Every Teacher Needs a Backup Career

planBBy Nick McDaniels — In honor of President’s Day. this post was originally titled, “Five Things We Can Learn About Public Education from Our Founding Fathers.”

After coming up with slightly fewer than zero ideas for that post, I decided it’d be best to not tell a lie and discuss something I’ve been thinking about for a while.  Every teacher needs a backup career.  I’m fortunate to have positioned myself so that next school year, I will have the ability to practice law.  I won’t, but I could.  And that “could” is pretty powerful for me psychologically.

It is easy to suggest that a teacher should have a backup career because teaching is so hard in today’s political climate, because it is a high-stress, high-burnout career that requires a person to be able make career changes people in other careers may have to.  That may be true.  In fact, it probably is.  But for me, though it is nice to know that I could walk at any minute without forcing my family into starvation, that is not at all why I think it is important to have a backup career.  I don’t want to leave teaching.  I don’t want to leave my students.

Quite frankly, in order to be a good teacher today, you have to be willing to get fired for your students.  You have to be willing to stand up to corporate ed reformers who are trying to profit off of the plight children.  You have to be willing to protest over-testing, stand up for student rights.  You have to be willing to spend your time working for children instead of pushing papers.  You have to be willing to speak up, to stand up, to fight for public education and communities that will never be helped by a privatized school system  But in order to be willing to do this, you have to be willing to take a lot of heat from school administrators and central office personnel who benefit from the status quo of under-resourced schools.  You have to be willing to stand up to extreme levels of scrutiny.  And as we all know, in an era of high-stakes testing, we all have enough evidence of failure to put our heads on the chopping block if we were to rock the boat too much.

What a better way to spend your career, agitating on behalf of students without restraint.  We would all find more joy in teaching if we didn’t need the job.  So why not?  Go get yourself a backup career and teach like your students’s lives depend on it and your livelihood doesn’t.


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