A New Path – Changing Careers at Forty Something

My story is probably somewhat typical (well, relatively).

I went to college at a four-year university, although I was never able to complete my journalism degree.  My dad developed leukemia when I was in my second year of college, and he fought it for about a year before he finally succumbed to it.  At the time, my mom didn’t have a driver’s license, and so, while he was sick, I found a way to take her to the hospital, go to college, and manage a pizza place at night.

After my dad died, though, my mom was on a tight budget and I needed more money to pay my bills.  So I dropped out of college all together and began taking higher paying jobs as an executive assistant.  Before I knew it, several years had passed and college had become a distant memory.

Somewhere in there, I met and fell in love with my husband.  Seconds after we were married (yes, it was AFTER we were married), I was pregnant with our daughter.  Miraculously, with the help of my mom, we found a way to pay the bills without my income so that I could stay home with her throughout her formative years.  While this put a huge financial strain on our family, it was worth every second of worry and every lost penny to spend that time with her.  I was so grateful to be there with her, watching her personality develop, seeing her learn to walk and speak, and expand her mind in school.

BUT, after ten years of singing Sesame Street and High School Musical songs, acting as the family chef, cleaning the house, doing the laundry and planning birthday parties, I was ready to get out of the house (man, was I ready)!   I needed to stimulate my brain beyond the compartment in which it had chilled for the past decade.

But that was easier said than done.  As most stay-at-home parents know, going back to work requires a huge family adjustment. It means that no one is home on sick days or vacations to watch the children, no one is around in the afternoon to taxi the children to and from school and activities, and no one is home to wash the gigantic, never-ending pile clothes or clean the house.  Of course, we can hire people to take care of all of that, but the dilemma then becomes, “How do I find a job that makes enough money to pay for all of that and STILL have enough left over to make a difference to our household?” It’s not worth going back to work if all of the money that you’re earning is being paid to the babysitter, the daycare or the maid service.  You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak.  Not to mention, finding a job after you’ve been home for ten years can be a challenge.  With that kind of a gap on your resume, it can be difficult to even get an interview so that you can explain to them that you haven’t just been sitting around slacking for the past ten years!

So, there I was, in the middle of what seemed to be an impossible situation, when lo and behold, an opportunity presented itself!

The director of my daughter’s Montessori school approached me and asked me if I was interested in getting my Montessori teaching certification so that I could work as a full-time teacher in her school.  Surprised, I told her that I didn’t have any prior teaching experience, and more importantly, that I didn’t have a completed degree.  She indicated that she had been observing me over the years as a volunteer at the school, and that she thought I would be a great addition to the school as a full-time teacher, assuming of course that I was certified.

After dealing with my self-esteem issues (I HAD been home with only me, myself and I for some time), I decided that I would jump in headfirst and sink or swim.  I had been floating, mentally inactive, for so long that I felt I had no choice but to trust the opportunity as a gift from the universe.  After an intense year of training, studying and substituting, I finally got my certification and accepted a full-time position as the 3rd/4th/5th grade teacher at my daughter’s school.

The position was more fulfilling than I could have imagined.  It was creative and interesting, and there was never a dull moment.  The students felt like my own children.  They excelled academically and emotionally, and my co-teacher and I became very close friends.  We took equal pleasure in creating new and exciting ways to teach our students in all areas, and we were both very fond of the silly, smart-assy style of teaching that came naturally to both of us.

Furthermore, a wonderful friend of mine, whom I met while training for my Montessori certification, was hired at the same school.  Also a stay-at-home mom before teaching, she understood every sentiment and hardship that I went through in the whole process.  We leaned on each other for strength and confidence, and we became the best of friends.

So all of this sounds pretty ideal, right?  It was, except for two little problems: the salary and the never-ending hours.

Now, we’ve all heard that teachers work too hard and get paid too little… While they are molding the minds of our children, setting the foundation for their futures, instilling core values and providing tools that our children need to compete in this world, they are usually making less than a railroad conductor, a subway operator or a mobile crane operator (all of which require skill, I’m sure, that is reflected in their pay).  According to teachingdegree.org, if teachers work in the public system (which requires a degree and a credential), then they make an average of $69,320 per year, at least in California.  If they work in the private sector (which does not require a degree or a credential), then salarygenius.com says that they make an average of $31,450 to $47,176.

I was in the private sector, and while I didn’t have a 4-year degree or a teaching credential, I was certified in Montessori education. I expected to begin at a lower salary, at least until I proved my worth, but I wasn’t prepared to remain at that level for the entire duration of my position.  Unfortunately, the school where I worked really wanted to pay me what I needed, but they simply couldn’t afford it.  With a daughter about to enter high school, college looming in the near future, and home projects that couldn’t be put off any longer, I simply couldn’t justify the pay anymore.

When I factored in the hours that I was working, the pay became even harder to swallow.  I was working at the school from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm most of the time, and then I would come home, make dinner, and dive right into grading for the next two hours. I only saw my daughter for about an hour each day.  I passed my husband in the halls, unable to remember the last time that we went out on a date or snuggled on the couch. And this went on for 4 years.  Crazy, right?

So I made the very difficult decision to walk away from the career that I loved, the students that I adored, and the fellow-teachers that had become like family to me.  My heart was broken for months, and I ached over the thought of not being able to explain my decision to my students and say goodbye to them.  As I began the task of trying to figure out what to do next, my mind continually wandered back to teaching.  I worried that I had made a mistake, that I had walked away from my passion, that I would never find such a fulfilling position again.  And as I began to apply for different positions that paid more, I was propelled into a state of depression over the knowledge that they weren’t my passion.

So I began to wonder, if we are on a path with something that we feel passionate about, and the universe throws some pretty big obstacles in the way of that path, do we forcibly try to remove those obstacles so that we can continue down the path, or do we see the obstacles as an opportunity to change it?  Very new-agey, I know, but it made me feel better.  I started to remember that I’ve always had other passions, too.  I’ve always enjoyed writing. I’ve always had a passion for taking pictures.  Perhaps the universe was giving me a nudge in a different direction for a reason.  Maybe we all get to have more than one passion, and in some way we can learn to meld all of our passions together into one big career soup.

So here I am… A new Dawn, so to speak.  A 44-year-old mother, wife and ex-teacher, who is jumping in head-first and praying that an unconventional path will make her feel whole again.  Only time will tell, but I plan to give it a go!  I’ll keep you posted.

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