Leaving Tech for Teaching
By John Rossheim
It’s not an easy decision to change careers from a technical field to teaching, where the personal satisfaction is likely to eclipse the monetary rewards.
But primary and second school departments of math, science and engineering sorely need an infusion of resources, from funding to talented teachers. U.S. high school students' math performance ranked only 30th among 65 nations in 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
So we're all lucky that some professionals with advanced quantitative skills feel such a call to teaching that they make substantial personal and financial sacrifices to change careers.
Maggie Friedfeld undertook such a move seven years ago, at age 37: from IT professional at Brown University to math teacher at Lincoln School, an independent N-12 school in Providence, R.I. And she did it all while she and her husband, Eric, had two children in elementary school.
“I always thought about being a teacher," says Friedfeld. "But I hated my high school teachers, and I didn’t want to have to work with people like that. And we couldn’t afford for me to go back to school – until there was a change in my family's situation."
Brown University's tuition for full-time graduate students in 2015-2016 is $48,272. At the University of Maryland University College, in-state tuition for the 30-credit MAT program is $13,740.
"I entered Brown's MAT [Master of Arts in Teaching] program, and I was much more ready to learn as a thirty-something than I had been as an undergrad," says Friedfeld. "And the program was a means to an end.
"Working with my own children's schedules was a challenge, and I would come home at 8 p.m. to face hours of homework. But my family was super supportive and helpful. You really need husband buy-in.
"With my elementary ed certification in hand, my first job was teaching 6th grade math at Lincoln School. Now I teach math in 6th, 7th and 8th grades there.
'"The first year of teaching is really difficult because you have to deal with four constituencies: students, parents, administrators and colleagues. And it was a hard transition going from the male-dominated tech field to an all-girls school; you can be more blunt with men.
"For your training, you need to choose an education program where you teach a lot in different settings. All the pedagogy in the world doesn’t prepare you for what you’re going to encounter.
"I think a lot of people who would like to be teachers aren’t, because our salaries are almost embarrassing."
Given the training, broad skill set and long hours required for many teaching jobs, the wages are indeed modest. In Washington, D.C., the median teacher salary is $58,474, according to salary.com. Median teacher pay in Arlington, Va., is $62,159.
For many technology professionals, especially those who earn something close to $100,000, such a career change is unthinkable. But for those who can find a way to afford to teach, the chance to advance children's lives can be worth the sacrifice.