It was interesting to learn that the author’s identity was negatively impacted by becoming a second career teacher but the reasons were unrelated to the act of teaching. The reasons included low financial compensation compared to similar occupations, teaching’s status as a borderline profession, and social isolation. While my assumption was that a second career teacher’s identity would be affected by these issues, I was surprised to learn the extent of their impact.
Professional Identity. Jennifer’s professional identity was negatively impacted due to overlapping issues of: lower levels of autonomy, financial compensation, social interaction and her perceived level of respect for teachers and the teaching profession. To understand why her identity was impacted so significantly, I reflected upon the degree to which her two careers were different.
The author moved from an occupation with room for advancement and a large degree of autonomy to an occupation with no opportunities for advancement, no sense of control over her day and no say in the policies that govern her field. This contrast might have heightened a sense that she lacked little control over her job and her career.
She moved from an occupation with higher compensation that she negotiated based on her expertise, experience and capabilities to an occupation where her professional experience prior to teaching was neither valued nor compensated for and where her salary was predetermined for her. Since financial compensation was a major theme in her journals, it is clear this change made an impact.
Finally, she moved from an occupation that required significant interaction with other adults, in addition to after-hours networking events, to an occupation where she had little interaction with other adults and hardly any interaction with other art teachers. Since the author frequently referred to loneliness and social isolation in her journals, this change might have been a particularly difficult adjustment for her.
In and of themselves, these moves are not inherently negative or positive. Some people might welcome an opportunity to interact primarily with children and have little interaction with adults. They might want to finely hone already established skills by spending their career in one job. They might be relieved not to negotiate their salary.
However, the author found frustration with these aspects of her new career. Her former identity of an independent, driven woman, respected for her work and experience, was compromised once she became a teacher. She is clearly troubled that teachers do not set policy and are not given opportunities for advancement. She might interpret this as a lack of respect for the profession, which might translate as a lack of respect and for appreciation of her work.
I was not surprised to find that the author felt disillusioned by her quasi-professional status. But I was surprised to learn that the reason she felt unfulfilled as a professional was not simply lower pay. On the other hand, I was surprised to understand how much the pay discrepancy compared to her former career was related to aspects of her personal identity.
Personal Identity. The author’s personal identity was negatively impacted by changing social and recreational opportunities due to a rigid work schedule and lower financial compensation. In July of 2011 she writes of two specific ways her perceived personal identity has changed as the result of being a teacher.
“Identity prior to teaching included: (1) athlete – a skier and waterskier, mountain biker/cyclist, hiker, and swimmer (2) social – entertaining/hosting parties, attending events/fundraisers/parties/concerts
Current identity: (1) athlete – Not really. I can’t afford to ski/waterski. (2) Social. My schedule during the school year prevents a lot of socializing. But so do finances. I won’t be attending the types of events I used to and I won’t be able to host the parties I once did. (7/6/11)”
The author described her former identity as that of being an athlete and of being highly social. On the other hand, she writes that her current identity lacks these aspects due to changed finances and a rigid schedule. Certainly there are more affordable athletic pursuits than skiing and social activities that accommodate a teacher’s schedule. However, her identity was not simply that of athlete. It was skier. It was not simply of a social person, but associated with particular events. She seems to struggle with giving up these pursuits and has difficulty figuring out how to reconcile her new salary and schedule with her former sense of self.
The degree to which social isolation and financial compensation were mentioned and overlap in the journals was surprising to me. Combined with her frustration with an inflexible schedule, it seems as if the author was not only unprepared for the lifestyle adjustments teaching would require but resistant to making them.
She mentions in her journal that she realized many other second career teachers were married and their income was supplemental to their spouse’s income. So this lifestyle adjustment might not be necessary for all second career teachers to make. Additionally, depending on how far one has advanced in their former career the salary change might not be as significant. However, the schedule of a teacher remains inflexible.
Career Change. I was surprised to learn how drastic a change going from one salaried, professional career to another was for the author. Typically, changing from one salaried occupation requiring an advanced degree to another salaried occupation requiring an advanced degree most likely means changing from one occupation that meets most criteria of a profession to another. The office hours are most likely similar. There might not be as much of a gap in financial compensation as there is between teaching and other professions.
However, moving from an established professional career to a teaching career presents a unique set of challenges. While teachers might exhibit professional behavior, the profession itself does not meet all the criteria set out by Purvis (1973). As the author’s story illustrates, this might present challenges for individuals who find their expectations of the profession unmet.
- “Take A Stand For Teachers” ~ World Teachers Day 2012 (strategiclearner.wordpress.com)
- Why $100,000 Teacher Salaries Make Sense (mindfulstew.wordpress.com)