Money vs. Happiness: Should Elizabeth Take What’s Behind Door #3?

Today is an exciting day for me, because today we feature a CLASSIC DILEMMA (I’m a huge fan of classic dilemmas). Yesterday, Elizabeth wrote in asking for some advice, and today she’s gonna get some — from me and hopefully a lot of you as well. She also brings to light a giant, elephant-in-the-room issue with the education system in our country that’s really aggravating to me.

OK, Elizabeth. You can keep all the money you've won so far and walk away right now. can take what's behind Door #3...

Elizabeth is in a pretty favorable spot right now, so it seems. She has a job that pays well, and — well, just let her tell it:

Hi there. Soooo…I am a 25 year old looking to go to grad school. Presently, I have a decent job and more than a decent salary. However I REALLY want to go back to school to get my master’s in teaching (I want to teach high school mathematics). This decision has a giant opportunity cost (I lose my salary to pay for school, and then will make about 1/3 of what I do now as a teacher) but I think a career as a teacher will make me happy. I wish I had enough mulah saved up to go back to school without taking out HUGE loans, but at 25 I haven’t been working long enough to save up. I also live in the city, which comes with a price. Know of any scholarships out there for grad students wanting to take on a public service career? Any advice would be appreciated!

Elizabeth’s problem is a universal one — go the safe route with what I’ve got, or seek my passion elsewhere? — but it’s a rare variant of the stuff we usually talk about around here. After all, you guys usually write in because you don’t have money and you need to find money so that you can go to school and then get a job like Elizabeth’s where you can make the kind of money she makes.

Today, however, we’ve got Elizabeth, who already makes great money, but would like to be making much less money (as a teacher), but in order to do that, she needs to borrow a lot more money (to spend on the extra education) to get a teaching job where she can, at long last, make less money.

First, let me explain why the whole situation is tragic to begin with. I emailed with Elizabeth privately, and she explained a bit more about her job. She’s a quantitative (read: lots of math) analyst in the finance industry, where her job is to study and improve the mathematical models her company uses to rate investments.

I think it’s safe to say, then, that Elizabeth is very good at math. Plenty good enough to be teaching high school students. But thanks to the backwardness of many state education systems, ELIZABETH IS NOT ALLOWED TO TEACH MATH.

Why? Because she doesn’t have a degree in education, or at least a minimum number of credit hours in education. That’s right — in a lot of states, being an expert at math (or whatever one’s area of expertise may be) isn’t nearly enough to actually teach math to young people. Ridiculous as it may seem, many states put more emphasis on teaching teachers to teach, rather than teaching them anything worth teaching.

So, we get people like Elizabeth — math wizards who would love to take their math wizardry to American classrooms, where it’s desperately needed, and make new little math wizards. Everyone wins — Elizabeth is more fulfilled, students get a great teacher and America gets a sorely needed bump in our overall math proficiency.

Ah, if only. Instead, we take Elizabeth’s willingness to sacrifice and twist the knife in her a little bit more. We say, “Oh yeah, thanks for being willing to come work for relative peanuts…but before you do, you’re going to have to take out, oh, somewhere between $30 and $60 THOUSAND DOLLARS in loans for the privilege of doing so.”

Quite a different story. And so, instead of having a brand-spanking-new math teacher in the schools ready to roll, we have Elizabeth on this site, asking me what the hell she should do with her life. Yeah, I’d say the system’s a little broken.

OK, rant over. Let’s talk Elizabeth. What should she do?

1. Try before you buy. Judging by the numbers bandied about here, I’d say Elizabeth has a six-figure income, or very close to it, and she’s only 25. This puts Elizabeth in the waaaaaaay highest percentile of people her age in terms of earning power, and hence, it’s not a position we want her to just toss aside if she’s not absolutely sure that the grass is actually gonna be greener on the other side of the cubicle.

So, how does she make sure that she’s going to like what she finds down the rabbit hole? With certainty, I recommend that she tries teaching math part-time or on a volunteer basis first. There are Sylvan Learning Centers and similar companies all over the place who would love to have her. Those are good places to go and dip your toe in the water before you leap into the ocean.

2. If happiness is your goal, minimize the costs of punching the educational ticket. I don’t know where Elizabeth is considering going to school for her master’s degree, but I know she lives in a large metro area with a variety of public and private options. I advise pursuing the cheapest public option. If the happiness goal is to get into a high school classroom and start teaching math, then I don’t believe that goal will be significantly enhanced by choosing a private or prestigious school to earn the degree that’ll allow her to get there. The difference in costs can be enormous, and the difference in her life due to carrying around tens of thousands of dollars more than is necessary in student loan debt will be even larger.

3. Save some money first! Yeah, this isn’t a new idea, but it’s worth repeating. If you’re going to ditch the high-paying job, save as much as you possibly can. Regardless of the very real good feelings associated with following your heart, you’re still gonna miss the fat paycheck when it’s gone.

4. Is part-time school an option? The viability of this idea depends on exactly how soul-crushing Elizabeth’s day job really is. If she’s already half-dead inside and her heart is blackening more each day, then part-timing it probably doesn’t sound like a very good idea. However, if it’s still tolerable, a workable solution may be to attend school part time and earn the degree a little more slowly without having to dip into student loan debt, since her sweet salary will still be coming in.

5. Do follow your dreams. I know this dovetails into the whole-life advice category rather than just school, but hey, I’m no one-trick pony. 🙂 Regret is an awful feeling, whatever gives birth to it. But it’s better to regret trying something than to regret not trying it. It’s all about control. Did you take control of your own future, your own life? Or did you let fear and doubt take control of it?

Obviously you want to weigh all your options, but after doing that for a good amount of time, one day you’re going to wake up and feel like one path is the right path.

Take that one. 🙂

All the best,
“Judge Josh” Barsch

105 thoughts on “Money vs. Happiness: Should Elizabeth Take What’s Behind Door #3?”

  1. I’m in a similar situation as Elizabeth except I’m older (40), have had a long and successful run in my career, but itch for something more fulfilling. In my case, though, I’m planning on going into a field that will pay a decent salary (Clinical Psychology). The doctorate will cost me an arm and a leg, so I can empathize.

    Elizabeth may want to check out scholarships provided by the AAUW (American Association of University Women). They tend to focus on encouraging women to enter fields in which their participation has been historically low. Now granted, education has been predominantly dominated by women, but there may be special fellowships for those who plan on teaching math.

    Also, it’s true that the government will forgive loans for those in specific careers or industries. I’ve looked into this program myself and basically, you can qualify for loan forgiveness if you pay your loan on time for 10 years and you’re working in a non-profit or human development-oriented field. Teachers absolutely qualify and given the student loan rider in the new healthcare bill, you would only be paying 10% of your income per month in loans (meaning you would likely have a substantial part of your loan left to pay off after 10 years).

    Like others have said, research, research, research your options. Make sure this is for you, but even if it turns out not to be and you find out in your first year of graduate school that teaching isn’t for you, all is not lost. You still have all those great skills as a financial analyst to fall back on if need be. This sort of decision can be “undone” and, as Josh said, regretting not giving it a shot is worse than trying it out and finding out it wasn’t for you after all.

  2. You can always take a teaching job at a private high school and earn your teaching certificate while teaching. My chemistry teacher did this (doctorate in the research field for 7+ years and had a random feeling that he needed to teach high school students). He didn’t officially get his certificate until after about 3 years of working at my school.

  3. I am almost in the same boat. I am 40 years old with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, 15 years experience as a Girl Scout leader, as well as 4 years experience as a camp arts and crafts director, church camp teacher, and classroom volunteer. My situation is a little different in that I took 12 years off to stay home with my children, and when I tried to “re-enter the workforce” (a.k.a. get paid for what I was already doing for non-profit organizations) companies were only paying about half of what I used to make. A friend suggested that I could substitute teach with my bachelors and I found I loved it. I love teaching and am good at it, however, the state says I can’t teach art without a degree in education. I tried to find out how to get my teaching certificate quickly and economically but could not get any straight answers. Then I discovered the state college I went to has a Masters of Art in Teaching program for BFA’s to become art teachers, so that is what I am doing. I saved a little money by not having to get my transcripts. I am an excellent student but can not seem to get a scholarship and the state college does not offer aid to grad students except for student loans. So I am subbing as a Teacher and a Teaching Assistant as much as possible and only take two classes per semester. I also took summer classes so I can still finish in two years. Student teaching will be very difficult with no pay, but after those four months and passing both exams I will definitely make more as a certified sub even if there are no openings for an art teacher in my area (moving is not currently an option for my family, and my husband does have a job, although he was laid off for six months). Many of my classes were at night so I was able to sub most days. So my advice is to see if there are online and/or night classes you can take while still working, and if you have a bachelors degree try substitute teaching. Some school districts will hire non-certified subs but at a slightly lower pay rate. Be careful of some districts who do not pay their Teaching Assistants very well however.
    By the way, it seems all teachers have to learn more about education than their content area.

  4. I understand where you are coming from. I say go with what makes you happy. Sure, you will have to pay a lot of money to go back to school, but all that money can be paid off when you get a job after school, and it can be paid off for years and years so you will not have to worry about paying large sums of money in small intervals. In the long run you will be happier. I do agree though will Shelley. Subtitute teaching would be a good start to see if its right for you. I know too many people who are stuck doing something they hate. If you want to do something to make you happy, and it is within your reach and your limits, I say Go For It.

  5. Another thought for Elizabeth,
    I forgot to mention, my eldest had no expectations placed on him in the public school even after we moved to a different district, so he never felt he had to meet any requirements. He floated. No matter how many hours of more schooling we did at night and communication with the teachers and the principal, their attitude became his and learning was of no interest. Our son and his family are paying for it today! My last child was ahead of her age and the public school would not have met her needs. We placed her in a private school setting that allowed her to go at her own pace which was two grades ahead of her age, she would not be allowed to do this once she aged out educationally at this private school. So, we home schooled from age 9 on and used the public school for music and Japanese. She is currently double majoring in college for trumpet performance and plans on getting a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. I have had the extremes with my children as far as interest in education. I read that there are over 100 ways of learning but schools only teach to 5 or 7. My neighbors son with learning difficulties was told their son was not teachable. His parents placed him in a private school that taught to his learning style. He graduated ahead of his public school peers and went on to a trade school.
    I was educated in SD where Josh is at. My husband and his siblings also from SD were educated in a 1 room school house 40 miles from town with 1 teacher for eight grades in the 60’s. I mirrored our teachers in my home school approach here in WA state for both my children.
    So from my life experience, it is possible Elizabeth would make a better advocate for teaching and teachers and start a private school with her current skills and “connections”.

  6. Look. If you’re happy, decent or even pretty alright with your current job then don’t flip your entire life around. It’s clear that you want to teach, but high school students? You wont be teaching a fraction of what you know.
    If you want to get yourself a pretty masters- then do it. Just don’t waste it on teens.

    Teach at a university or write a math book, who knows! The possibilities of teaching are endless! Just consider everything that comes with a high school setting before you make up your mind.

    If you decide not to jump into a masters, maybe you can tutor students as a second job- for fun or for money. That may open new doors for you.

  7. Hey Elizabeth!

    Why does it have to be all or nothing…
    Can you get your degree slowly at night, while working, so you can pay your way, and put money aside as a safety net for when you get paid as well as we teachers do? If living in the city is too big a drain, look somewhere just outside the city… the cost will be much less.

    If you take your time, you will eventually make your dream of being a teacher come true, and also have money set aside, instead of getting your degree quickly and having nothing but student loans to show for it.

    Remember that, with the economy as it is, schools are cutting back and hiring less teachers. My school system is letting 11 teachers go next year because there is less federal and state funding. You may get that degree and have nothing to do with it. If you keep your current job until you are finished with the degree, you can look for a teaching job while still having a good income.

    Good luck!

  8. Counselor Buddy

    I would see if your state offers a program for working adults with a bachelor’s degree to obtain a teaching degree in a shortened time frame. Our state has a program called Project Select and it gives the required coursework for people to receive their teaching degree in a year’s time, providing they already have a bachelor’s degree. This program essentially allows the person to obtain a teaching certificate, which would equate to a bachelor’s degree on the pay scale when you begin teaching. Obviously having a master’s degree on the pay scale is going to be a significant jump in salary, but this may be a more economical way for you to obtain your teaching certification.

  9. And Josh, you should really take Erin F.’s comment to heart. As I said before, I am an education major as well. There is a lot more to learn about education than the material you will eventually be teaching. Example: I am going to be a choral music director. I can learn basica theory, or even how to play every instrument there is. That doesn’t mean I will be a good teacher when it comes to relaying the information I learned. Not only do I have to learn the basic material, I also have to learn Educational Psychology and Teaching Methods. Its not easy, and not just anyone can do it.
    My Highschool math teacher made me so angry because I am not so great at math. I always did all my homework and participated in class, and yet I still never did well. And my teacher would get angry and say “This stuff is so easy, how do you not get it?” I would reply by saying this “You went to college to learn to TEACH math, not just to learn math. I have never done this before”. If you cannot get down to the student’s level of thinking, you cannot be an effective teacher.
    I challenge you to take something you are really good at, and try to teach it (effectively).

    1. Lady Not Dirty Di

      I definately agree. There are many foreign teachers (nothing against foreigners whatsoever) who know their stuff but aren’t able to teach the students. Sometimes, some of the professors (foreign or native) get frustrated and look down on the student for not being able to catch on quickly enough and students resent them for that. Communication (w/ students) is key–knowing it is not enough, but the knowledge and the ability to effectively teach what you know will definately make an impact.

  10. I am a high school senior this year and I also want to teach high school math. There are other ways to get qualified to teach. I know that, in Colorado atleast, you only need to get a teaching certificate. You should look into other options before you make a decision, but I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to take on that much debt and get a lower paying job. you might find yourself in a deep hole with no way out. I hope you figure something out though, I have always thought doing what you love should come before making money no matter what.

  11. Elizabeth,

    I think you should evaluate what is most important to you as well as the sacrifices that you will have to make versus the benefits you will receive. The financial industry pays big dollars and it is pretty well known that most people leave it after a few years because of the amount of stress involved. Teaching is a great field but there is a lot that goes into it as far as education and its own stressors. In certain schools teaching can be just as stressful and political as working in the financial industry. I agree with testing the waters and looking into the programs like Teach for America or going to a cheaper college. Financially stability is quite important especially in these harsh economics times so my advice is to try to stick it out for another 2 years to save your money, keep doing your research and then make your decision. That way you will have money to support your graduate school decision whether it be in business or education.

  12. Everyone wants happiness; happiness comes from moral things (whether your religious or not, it is the truth.). To do this you want to:

    1. Accomplish your desires. We don’t have desires unless we want them accomplished.
    2. Something you hope in and grow in. If you are in a hopeless situation, why work? You will not be enjoying yourself in hopeless situation. Progressing also helps tremendously. When you progress, you are not bored and you always have something to look forward to.
    3. Something you know something about. Novels are a great example. Who has ever started a novel? Who knew much about anything when they started it? When you know it, you succeed in it. Success is a key to happiness

    If you don’t fill in those categories, don’t do it. This is a general system for everyone. However, we have to point out some destructive things.

    *Destructive Ones: Hate, hope against, faith against, destructiveness, and all things that repel people away for somebody with good character

    *Bringing Down Ones: Selfishness, pride, addiction (or unbridled passion), laziness, neutrality, fear, confidence in oneself, “should be” attitude, self imposed ideas, no ideas, etc.

    *Lifting Up Ones: Expectations of self, expectations of others, desires for working, desires to do others wants, opinion, doubt, uncertainty, “could be” attitude, other’s ideas, etc.

    *Exalting Ones: Love, God following, love for God, faith, hope, charity, testimony of experience, testimony of logic, Deity given, etc. (Yes, I am very religious.)

    Make sure that none of your actions are counter-productive. Yes, a teacher degree may be a good thing, but don’t take the supposed “easy” route. It’s will only hurt you. Think, plan, work, do.

  13. Lisa and Emily,
    If everyone had your rude attitude toward teenagers, nobody including yourselves would be educated. As a high school senior, I can assure you that there are many studious, well-mannered students like myself who idolize educators like the one Elizabeth dreams of being. Yes, there are some “brats” along the way, but every career has its negatives. To say that Elizabeth would be wasting her knowledge by teaching the next generation is absurd!

  14. In my country, teaching jobs is noble, respected by the others. About salary, It’s not paid as high as the other jobs, but I myself like teaching so much for many reasons. The most important that It always makes me happy. I think that you should do which one makes you happier.
    P.S: Money does not buy the happiness, the smile for yourself. Make yourself a best decision.

  15. Wow! Quite a few responses on this one! Well, to start off, I have to say that I am twice as old as Elizabeth, and my last two kids are in high school. I have a degree in English, but I did not get certified to teach, mainly because I saw too many brainless people in the education department at my particular university, and my twisted, tired brain said, “Just get out of here and go live!” Now that I am a seasoned mother who has raised four children, home-schooled them for a while, tutored students and worked as a volunteer AND a sub in the public school system, AND who is going back to school to get certified to teach, here are my thoughts: I agree with Mila and Erin F. that tutoring one or more students is WAY different than being a teacher of 20 or more kids. If you hang out your shingle as a private tutor, YOU call the shots; YOU are the Administration. However, when you are a teacher in a school system, you have to answer to higher authorities. You may find that, while you love kids, you don’t work well with a particular administration. It will also take time to determine the suitable age range. Maybe you think you like early elementary students…then you get in there and find that it is not what you dreamed of…you are more suited to work with high school students. So, I would advise the substitute teaching route. If you get some long-term assignments (from one week, to whatever time frame), you will begin to experience the groove, develop a relationship with the students, get a feel for the hierarchy of the system, etc. I would not recommend Sylvan as the way to go; it’s tutoring one-on-one, and also, they require their tutoring personnel to be licensed teachers (I wanted to work at our local Sylvan but was prevented from doing so since I did not have that certificate).

    I also wondered if your employer offers tuition reimbursement. Would you qualify for using it? If so, why not stay at your job for now, and use that benefit to pay for your further schooling?

    If you have the ability to have a flexible work schedule, I (being the wiser person I am now) would recommend making a work schedule that allows you to do part of your job in the evenings or on the weekends, and try out the subbing idea. You will learn a lot, I guarantee you. Sub for different grade levels, too. That will open your eyes to the niche that is most comfortable, if your dream of teaching math remains with you.

    These are just ideas for your exploration. It is wonderful that you are thinking of this, and that you are young and energetic. I, too, would say that you should explore your dreams and not load up on regrets. Go for it, but be wise as well. Best regards!

  16. I think that trying out teaching would be an awesome idea to see first of is something she really will like. I have heard of many people who thought teaching would be great, but hated it once they started. Math especially is not one of the kids’ favorite subjects. It can be very hard dealing with snotty kids (including high school seniors) who don’t appreciate what you’re doing for them. A suggestion: Stay with the job you have and tutor people. That gives you the satisfaction of helping people with the pay as well. I also greatly agree with the idea of going to school part-time so you can get the degree but it won’t cost you as much.

  17. I say definitely follow your heart. God bless you for wanting to teach high school in the first place, but to be willing to leave an excellent paying career to do it, phenomenal!!! American and metropolitan schools need people like you to motivate our youth because frankly, some teachers simply do not make the cut and should do exactly what you’re doing; find a career that makes them happy.

    And, if the whole teaching thing doesn’t work out, you can always go back to making big money at a different firm 🙂 you only live once, don’t let having to down size your apartment or not eating out every night stop you from following your dreams. 10 years from now you’ll think, “If only I had gone back to school, I could’ve been happier.” Granted, it’s never too late to go back to school, but it certainly gets harder to go back once you’ve been out of the game for a while!

  18. Elizabeth,

    I would say that doing what your heart desires will make you happier in the long run. I personally have been working on finding out what makes me happy, it has been a long road (to me anyway). I am only a year younger than you. If you are really considering doing this, my advice would be to live like you only have the salary of a teacher. Are you ready to do it? If you could really do it, not only will be set, you can put aside the money that you save to help with paying for school.
    Don’t forget that you will be used to what you live with. Be ready to give some of those up. Your lifestyle will change, but so will your flow of life. I don’t know what your schedule is, but there is probably a whole bunch of work involved. Will you free up time, or lose it with a new job? I am guessing that since you want to teach kids, you also wish to have them some day. Will teaching or your current job be more beneficial? I am not talking about money, but being able to spend time with them, raise them and such. I don’t know what your marital status is, but will your spouse work? If so, that income can be supplemented.
    If this helped at all, I will be glad. Remember, you need to do what you want to with your life. Decide what is best for you now and in the future, for you and your family (if you desire one). Don’t stay someplace you aren’t happy with, you will probably regret it later on in life.

    May simple advice is do what you WANT to do. I like the suggestions of trying out teaching part time to see if that is truly your passion.

    Good luck with whatever you decide. (You will have to make your dreams come true, they don’t just fall out of the sky…. unfortunately).

  19. I think it’s great that Elizabeth is pursuing education, but she really needs to “test it out” before she jumps the boat. Students can be a tougher crowd than white-collar workers. She will have great days, and miserable days in either place. I would like to know if Elizabeth has tutored in the past. This is something that she can do while in her demanding job. There are several after-school opportunities in teaching math, too. Also, has she considered the long-term financial consequences? It seems that many twenty-somethings jump the boat because they’re young, but Elizabeth shouldn’t forget that opportunity doesn’t always knock twice.

    Elizabeth, if you are reading this post, please talk to a few teachers to hear their take on their job. Also, is this your long-term dream? Also, is there a broader interest in education where you can work in finance to assist educators?

    One more thing, as mentioned in this article, I wouldn’t worry to much about the loans. There are several states that have “bridge” opportunities for professionals who hope to transition into teaching.

    Good luck, Elizabeth.


  20. The problem with our education system has A LOT to do with people knowing how to (and how not to) teach…that this even suggests that “knowing how to teach” does not matter is ridiculous. Just because one is able to perform a skill, does not mean that they are capable of teaching that skill.

  21. You should definitely follow your heart in all aspects of your life but realistically can you handle the pay cut? If you becoming a teacher is going to make your struggle to survive harder rethink your situation.

  22. I think that you should do what makes you happy because you have already acquired the financial analyst knowledge and no one can take that away from you. Now you’ll just continue learning and acquiring other skills. So follow your heart money comes and goes you only live once.

  23. Arthur Weatherwax

    I say follow your dreams. Money can’t buy you happinness. Do what it is that you love to do.

  24. As an education student I am all for people wanting to become teachers. It is important to get an actual education degree as a knowledge of the subject one wants to teach is not enough. A good education program will teach you how to teach plus give you a strong background in your content area.

    More on topic I know there is a Federal aid program for teachers. They mention it when you fill out your FAFSA. The catch is you work for a few years at a low income/ inner city school. Not sure if it applies to just undergrad but might be worth checking out.

  25. My advice to Elizabeth would be to go for option 3 at this point in her life. She is still very young and making a lot more money that what most people make. What I would do in her situation would be to try to work for about between two to four years saving up as much money as she can. After saving a considerable amount of money, if she is 100% sure that this is what she wants to for a career, and she’ll be happy at it, use the savings she has accumulated to try to pay for her education.

  26. Well, first I would say if the degree is the only thing, then a cheap public school would be the safest bet.

    Second, part-time if possible. If it’s a 9-5 M-F job, toy with a few night/weekend classes. Or see if your employer will allow a change in hours.

    Third, the teaching degree may come in handy later in life, too. If you can pull off the teaching degree, you could possibly become a teacher. Nice old teachers are just as cool as nice young teachers most of the time.

    And follow your heart.

  27. Volunteer in schools instead of leaving your good, high-paying job…many corporations have ‘executive volunteer lease’ programs whereby you can go into schools to provide community service. I am a teacher and the whole education world is in the state of upheaval!!! Don’t do it, Senorita….

  28. Ever think about Teach For America? You do a certain amount of time teaching (they look highly upon math teachers; in 2006 fewer than 10 African Americans passed the AP Calc Exam in the entire state of Arkansas). This experience lets you move to a different part of the country and they pay for your graduate teaching at a graduate school that partners with them. I don’t know your exact situation, but you should definitely check them out since its good to apply early for the 2011 Corps. Hope this opens another door for you that you didnt think about.

  29. As someone who went back to school to get the classes required for a teaching license (and who took out loans to get it accomplished) – I say find a way to do it without spending too much money. Elizabeth probably only needs to take a class or two per semester – she can pay for the classes straight up and save while taking them. Then when it comes time to student teach she can finish up.

    However – there are MANY states where math teachers are in HIGH DEMAND and where they can teach WITHOUT a professional license. In many places Elizabeth can teach with a 3-year provisional ( then have 3 years to get her credits). Only problem is that the places where the jobs are available, tend to have the toughest students.

    As one who is a teacher, who didn’t go to college for teaching – but decided to go back to school to follow a dream…I’m not sure I’d really recommend it to anyone who wasn’t ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN. The kids today are distracted by SO MANY things…and teaching is HARD.

    But…if she knows that’s what she wants to do – then she should go for it!

  30. I've thought about teaching math…

    I’m studying to go into a field (engineering) that uses a lot of math. I’ll end up with a math minor. Because of that, I’ve thought about picking up the extra classes to get a math teaching certificate.

    I don’t know if she is aware of it, but the Federal Government is currently offering the TEACH Grant specifically to encourage people to go into the education field. It offers up to $4000 a year to students who are willing to work a minimum of 4 academic years out of eight following graduation.

    Mathematics is one of the need fields. If an individual goes through the program, a job is part of the package.

    Personally, I think that if you can live on less and be happy it’s a good deal. It’s greener, freer… the list of benefits is nearly endless. If you enjoy it.

    Some quick suggestions. Try living on the new job’s income, minus student loan repayment if applicable. Live as though that is all you get; save a percentage of your “take home pay”. Put the difference in income between your current job and the later one in savings. Do not use this savings. Lock it away! By doing this, you will know what it really takes to live on the reduced income. If you can, go for it!

  31. I've thought about teaching math… 2

    On a further note, find out if you would really like to do the work of a teacher. Talk to a local school. Job shadow a couple teachers in your field for a week or more. Research, research, research.

    And then, be flexible no matter what you decide.


  32. I remember my teacher talking about loan forgiveness or something like that for public service jobs. My terminology is sort of off, but the gist is that the government forgives x amount of loans for every x years you commit to a public service job, such as teaching. I’d say talk to teachers to see if they know what I’m talking about and maybe they can elaborate.

  33. Dear Josh and Elizabeth,

    I have read a bit of your classic dilemma post, and have something to offer to the conversation. First of all, what may seem like an “elephant in the room,” of education, really is not. The fact that states require teachers to learn to teach is absolutely necessary. As a student of the school of education at my University, I see this is without a doubt, necessary and worthwhile training. We’ve all had bad teachers in school, teachers who were brilliant, but could not get their work across for beans. Students failed, hated classes, were resentful to the schools for having bad teachers… the list goes on and on. Truly, it is absolutely necessary for teachers to learn to teach. There are many brilliant people out there who are simply not skilled to bring their brillance down to the student’s level, or to be able to teach it successfully. School is about students learning, so a brilliant person in this position would do very little good for his or her student. We’ve all heard of the brainy teacher or professor who write all hour long on the board, never to stop and explain their writings.

    Also, since many schools are making state curriculums to meet the No Child Left Behind federal laws, (and receive appropriate funding- which makes schools better), teachers must be taught to teach to state standards (or in Michigan- where I’m from- the GLCE’s). Teachers simply cannot just do this, unless they have an understanding of how to assess to make sure students have learned these standards, or have met them appropriately, or have a knowledge of the standards themselves! This may seem complicated, and perhaps foolish, but I can assure you (after having received three years of formal teacher training) I would have been blind and deaf without it. My students, although I am knowledgable in my major, would have learned very little from me, except perhaps good manners and compassion. Learning to write lesson plans, and collaborate with other teachers, along with school professional skills (not to mention ethical and historically relevant issues to schools) are taught in teacher training too. All these are as necessary to teaching as accounting school is to an accountant. It’s part of having a profession- training. SO! I wish Elizabeth the most joyous career she could find in life! Just know! The money spent learning to teach is never a waste. It’s all for your students anyways!

    Third Year Education Student

  34. OK number one, I am an education major and I totally understand your frustration with the system that will not allow highly qualified professionals to teach without an education degree. However, there are plenty of highly qualified professionals who know absolutely nothing about teaching and therefore leave their students “in the dust.” One can be a total genius in their field and not know a thing about how to teach, and we need people who can do both.

    Beyond that, my advice is similar to yours. I agree with number one: try it out first. You may think you want to teach and then decide it’s not for you. It’s one thing to change majors while pursuing an undergraduate degree, it’s absolutely another thing to spend money on grad school and then quit or not be fulfilled when you start teaching. Also, experience is never a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Get as much of it as you can. You’ll need it. With the economy the way it is, states are making huge budget cuts in the education departments. The likelihood of a school hiring you at a salary of a master’s degree without any experience to back you up is low. So test it out first, it can only help you.

  35. Not to mention! Teachers are taught how to deal properly with students, how to treat them, how to help them, how to do everything he or she can to help them learn. We’ve all had the teacher who hated students too… and who did not care enough to help…. PSS. Buddy Counselor is correct. There are many programs like this! 🙂

  36. I have always been one to say follow your heart. I understand this situation since I was there a year ago myself. Although you would be making less money as a teacher, would you feel that you doing what your heart desires. Some believe money is the root of all evil and plus with more money comes more bills. If you go back to school and take out FEDERAL loans you will be fine. Federal Perkins Loans were made for people that are teachers and after a few years working in education they have loan forgiveness. Also with the changes of federal loans, you will never pay more than 10% of your total income, so even if you don’t get one of those high paying salaries, your loan repayment amount each month wont be that much. You may also want to look into Teach for America, you get teaching experience and they also have some form of loan forgiveness programs (like Americorps).

    But before you jump into all of that, you should make sure that teaching is what you want to do. If you have spare time then try and volunteer with a tutoring service. Money should never be the overall deciding factor of your choice though. If money is a complete issue, then you can always do school parttime but that may eventually be a problem since most education programs require you would to an internship at a school..

  37. I agree with Josh all the way – go to a state school, go part time, and try teaching part time first. Bear in mind that many, many states will help you with financing if you agree to teach for them when you are done (in NC you pretty much go for free, and attend part-time). Counselor Buddy’s idea is good too – here we call it Lateral Entry. Talk to your local school district about ways to get started. Or a SUNY transfer counselor could help – they’ll know more about available funding for you, too.

  38. I have always been the one to follow my heart and do what makes me happy. My experience has been bittersweet. I’m a graphic designer and absolutely LOVE what I do and even what to go back to school to further my career. However, due to the economic times I’m pretty scared to take on more loans and don’t desire to be a “starving artist.”

    But, in Elizabeth’s case. I would seriously consider again the economic situation. I’m seeing budget cuts everywhere. Sadly our wonderful teachers are having salary freezes, and the schools are having major layoffs.

    I still always follow my heart, and always advise everyone to do the same. However I’m not making a six figure income. So, I don’t have THAT much to loose, or that much flexibility financially.

    Maybe school part-time and/or online? Maybe be try to be a private math tutor, feel out the waters before you dive in head first?

    Best of luck in your decision!

  39. I’d say that you should definitely follow the long term dream of becoming a teacher. BUT you have the luxury of a high-paying job at a time a lot of people don’t have one. I think that you should save for another year or two (so you can pay for the extra schooling without taking too many loans out)

    Remember when paying back loans, you also have to pay back the interest too, which a lot of times is just as much as the original loan by the time you pay it off.

    ALSO, you can spend the year or two while you’re still working to figure out if teaching is actually for you. You can go around meeting teachers, volunteering at schools and tutoring centers, etc.

    ALSO, instead of leaving your job right away, you can take on a few students as a part-time private tutor on the weekends while you’re still learning. That way, you can learn if teaching really is your passion.

    A lot of people I know go into teaching thinking it’s what they want to do and then change their minds, so definitely stay at your job and do everything that you can do to put yourself into the industry until you save up enough money and know for sure that this is your passion.

    Good luck!
    Shaun Spalding

  40. Never enough females in math or science… S-TEM scholarships and grants will pay to educate you! I think this is a national platform — if not hurry to ASU!
    Good Luck
    as I think happiness is more important.

  41. If you desperately want to be a teacher, then I would recommend TEACH FOR AMERICA!!!

    I, however, would not move from the money to teach brats (and I wasn’t a brat myself so long ago) math. Sorry. I don’t know why you want a 66% pay cut, but, to each their own.

  42. In your critique of the education system you assume that someone who is good at math is automatically a good math teacher which is absolutely not the case. Good luck to Elizabeth in following her dreams.

  43. Azaliah Isaiah

    I agree! Try before you buy! She needs to tutor..maybe even substitute to make sure this is the big move she wants to make!

  44. First, as a teacher, I’d like to say that learning HOW to teach (beyond just the content area math knowledge) is very valuable – knowing math and being able to teach it are two different things. That’s why many states do not allow professionals to teach without a degree in education. Also, I agree with “Counselor Buddy” that Elizabeth should look into a shortened degree program to save money.

    Although sometimes I wish I made more money, I wouldn’t give up my job for the world. My husband works in the financial industry and comes home looking and feeling “blah” every day, whereas I come home exhausted but energized from my students. In terms of securing acceptable pay, look into urban school districts (big cities tend to pay higher, and you can also make a big difference teaching these disadvantaged students). Good luck!

  45. I 100% agree with the suggestion to try to get a tutoring job first, volunteer or paid, especially if you can find a program where you are helping disadvantaged students. This should be easy since you live in an urban area. See if you like it, save up some money. Then figure out what to do from there.

    And I hate to say it, but there is a reason that in order to be a teacher you much have an education degree. Teaching is a skill, and just because you are an expert in a subject doesn’t mean you’ll be good at teaching it. Which is why it’s good to try tutoring. Tutoring one-on-one or in small groups is easier than teaching a large class. You can use that to gain experience, which you will desperately need!

  46. I would definitely agree with the try before you buy. I believe that most states allow substitutes and temps in any subject as long as they have a bachelor’s degree. If you can pull off keeping your high-pay job for a little longer, make a little extra as a sub and get to test drive your dream career, you can save up while sampling the goods and all before committing to any pay cut or student loan. Good luck! I hope whatever you decide works for you!

  47. As an education major, I can see and understand many things that you say. I’m an elementary education major with a minor in math. At the university level, I have had numerous teachers who are quite brilliant within the math field but are TERRIBLE teachers. Why? Because they don’t know how to explain things to students. She can do advanced calculus til the cows come home, but can she explain how calculus works? Can she tell students why calculus works the way it does? It is for that very reason that states require at least *some* background in pedagogy. Trust me when I say that middle and high school teachers don’t get nearly the same amount of pedagogy training (how to teach) that their elementary counterparts do.

    Now that I’m done with that little soap box, I want to suggest that Elizabeth go to her nearest University, find their teacher certification office, and ask them about alternative certification. In Missouri, where I live, those who already have their education in a subject field (history, math, etc) can take a small amount of courses in order to be certified to teach. I can’t say exactly how many courses it is, but it’s the basic ‘how to teach’ sorts of classes. The nice thing about education is that many going into the profession are in Elizabeth’s shoes; they got their degree in something and found that it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. They still need to work to provide for their family (or support themselves), so classes are offered online or at night. Eventually she may want to get a masters and that’s fine, but if she wants to get out and get teaching she can easily do that through alternative certification. And, on a bright side: with the new income based loan repayment, if she qualifies for that, she only has to pay back loans for 10 years and then the rest is forgiven thanks to her decision to work as a public servant.

  48. I am glad to hear that Elizabeth would consider something like this. I think that if teaching math is important to her, then she should definitely do it, and not look back to what she sacrificed for it with any regret.

    I’m considering something similar myself, since I absolutely love math, except in my case I am an electrical engineering student, and have not gotten my degree quite yet. Furthermore, my problem is also centered more around the idea that I do not know yet which job I would like more. I decided that I will change my path, if necessary, to whatever I need to change it to in order to pursue what career I love most, and to trust that I did the right thing.

  49. I don’t want to bash your dream or be a “negative nancy”, but there are a lot of other things that need to be considered here. I’m sure you are fantastic at math and it’s inspiring that you would be willing to quit a really good job like yours in the present economy to pay thousands in tuition and then earn significantly less, but it’s not only about being good at math and money. There are plenty of teachers out there who are very knowledgeable about their chosen subject, but they can’t explain it in terms a junior high or high school student can understand. The education system in this country is riddled with them and I’ve had plenty of experience with it. It is really difficult as a student when your teacher has all this information but can’t translate it down to your level and then you’re tested on something, probably in terms that are more difficult than what was discussed in class. If you really want to teach, try tutoring first and if the kids perform better, that’s a good indication that you’ll be a good teacher.

    Another thing to consider is the political side of teaching. It isn’t really about teaching anymore, it’s about getting the kids to pass tests. Teachers don’t have time to really teach their students, but spend their time pounding subjects that are supposed to be on standardized tests. My mom went back to school, has taught high school science in a catholic school, and is currently teaching junior high science in a sub-par school system. I commend her for switching careers and doing her best to teach ill-mannered kids who act like they belong in an inner-city school district. There are some kids who learn a great deal from my mom, but the majority don’t care whether they can read let alone know anything about earth science. Also, school administrations are blaming the teachers for low test scores, bad behavior, etc. Knowing this, I would not want to become a teacher, even with the best intentions.

  50. Jill Connolly

    Elizabeth…I think you should teach Math at your local community college. The kids are not that much older than high schoolers. In fact, many teenage homeschoolers take community college classes as part of their high school curriculum. You’d also be given the opportunity to reach out to adults who are trying harder the 2nd time around who for whatever reason never succeeded in math before. My husband taught community college math (refresher algebra through calc 3) and loved it. If you were to pursue this route full-time, you’d probably have to teach at several community colleges for a few years before being employed full-time. You would not have to go back to school, so you could continue to work full-time and bank money. As you continue to save, you could devote more time to getting a foothold in a community college. I also suggest reaching out to a few of your local homeschool groups. Many form co-ops where teachers are hired for some of the classes. Good luck.

  51. Teaching is a noble profession, and those that choose to teach should receive the utmost respect. What should be and what is are two different things. Both my parents work for the public school system in the county where I grew up. While I found the education I received superb, I know that the good teachers sacrifice too much. Each school system is different, but my parents have had to endure pay cuts due to the recession while the administration decides to keep the system’s cable channel. They have decided to replace competent teachers that hold degrees and licenses with people in the “Teach for America” program, which is much cheaper and is partially funded by the federal government. (While I admit the program has many benefits for low income schools, replacing experienced teachers for budget reasons makes no sense to me). The school system has also laid off hundreds of teachers over the summer, just to rehire them in the fall so the system didn’t have to pay health insurance. My point with those examples is only to warn Elizabeth about the many facets of the educational system. I myself considered teaching. I have taught students at my university and worked as a tutor for years. I love teaching students, and know I would enjoy doing so for the rest of my life. However, teaching includes more than just the education of the students of tomorrow. It includes administrations that value their reputation and budget more than the education of the students under their care. It includes evaluations of your teaching that are done by people that have never taught your subject (if they have taught at all). It includes teaching standards set by the state that the teacher must stay with in order to get a good evaluation, even if the subject does not hold any merit in today’s world. It includes apathetic students that do not care about the teacher’s subject. In my school system, it includes students that disrupt the classes (and the teachers are labeled “inept” if they send the students to the principle’s office). It includes students that only go long enough to drop out.

    I am sure Elizabeth wants to make a difference on the future generations. I also believe she knows math well. My question for her is here: do you want to be a teacher because you think the light in your students’ eyes will make all the other sacrifices worth it? I have seen many people go into teaching because of this, and most of them burn out and leave in a couple of years. In order to know if you can truly take the good with the bad in the job, I would recommend working in the school system that you plan to be employed with, even if only as a volunteer. Be sure to pay attention to the relationship between the teachers and the administration. Working for a place like Sylvan may give you insight on how to teach and your aptitude to do so, but it will not teach you about the sacrifices public school teachers face. Keep in mind that places like Sylvan have students that desire to learn. It is much easier to teach them than students that would rather be watching a basketball game. Also, Sylvan treats their teachers with respect, something many school administrations lack. Only working in your typical employment environment will prepare you for the challenges. If you plan on teaching in a private school, than a place like Sylvan would be a good start.

    I didn’t say all this to discourage you completely. I hope you decide to do what makes you happy and I wish you the best of luck. Maybe the school district you work for will be different. Just try to walk into the situation with your eyes open and make your decisions based on all available information and not just an ideal of teaching.

  52. I did the same. I was a Paralegal. I worked hard for 10 years and finally had my dream paralegal position in a great company and was making great money. I gave it all up when God called me. I was called to be a missionary and go back to school. I am now in a Theology school. I will admit it is not easy. I do not have a story that’s full of roses that bloom in the ordinary sense. I loss my house and car. had series of trials one after another. But I’m happy. I know I have not fulfilled my potential yet. But taking the steps toward the goal of my calling…my purpose in life is priceless. If I had it to do all over again, I would in a heart beat and without thought. Understand that if teaching is your calling, then go for it. God will provide. Money can’t buy you happiness that your inner soul will have as you’re making a difference with today’s youth. As I am finishing up my Masters program and preparing for my PhD program I often look back and reflect and I see how things come full circle. I see how those trials have helped to groom me and it all makes perfect sense. I do hope that this person goes forward with their calling and purpose in life and does it without regrets.

  53. I’m a romantic – I say, do what makes you happy.

    For instance: My Dad does what he does because to him, it’s just a job. He could work in the crappiest of environments and as long as he was making good money, he would be happy, because he gets happiness from being able to provide for our family.

    I, on the other hand, can’t do that. I HAVE to be working in an environment where I’m comfortable and feel… well… generally appreciated, or I wander back in to my high-school habbit of (almost bipolar) depression. Granted, my situation is comfortable enough that I can afford to do so (thanks pops!) – but I think it will remain that way even after I move out. I would take the lowest paying job as an animator out there if I was working with people I felt good about being around.

    In Elizabeth’s case, the same is true of the job. If you have a good job, but you’re not happy, then what’s the point? “Financial Responsibility” ? That’s living someone else’s idea of what a “good” life is. If you have a passion for teaching, teach! If you don’t know yet, but are curious, then test the waters, as suggested. Volunteer at a high school for a while. For a week, even – See what it’s like! If you’re just done with your job – consider looking for a new one, with a different company. A change of environment and a change of pace can even sometimes do the trick – sometimes with the side effect of increasing your pay!

    All in all, dream big, but take baby steps. The pyramids were built brick by brick – not dropped off by aliens. Or were they… >.>

  54. In the immortal words of Joe Dirt — “Dag!” I bet Elizabeth didn’t know she’d get so many comments so quickly (I sure didn’t). Thanks everyone, and keep them coming!

    I do believe there’s value in learning how to teach, don’t get me wrong. I just think that when the volume of “how to teach” coursework (education courses) exceeds the coursework in what you’re supposed to be teaching (math courses, in this example), then that’s overkill.

  55. Richard J. Greenfield

    Dear Elizabeth,

    I think you should do what ever is going to make you happy . However, if you are going to go into the teaching field you need to save up as much money as you can.I am telling you to save up as much money because, being a first year teacher you are maybe make $45,000 tops as nontenured teacher. Then add the student loans and bills that will make you upset when you are coming when a job making close to six figures and at your young age. If you do choose to become a teacher you will be happy at the end of the day because, you taught that child a new topic and they understood it. I hope you do what is going to make you happy at the end of the day .

    Asking you to imagine,

    Richard J. Greenfield

  56. Sign up to substitute teach, test the waters.
    I had a woman friend whose last child was in high school. After sub teaching for two years ($75 a day pay) she decided if she could not make a difference as a teacher at the middle school level due to the way the school district admin keeps teachers hands tied, that this was not for her. She went to work at Boeing on the night shift on the production line.
    Another woman whose last one was also in high school (at the same school as the other woman) went back to school to get her teaching certificate and took on a teaching job as a high school math teacher in a neighboring school district with mostly low income students. She had the right personality to deal with admin and used her ability to be a cheer leader as well as a math teacher so whatever small changes and improvements she could make was good enough for her as it was better than nothing.
    So..depending on the person determines what works best for what they see as fulfilling in the job.
    As far as student loans, I see that there are grants and scholarships for people who want to teach, so I don’t get why there should be much for loans.
    If she has a masters degree or a PHD the starting pay is much higher for a new teacher. Unfortunately each state is different on what they pay their teachers. My neighbor’s mom was a teacher in NV. She taught six grades all at once in one room up until she was forced to retire a few years ago. She had breast cancer and had to go to a large city in NV for chemo. That meant she had to be gone overnight. She had to pay for her own substitute teacher. If she was able to move away and teach in a nearby city in NV, her teaching experience would have been much different as would be the pay. But for her the rewards were great. Her grandchildren never had a school teacher in WA state with as much interest or concern in them as she did for the children she taught in NV, most who had English as a second language.
    One of our high school math teachers, Chance McKinney was selected by CMA to record in Nashville. He just left teaching math and a decent income to follow his dream. If it doesn’t work out, he can always go back to teaching, but at least he will have tried. He is a good example to our high school students, that performing arts is soo iffy, let it be your backup plan not your main education plan and pursue it on the side.

  57. I think that you should do which one makes you happier. If teaching makes you happier then I would choose it. I personally think it’s better to be happy and have a little less money than what you are used to than to have a job that pays amazingly well and only be content instead of happy. I go to a Christian University and it reminds me of several scriptures in the Bible where it talks about Jesus providing. If you are doing what you love and glorifying him while doing it and he can see that your heart is happy then he will provide you with whatever you need-in this case money.
    Amber Baer

  58. I’d say overall, follow your heart, but make sure that it’s the thing your heart really wants to do. Teaching is hard, teaching math is harder. Particularly in light of the student loans an HUGE pay cut, it’s important to make sure it is absolutely what you want to do. The idea of doing a tutoring program first is smart, but it is also important to keep in mind that there is a BIG difference between tutoring individual students and teaching a class. Whole different can of worms right there. It might be smart to try and observe in an actual math classroom for awhile; it will show you the entirety of class dynamics.

    On another note, while I agree whole heartedly with what you said, Josh, I was very offended about your attack on teaching programs. I am a double major in Math and Secondary Education, and there is a huge, hear me, HUGE difference between being a master in a subject and knowing how to teach. There are loads of people who are brilliant in their subject matter but are the world’s crappiest teachers. You said “many states put more emphasis on teaching teachers to teach, rather than teaching them anything worth teaching”. Um…how are teachers supposed to teach effectively if they were never taught to teach?? It’s not something that comes completely naturally. What about curriculum development? Classroom management? Student centered teaching practices? Classroom experience(student teaching)?!?!?! In today’s world where a large majority of students struggle in math, it doesn’t come down to the teachers not knowing their stuff, it’s teachers not teaching the stuff correctly, in a way that students can understand. I applaud states that have requirements for teaching certificates. So Elizabeth – if this is what you choose to do, embrace your education classes, because they will be just as if not more important than your very impressive math background. End rant.

    Good luck!

  59. Dear Elizabeth,
    In my opinion, if you are comfortable and happy with your job and you are certain that in the future you will be promoted to a higher position then you should keep doing what you are doing. If you aren’t happy and you enjoy teaching better, you should follow your dreams. But you should think about something else. If you do decide to go into teaching, and you have already started a family and have family obligations you should really look carefully into those before making this decision. The money will be less so your budget can change as well as your personal preferences and that can affect you economically; and not to mention you will need to take out loans in order to pay for school in which it will make the situation a little harder to pay them back when you graduate. The pay won’t be the same and the statement will be in the mail along with your other obligations as well.

    P.S. follow your dreams and be happy because as the end of the day thats what really counts.

  60. Such great positive comments from many of you, especially the insights of C. Gaines. My first thought for Elizabeth was for her to apply for Teach for America, but its a very competitive program, no guarantees she’ll get accepted. I just read about another similar program, but sadly, it went into (really) short term memory and I can’t remember the name.
    Secondly, there is no reason you have to pay the extra $ for a Masters. You should talk to a counselor at several local Universities and see what your options are with another undergrad, or as some others have suggested look into getting a provisional license. In the Midwest, you are paid at a higher salary for your Masters, and it can actually be a detriment to somebody with no teaching experience. If you do decide to go into a Masters program, it certainly sounds like you have the smarts to apply to be a Math TA. Is teaching a college freshman that different than a high school senior?
    Which brings the next issue. If you think you want to teach so badly, get yourself into a classroom. Volunteer. Don’t limit yourself to tutoring math or even to working with high school kids. In addition to volunteering in a school, there are several after school community centers that welcome volunteers. You will certainly be able to tell if you have what it takes to cut the mustard. Not only that, but since you are 25, you surely must know that today’s college graduate needs to present more than a test score to a prospective employer. It’s not much different than getting into your dream college.
    Erin F. pretty much summed up my thoughts on why teachers need to be certified (there’s a joke in there somewhere!). That was no rant Erin, those are the facts. My degree is in Secondary Ed and starting pay was $14,000, which kind of tells you what a fossil I am. Decided that engineering would pay more (and it does) and took a year of engineering after graduating. I did teach for a year but then got into construction as a project manager, but it was not conducive to raising a family. Got back into teaching, going on 14 years now, with elementary kids (go figure!) in extra-curricular programs. There was a teacher hired after me who was fluent in Spanish, lived in Spain, traveled there for her job, etc. Two weeks after she was hired, she sent out an email asking how to get the kids to pay attention to her. I couldn’t stop laughing. She didn’t make it through a semester. Need I say more Josh?
    So there’s my 2 cents. By the way, when I was a student the government waived your student loans if you taught for a certain number of years. A couple people eluded to this option, if it’s still available. You could also look into joining the Peace Corp.
    Elizabeth, just do your homework and weigh out all your options. Good Luck!

  61. Hi.

    I’d like to say something about doing what you feel is right.
    I am an artist. I have many similar fears regarding paying for school, supplies, and earning a living (at least I assume you have these same fears). I think you will find that if you make the choice to become a teacher, things will work. If you feel teaching is right, you are perfectly qualified to make that decision valid–you and only you. It’s possible. You are an intelligent, bright person, and judging from the type of work you do, very innovative.
    I want to tell you that you don’t need security to make things work. No one needs a six figure income to survive, nor even to be happy. It is very possible to live on a teacher’s salary. Thousands do. School might be difficult, but it is possible.
    In my experience most people will sacrifice doing good for others for security, steady income, and high pay. I would hope that no one would succumb to that, I would plead with you to never think that any contribution you are capable of making to enlighten and uplift the minds and lives of teens would be insignificant, or ‘below you.’ To think your teaching teens, children, middle school, or high school (or any person who might not learn all the math you know) is below you because of your pay or knowledge in my mind is to say money and personal status have higher worth than people and their being enlightened.

    I don’t know that you’ll actually read this, but in case you do, I think it’s wonderful you would consider leaving your current job to teach others. I have confidence you will find a way to make it work.

  62. Elizabeth, Economists says that, saving will leads to investment and this investment will be compensate the investor much more than what they loss in there life of saving. So, in my opinion you are in the way of scarifying yourself i.e. you’re at the condition of saving. In the near future you start your investment i.e. going to school for the master program. After you have been completing your master program you start harvesting it forever. So please scarify today and create better condition to you and your Childs.
    Be yourself on your way
    Habitamu Asifawu, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

  63. I am a high school senior and I have done a little research on loan forgiveness. As stated by “I’ve thought about teaching math…”, there is the Teach Grant. There is also the APEL program where if you teach, you get your loans paid off, but not all of it. Research some of the state grants or scholarships to see what they have to offer. I live in California. My grandmother has suggested teaching in Hawaii for two years after I graduate from college so my loans would be paid off. Just throwin that out there. Elizabeth should follow her dreams, which I can kind of relate to. I too would also like to become a high school math teacher. I wish I had a job before I go to college so I have money for future college expenses. I think that Elizabeth should stay a little longer at her current job in order to save a little bit of money to use to pay for classes. Maybe you would be able to take out student loans, such as the Stafford Loan or subsidized or unsubsidized loans. I like the suggestion about being a tutor for a company such as Sylvan and being a substitute teacher before diving right into teaching an actual class. Or if any high school has an AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination), you could see if they need tutors and you can help other teens with math or any other subject area. You would help to tutor for all AVID 9th-12th grade students. I believe you get paid, but I am not quite sure.

    I have a question: After I graduate college, do you think I would be able to support myself or make a decent living? As stated before, I am a high school senior and my dream is to be a high school math teacher. My alternative is to major in Radiologic Technology. I am debating whether or not I should also follow my dreams or try to make enough money to support myself in life without relying on anyone else, especially in these economic troubles. I just don’t want to make the wrong decision and regret it for the rest of my life. It would be life changing. It is funny how the title of this article relates to the issue I am debating: Money vs. Happiness.

  64. Wesley Robinson

    You should take the Praxis 1 & 2 then contact your state department of education for guidance. You may not need another degree but just a few courses. If you want more information then contact me.

  65. Think outside your box...

    Go to Eastern Germany for studying. You pay no tuition, get your teaching degree and got your living expenses covered with a part time job or you just keep saving up for two more years and do it without the part time job.

  66. I just want to let you know that I was in the same boat two years ago. I gave up the only thing I’ve ever loved to get a “better career”. Financially, it wa the best decision I could ever make. Emotionally…Let me just say it will keep gnawing on you for the rest of your life.
    I don’t regret my decision. I did it for my family, even though they will never know that. I’m just asking you to reconsider. it is a choice you will have to live with for the rest of your life. Make sure it’s worth it.

  67. In my honest opinion, keep the job that you have. I went from working in IT to teaching and staying in IT would have been the better option. However, you will need to do what truly satisfies you because you have to live with the choices you make. I would suggest taking a few days from work and job shadowing a math teacher. Ask the teacher (perferably one with 5-10 years exp) questions about day to day duties, etc. Every school system and school is different. Teaching does not involve a lot of “teaching.” It is calling home, doing tons of random stuff/paperwork, duties, professional development, dealing with varying attitudes and issues, etc. Depending on your location…testing is priority and could add extra pressure to your life especially if your students don’t do well.

    Another thing to consider is the number of preps you will need to do. Most math teachers don’t have more than 2, so it won’t be too bad. I had 4 and still have 4. I don’t always teach the same thing every year so in my experience, it’s been very rough. I bring work home with me all the time!! I am constantly planning, planning, planning.

    Working with the students is very fulfilling and that is the part that I enjoy most. However, the entire lifestyle is not something that I would want to continue doing until retirement age.

    So, just weigh the pros and cons of what you have and how you feel about your current job vs teaching after job shadowing and talking with current teachers. Money isn’t everything because it can’t buy you happiness so let that be the last thing that influences your decision. You might find your work load as a teacher to be equivalent to the pay you currently receive just because you will wear sooo many hats and never really have time to do all that is required of you.

    This is based on my personal experience and the location in which I work. This is my 3rd year. I found it interesting that most teachers that have been teaching for years, feel the same as I do often times, but they are trying to hang in there for that retirement check.

  68. Mohammed Al Jarere

    I am also in the same situation i am a pharmacist and i dreamed about PHD. in clinical pharmacy but i do have a great salary that no one can dream in the highest currency in the world but i don’t feel that i like my career so my advice will be to do whatever you can do to be happy we are living this life once so don’t hesitate to catch your chance to be happy inorder not to regret it someday . MONEY GOES BUT FEELINGS STAY.

  69. hello,
    I think that if she wants to become a Math tteacher she should do it. Education is one of the most important things to have inmy opinion, because it gives you the chance to learn new things as well as to seek new career oportunities that a person might not otherwise have. In our country, Math is one of those subjects that everyone hates and does poorly in. Math is so important to many many jobs, yes including english majors like me. for example, if i give my students the task of writing a paper, and i have 25 students, then that means i have that many to grade. And if i want to get the papers back to my students within a week, but i do not want the stress of having to grade them all in one night, i get to use my math skills to decide how many i can grade per day to spread the assignements all out. so for me at least, math is very important. it is also important to help with money, and in this economy, we need every ounce of math skills we can get. further, Elizabeth is a financial analyist. it is her job to understand money and how to use it so as to not spend too much, and so having her as a math teacher would be really helpful as she could give examples of how to work problems out using money, as students tend to understand that the most.
    Granted, if She were to got to grad school, she would take a pay cut and not to mention have to deal with student loans. no one wants to deal with loans. however, most title IX schools will help pay back your student loans while you teach. in other words, Elizabeth should not worry about having those loans as it can get worked out so that the loans will get paid back. and if she is really worried about it, she can stay at this job for a while, or at least until she can save up the money and then go back to school.
    to sum this all up, i think itis good that Elizabeth wishes to go back to school and become a math teacher. we need great math teachers in this country (not that we dont already have them, but we still need tons more), along with creative ways to help students understand math so that they can use it later in life. and finally, the financial burden that she wishes to take on to pursue her education is just want a teacher should teach their students, in the sense that they should inspire their students to chase after their dreams continuously and to never give up.

  70. Suggestion: plan to stay with your job a set amount of time (1year, 2years, whatever you need to meet your financial goals)–you decide how much it will take. Set up an education savings plan with a dollar goal. On a teacher’s salary it is much, much, much harder to repay education loans with money leftover to live on so why not make the decision to return to school debt free. Look for scholarships, apply at more than one school that is acceptable and then go to the one with the least unmet financial need. But have the money set aside for not only education expenses but also living expenses and a nest egg to start on. I know math teachers fresh out of college that can’t find jobs, so you also want money to tide yourself over while you look.
    PS I know this works, I have two children who have graduated debt free, one with a bachelor’s, one with a masters; and a junior and a freshman who are also to date debt free. The idea that you have to graduate with a ball and chain around you neck is nonsense. Think outside the debt box and figure out how to get what you want (a teaching degree) without a noose (debt). You can do it!

  71. I would recommend volunteering first. This option allows her to interact with the teens and verify this is indeed what will make her happy. I worked for a school district where the Math Teacher used to be a Civil Engineer. She gave up her lucrative position in order to make a difference. She was fabulous! She understood how to present lessons that truly applied to the world. I asked her whether or not she felt it was worth it – to her it was the best decision she ever made.

    Our state also had a program which allowed teachers to transfer in from other professions and allowed for continued education at the same time. It might benefit her to sit down and talk with a superintendent or principal and see if this is an option for her.

    I currently am in the process of transitioning from the position as a manager at a resort into teaching for Adult Education while I attend school. I volunteered at the Adult Learning Center for two years and can definitely say this is a position I know I will love.

    Best Wishes Elizabeth! Money truly is not everything – looking back at your life and knowing you made a difference truly is special.

  72. Josh & Elizabeth-

    First, the rant is way overblown. Being a math wizard is a wonderful skill-set, but it does not necessarily equate to having any ability to teach. Further, it is not necessary to get a Master’s Degree in math in order to teach high school math. With a limited number of “education” credits she could be certified and ready to roll.

    Your list, on the other hand, is absolutely right on. Great advice! Everything we do, every choice we make, involves an opportunity cost. Examine your personal priorities, put a workable plan in place, and move forward strategically.

    Elizabeth’s situation is not at all uncommon, she is merely blessed to be facing this “opportunity” at such a young age. Most of us had to struggle through years of just making ends meet before we could tackle the enviable question of “money v. happiness.” Congratulations to her for being able to think about fulfillment.

  73. I think Elizabeth should consider taking online classes while she continues to work and support herself. I have had to take a different road in my career. I am a 52 year old restaurant and customer service specialist. When I first went to college I studied Business Administration. I also took a home study course on restaurant and hotel management. I have been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia and I have had psoriatic arthritis for 25 years, so workiing in food service as a manager is no longer a viable plan for me. I am currently going to schoolonline and taking Accounting/Forensic Accounting/Auditing. I am currently running a home-based business consulting firm. Sufice it to say that I understand her dilema. The idea of part-time teaching at Sylvan is a great idea. I have a sister-in-law who has an engineering degree from the School of Mines and is a genious in math. She decided to get her masters in education and is now teaching math at The University of Northern Colorado-Pueblo. She is very happy and would not change. I think Elizebeth needs to follow her heart. Our young people need people like her. she might also consider tutoring in math. By tutoring or working for Sylvan, she could have the best of both worlds. I wish her all the best!

  74. Well, a question of happiness and good living is a difficult one. However, if it were me, I would remain in my job but find some time to offer voluntary lessons. This may mean more work hours but when my happyness is pegged on it, I would be willing to do it. Notice the happyness spelling. Or maybe assist another person who can be a math teacher but cannot afford school fees. Sometimes happiness fulfillment comes through seeing others around us attain a basic dream.

  75. scienceteacher

    I’m a middle school science teacher and have also taught high school Biology (I have 17 years of experience). My advice—stay where you are. Teaching has taken a dramatic turn the past few years. It is very stressful. Don’t go into it! Stay where you are!

  76. I’m sorry Science Teacher for your stress, but that was your stress. You don’t know how she may feel once she adventures into teaching math. You’re giving advice based on what you experienced and should not be what teaching is all about. I’m a mother and I appreciate every teacher out there that can say they provided the knowledge for the student that will be an up and coming entrepreneur, educator or next president.

    In life, love and marriage we choose our battles, so why not let her choose. If you never try, you will never know. Have no regrets, life is too short.

    Don’t go into anything with negative thoughts. Determine if happy is what you so desire or having that high paying job. She’s still young and should be able to step out of the box. I agree with starting out with the part time teaching and if it fits, go for it. Working in a high paying job can also be stressful, but it’s what you make it. Every positive thought will prosper. I believe in letting go and let God, and if you are not a believer, then believe in yourself. Life prosperity comes from giving and positive thinking.
    Be Blessed.

  77. I say go for happiness. If you feel a calling to be a teacher than go substitute teach and check it out. Being in a classroom all day with different personalitites can be tough but at the same time extremely rewarding. I am almost finish with my education degree and it has been a long, expensive road. Go for it! Follow your hopes and dreams! Good luck!

  78. Hi.
    I graduated as a technologist in my field of study 3 years ago. I made good money in the years to follow. I decided to drop the good money and go back to school to continue my education, I have one semester to finish. Why I did it was to follow my passion, I work in the environmental field and love it, however the field does not pay well. Three things I’ve found: 1. If your passionate about what you want to do, you’ll find a way. 2. Typically with more education becomes more money, however, money isn’t the driving force, more education typically means better hours, better time off and a lifestyle that I can control. 3. All things we do in life define us, by chosing to chase your dreams, you are saying money will not control me and I still believe in what I want to do (in your case, you believe in getting a good education is important). Whatever you chose, good luck, and in personal experience, you’ll never want to go back after following your passion as tough as it may be.

  79. Counselor Buddy

    My understanding of the Praxis 1 is that it is given after a teacher finishes coursework to validate their specific content endorsements. The Praxis 2 exam allows a certified teacher to add another endorsement to their teaching certificate by passing the Praxis in that subject area. Teachers now have to be ‘highly qualified’ in the courses they teach, according to NCLB, and passing the Praxis is a way for a teacher to become ‘highly qualified’ in another content area. It’s a good thought, but it doesn’t solve Elizabeth’s initial obstacle of becoming certified to teach.

    I do agree with Terry; having a master’s degree in teaching would be detrimental to a first year teacher looking for a job. As districts are forced to cut-back, although your math experience is outstanding (an understatement, I would guess), districts will likely go with a less expensive first year teacher with a bachelor’s degree.

  80. I would definitely recommend tutoring or volunteering first. Teaching is hard. It’s about 50% teaching, and 50% administrative duty. The pay doesn’t really compensate you appropriately if you put in the time to ready yourself to appropriately educate someone (i.e. personal education, lesson plans, more lesson plans, plan b lesson plans, figuring out how to differentiate your instruction for a diverse body of learners). If you can live that way, then do. Or…you could take that huge pay check, and donate a whole bunch of calculators to someone who is already qualified, and then get yourself a jet ski…or perhaps a dolphin. You could ride a dolphin.

  81. Hi
    I’m seventeen and am actually going to college next year for the first time. I want to be a finiacial analyst as well and I am happy with that decision. I believe that you should do what makes you happy. That is because if you make but still unhappy there really is no reason for the money. It may but you material things, but not happiness. As for the with paying for school there are finicial aid and scholarship. Also as you said living in the city is expensive then you should move somewhere where it is less expensive. I am not saying you to do all this is going to be easy but if it is what you really want then you should do it. If it where me I would do all the reshearch first and then make my decision. That is what I did when i decided that I wanted to be a financial analyst and I believe its a good ine because I did my research and I know what I am getting into. So good luck!!!

  82. happiness is an important part of life so don’t think I’m not considering that when I offer my opinion. If and only if your making between 80,000 and 100,000 like I suspect then if it was me I would do both. Your only 25. Work for 3 more years and put back 15 to 25000 a year. then stop and pursue teaching (you might even be able to get a couple of the required classes out of the way in the mean time online) I’m not sure. But doing this at 28 or 29 means by 32 to 34 you can live the rest of your years doing what you love (WITHOUT massive dept hanging over your head). You have to ask yourself if at 25 if your income is 70,000 or above and you can’t start putting back 15 to 20 of it (leaving you around 40 to 50 then how do you intend to make it on a teacher’s salary of 28 to 37 WITH dept? I beg you follow my advise and set yourself up a little even put a big down on a REASONABLE house and then follow your dream with a free heart. Sometimes we all have to do what we don’t like for awhile to get what we do want. What good is a dream if it’s stomped on every day by dept stress. Most of us HAVE to aquire dept for living expenses or education but I can’t think of anyone who would do it that way if they had another option. For cryin out loud I’m a janitor scraping by. Please please SAVE first and get yourself in position to do this. I would have killed to have a dream job by age 32. stop fretting. you can have both. money short term and more happiness the rest of your life. young people can be impatient. good things are worth waiting for and it’s not that long a wait.

  83. I can definitely agree on the 5th point about following the dream. 😀

    I would hate to be doing something that doesn’t make me happy. In the end, it just wouldn’t be worth it.

  84. Speaking as someone who has done the opposite of this, do take considerable time to think about this.

    Having originally thought I would teach, I took a music degree, am doing a masters in music, and have now decided that I want to go into business. Why? To pay off my debt (over $100k in student loans) and be able live a comfortable life. It’s terrifying to think about these huge loan monthly loan payments coming in for the next 30 years when I can’t even find a job right now. Much less one that will pay me enough to pay rent AND my bills.

    Furthermore, I would do research on longevity of teaching careers. In the last couple decades, a disturbing trend of teachers burning out within just a few years because of the extra pressures being put on them beyond teaching has emerged which immediately sends up red flags for anyone considering teaching as a profession. Are you going to find yourself at 35 (having spent a few years in school and a few teaching) wanting to change careers again? Do you want the extra responsibilities– medical provider, counselor, etc.– that come with being a teacher now?

    If you consider these questions and find yourself still thinking that teaching will make you happy… than go for it, smartly. Go somewhere that you can get financial aid, keep working during school, and try not to have too much debt on the other side.

  85. I say, it’s important for one to follow their dreams. She may get lucky and win a scholarship, everybody is entitle to a scholarship regardless of their financial status. She could make a very good teacher sharing her knowledge with young people helping them to achieve their dreams too.

  86. I teach. How do you know if you’d even like it? Seriously, many people think it’s what they want to do and then hate it. If you have the gift of teaching, great. Skip volunteering; take some vacation days and substitute. Be in charge of the classroom. As a sub, you may be lucky and get some great lesson plans to go from, and then again maybe not. Sign up in a nearby district and go for it. See if it’s something you even want to attempt before you take the plunge.

  87. Been there, done that. Have taught 14 yrs and still owe 60,000 in loans. Believe it or not, i borrowed 32,000! Save and go to school at night/weekends. In Texas there is a program called Teach Texas for your exact situation-life experience and no teaching degree.They quickly get you into the classroom, especially those with Math and Science background.

  88. Do it. Quite simply, just do it.

    At 25 years old, I, too, decided that my well-paying job as an insurance sales representative and office manager was not what I wanted out of life. I started back to college at night while continuing my full-time job. I did this for two years and graduated with an Associate of Arts with Honors from the community college.

    That was the easy part, which is funny to say now because back then it was not fun. I was working, at least, 40 hours a week, going from work to school four nights a week, plus the homework, projects, and etcetera. Then, just as I was about to graduate and wasn’t sure what to do about my job or continuing school… my company downsized and closed my office.

    I’m a full-time Anthropology student now, pursuing my dream and LOVING every minute of it. I will graduate this summer, with Honors, and I have already been accepted to my first choice graduate school.

    It’s a hard decision; but, don’t live a life… live the life you want!

  89. Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ? If not, know that He loves you dearly, and has a plan and a purpose for your life! If you seek Him, He will definitely show you what route to take. You definitely have a desire to teach, so bring that to Him. And trust that He will supply all your needs, according to His riches and glory!

    The reason I bring up Jesus, is because it seems that you want to be fulfilled. And I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t tell you that your greatest fulfillment comes with knowing Jesus 🙂 Everything after that is simply “icing” on the cake.

    In Love,

  90. hi elizabeth, i think the first thing you should do is talk to God about it cause he owns your life. then you could ask yourself if you are willing to forfeit all the privileges that comes with your present job to do what you love.i wish you the best as you make your decision


  92. Definitely happiness over money. Elizabeth should get her teaching degree because that’s what she will love. It will give her fulfillment in life, whereas money only brings misery.

  93. If Elizabeth already has her undergraduate degree she can go the Teach for America route. There is some training (over the summer) and she’ll need to get certified/liscensed in her state–Teach for America helps prep you for the exams and getting of your liscense.

    You agree to work two years in a school in need–rural or inner city–and you get part to all student loan debt paid. Plus many colleges give grants/scholarships to those that do Teach for America and discounts on pursuing their master degree. For instance, Fordham University costs just $4,500, after you do Teach for America, between Teach for America’s grants/scholarships/ and discounts. All this makes getting your graduate degree a lot cheaper then the $30K-$60+K Josh stated.

    I changed my major from Business to History and am seriously considering the Teach for America option when I finish my undergrad in 2012. It will allow me to teach for a couple years to make sure it is what I want in a job, and even if I decide on a different track for my masters I still get the funding from having done Teach for America to apply to whatever masters I want–in most states. (There are a couple that fund for education for those that want to continue the teacher route, but many that don’t care if you get a grad degree in education or not.)

    Also dunring the two years you get paid what any starting tacher makes in that area–usually between $35,000 to $42,000 a year while serving. So it may not be the six figure income but you would have an income that is liveable. Teach for America has staff that helps you budget so you can live on your income, and like the Peace Corps offers funds at the end of service so you can relocate or whatever.

    From what I have looked into Teach for America it looks like a good option for students that want to pursue a grad degree in a more affordable way. Many TFA students are not education majors–business, research, medical, philosophy, etc…– so it is not held against you if you don’t already have a degree in education. They help prepare you to be a first time teacher, and they are always in desparate need for math teachers all across the country. So Elizabeth should look into it as it is very possibly that Teach for America could help with the master’s cost and getting her feet wet in teaching.

  94. You know what..this is great. A woman told her problem, then bunch of unknown but care people give comments. And most of the commens are good! Encouraging Liz to not afraid pursue her dream, but still have to think again about the consequence.. I think one day I have to tell my story in here too. wkwkwkwwk

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