I have learned first-hand how important it is for those facing post-PhD transitions, or those mired in long-term unemployment, to lean on their friends and family. My own predicament has been eased by a gaggle of wonderful folks who have offered sympathetic ears, sound advice, laughter, and distractions. I would be a whimpering mess without them.
On the other hand, I have discovered that a distressingly large number of my acquaintances have no idea how to interact with me at the moment. I presume that people mean well, want to be helpful and offer me useful career advice. But all too often this advice is not grounded in the realities of the labour market or, worse, makes nasty assumptions about my work ethic. For example: if I had $100 for every time I was told that I should work in government (as if those jobs grew on trees), I would be filthy rich and no longer requiring a job in government or anywhere else. Of course I have considered working in government. I have spent hours upon hours thinking about working in government, preparing and submitting applications for government jobs, and trying to lure government workers into informational interviews. What is it that people think I do all day?
The reaction to a decision I recently made is just as puzzling, if not quite in the same vein. I have resolved to apply for admission to teacher’s college. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I have committed to becoming a teacher. There will be a year between submitting the application in September and the first day of class, during which I can and will explore other options. But if nothing else materializes, teacher’s college is the most palatable retraining option out there for me. I loved teaching undergraduates. I currently teach, co-teach, or help teach three different classes on a volunteer basis and I enjoy that as well. I’m fairly sure that I would enjoy teaching high school as much or more than just about anything else. This is something to celebrate, I believe. It may only be a rough plan, but it has injected some much needed structure and clarity into a supremely confusing job search.
I thought this would be something positive to recount when inevitably quizzed about my job search, but much to my surprise and chagrin, the feedback has been mostly negative and unconstructive. The points brought up are valid, to be sure. Some teacher acquaintances have cautioned that permanent teaching jobs are scarce, and that school boards are usually a nightmare to deal with. Others, perhaps recalling their own pasts as classroom troublemakers, have warned me that working with youths can be a thankless and stressful job. Some of my PhD friends have pointed out that teaching according to an imposed curriculum will come as an unwelcome shock after the relative freedom of the university. Pretty much everyone has forewarned that dealing with helicopter parents is one of most unpleasant things in the world.
Legitimate arguments, yes, but they come from people who are, for the most part, securely employed and largely incapable of seeing matters from my perspective. I have no doubt that stable teaching jobs are increasingly difficult to obtain. In my experience, ALL jobs that I’m qualified or suited for are hard to procure. I concede that I would probably dislike negotiating school board politics. But infinitely worse is navigating joblessness. Sure, I can see myself chafing under a rigid curriculum, but that can’t be any more constricting than unemployment. And I am certain that dealing with unruly youths and aggressive parents is nerve wracking but do you know what is definitely more stressful? Take a wild guess.
I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I’m surrounded by myopic merchants of doom. I have cut a lot of these types out of my life, so now I receive more positive than negative vibes. I just wish sometimes that more of my acquaintances truly understood what I was going through. But I should be happy that they don’t – I wouldn’t wish long-term unemployment on my worst enemy, let alone the people I care about.
This is my fifth contribution to this blog, and my last for a while. Summer seems like an ideal time for a hiatus, because who wants to bang on a laptop when the sun is shining? It has been a slice, but I aspire to a time when I’ve found a steady job and no longer have the wherewithal to rhapsodize about my trials and tribulations in the job market. Cross your fingers.
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