Elizabeth is making my job easy this week. Yesterday I wrote a post about her current dilemma about leaving her current, high-paying job with an investment firm and going back to school to become a math teacher. Lots of you responded, and in a variety of ways. I think the “follow your heart” advice was the most common, but there were also plenty of “keep the money!” answers, including a handful from teachers who think that Elizabeth may be wearing rose-colored glasses about what teaching is really like.
The topic may have died there, but Elizabeth wrote me again this morning to fill in some extra details. And once again, the details are really compelling and worth talking about. She writes:
Hi Josh,Thanks for posting my question! I’ve read all the comments, and they were very helpful. Fortunately I have already had quite a bit of tutoring/substitute experience so I am relatively confident that teaching is the place for me. However, I agree that just because I may understand high school mathematics, I might not be the best teacher. I WANT to take classes to improve my teaching techniques.
I should point out here that I agree that it’s a good thing that teachers take some teaching/education courses. I think my rant yesterday convinced a lot of you that I don’t support education courses *at all* and that subject mastery is all that matters. I don’t think that — I know that you have to be able to relate the material to your audience, and I know education courses help enable that. I begin to have a problem with the education coursework, though, when the volume of it outweighs the subject-area coursework, then it’s overkill and not best for the teacher or the students over the long haul. Anyway, let’s get back to Elizabeth:
That being said, the education program I was accepted to is at Harvard…one of those ‘expensive’ schools everyone advised me to avoid, ha. Truth is, my acceptance to Harvard came as a great shock! I certainly don’t need a Harvard degree to teach- BUT how can I pass up an opportunity to learn from the best? For my undergrad degree I went to a state school (close to my home, where I lived at the time in order to save money) and feel as though I didn’t experience true college life.
Wow — leave it to brainy Elizabeth to throw us a massive curveball here! First of all, congrats on your acceptance to Harvard! That’s a rare achievement that no one can ever take away from you. It also turns up the heat on this discussion, doesn’t it? I mean, first we were talking very generically about private schools, expensive schools, “name” schools, etc. But now, we find we’re dealing with the biggest “name” school of them all — the one name that, above all others, really does carry a lot of weight in every corner of the world.
Man, there’s so much to say here. Let’s let Elizabeth finish first, though.
So yes…should I give up my salary to teach…and should I pay to go to Harvard to do it. Would I be missing out on a once in a life time opportunity if I opted to jump right into teaching (by getting my teacher’s certificate)? I think I might…
OK. Man, where to start. Let’s just go in order of what’s she’s said.
“I certainly don’t need a Harvard degree to teach- BUT how can I pass up an opportunity to learn from the best?”
You know, with a question like this, advice from other people is almost worthless, because it’s such an intensely personal thing. And I hate to say that, because I give advice for a living. However, I was once in a similar spot.
Straight out of undergraduate school, I was accepted into a master’s program in journalism at Columbia University, also an Ivy League school. It was a master’s program that cost $40,000. They offered me $2,000 in financial aid. I protested. They upped it to $3,000. Final offer.
I was heartbroken, because I desperately wanted to enroll in that program and had counted on being there, reporting for a newspaper in the heart of New York City, the following year. But reality set in fast for me. As a print journalist, I MIGHT have been making $40,000 per year five years after getting that degree. MAYBE. So after briefly and desperately trying to make the math work (I briefly considered buying an old RV and living in it while renting a parking space, so that I wouldn’t have to pay room and board), I threw in the towel. It wasn’t gonna work.
Personally, I haven’t regretted it for a second. In fact, I shudder to think what would’ve happen had I taken that plunge. Three years later, I had a much cheaper but equally prestigious master’s in journalism from the University of Missouri. Fifteen years later, print journalism is dead, but my loan payments would still be very much alive.
My example is similar to Elizabeth’s, but that’s about as far as it goes. Columbia ain’t Harvard, and print journalism isn’t teaching. Teaching will be alive and well for some time, and our country desperately needs good math teachers. Most important to recognize, though, is that I ditched a LOW paying profession for a well-paying one (advertising); Elizabeth’s going the other way.
After a touch of research, I can ballpark that Elizabeth’s expenses will be somewhere around $60,000 at Harvard. With interest, probably $80-85,000-ish. That’s gonna make for a loan payment of around $700-ish per month, give or take.
In the end, Elizabeth has to weigh whether it’s worth it. For me, it probably wouldn’t be — half because I’m cheap, and half because I’m arrogant and hard to convince that other people have things to teach me (and I’m not bragging about either quality). But on the intangible side of things: you never stop being a Harvard grad, and that means a lot to a lot of people. The connections she makes there are probably better than any she’ll make elsewhere. And let’s not ignore the fact that, if she doesn’t like teaching after all, she can probably find another high-paying job like she has now.
Would I be missing out on a once in a life time opportunity if I opted to jump right into teaching (by getting my teacher’s certificate)? I think I might…
The opportunity to attend Harvard is a rare one, no doubt about that. I would say, just do your best to visualize the actual benefits of that Harvard education, the changes and opportunities it’ll bring about, and how long they’ll last. If you put those all together in an equation vs. the $80K you’ll be paying back and they outweigh it, then go for it.
Also, don’t forget to consider your own psyche in the equation. You know yourself better than anyone here does. If you pass up the opportunity to go to Harvard, will it stick in your gut like a shard of glass, the feeling of missed opportunity? Or will you blow it off and never look back? Saving money is one thing, but not the only thing. You’ve gotta keep your mind right. Plus, you’re obviously a girl who knows how to make money, so Harvard or not and teaching or not, I don’t have the feeling that you’ll be struggling to make ends meet, whatever it is you decide.
Do I even deserve scholarships/grants because I want them for such an expensive school?
Hell yes! Finally, an easy question! 🙂 What you “deserve” has nothing to do with the price tag of your school, in my opinion. Or, honestly, how much money is in your bank account, in your check every two weeks, etc. You’re giving up a lucrative career for a public-service career, in an area where our country desperately needs the help. You deserve to be rewarded for it. End of discussion.
I just wanted to let you know where I was coming from- but again, thank you SO MUCH (and thanks to all your readers) for giving me some advice. I truly appreciate it.
You’re welcome. I’m guessing they have more to say on the matter? Don’t let me down here, people. Let’s hear your opinion.
What should she do now?
(To send Elizabeth to Harvard, turn to page 46…)
(To keep Elizabeth at her day job making sweet bank, turn to page 78…)