watson October 3, 2011 at 12:54 pm

You’re welcome, Erica! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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