When not taking care of her three children, Melissa spends her time writing and blogging at Mom’s Plans where she documents her family’s attempts to learn to live a fulfilling life on less. She also blogs at Dining Out Challenge where the motto is, “Never pay full price to dine out again.”
Long ago, after I graduated with a B.A. in English (which is essentially useless unless you are planning to continue your studies), I worked at a janitorial supply store. I helped maintenance men pick the best floor waxes and toilet bowl cleaners. I worked with four salesmen and helped them place orders and interacted with their clients. While I liked the people I worked with, the job was, um, less than mentally stimulating. On the side, I began tutoring second language speakers, and I loved it.
Shortly thereafter, I went to grad school to get an M.A. and was lucky enough to find a full-time community college tenure track teaching position within one year of graduating. I was excited to teach full-time, but my enthusiasm soon waned. As typically happens, I had to battle administration from the beginning, most notably in the form of my chair who warned us three new faculty members that the administration was just looking for ways to fire us so we had better be on our toes at all time.
Meanwhile, she expected us to be her minions; community lunch was mandatory, and she got upset with me more than a few times because I wouldn’t share her tuna fish sandwich. (I wish I was joking, but I am not.) When another man who was hired at the same time as me abandoned the required community lunches because his wife was in the hospital suffering from diabetes complications, he was scolded by the chair.
The Joys and Difficulties
Meanwhile, I enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm from the students in the classroom. There were certainly difficult times, such as a special needs student whose mother would come to my office after nearly every class in a rage at something I had done or not done for her son. It quickly became obvious that she was writing every one of his papers, but I found my hands tied. That semester I just tried to make it through, but the majority of my students were pleasant, and I found myself growing as I taught them.
Yet gradually things changed. The administration, which had always been difficult to deal with, fired several faculty-friendly deans, and there was quite a bit of internal strife. When the economy tanked in 2007, much of my school’s money from the state was slow in coming, so the administrators, who had never been very student-friendly, raised tuition and increased class size. These changes, while unpleasant, were necessary. But they stepped over the line when they both cut popular programs and cancelled a number of classes. Many students could no longer find what they needed, so they left. Word got around, and soon the college’s reputation, which was already dubious, was very bad.
The student body started to change, and gradually I no longer found the classroom inspiring but instead challenging. More and more students were working full-time and trying to juggle their school work with their jobs. Often they also had young children and a busy social life; school always seemed to come last. They would routinely tell me they didn’t have money to buy their books while they played with their iPhones the entire class period. Several students were threatening, and one left my class in such a rage at a grade he got on a paper that he knocked over a chair and went swearing down the hallway loudly. The last few weeks of class, as I endured his endless glares, I seriously worried that our college would be the site of the next school shooting and my disgruntled student would be the shooter.
Yet, I was lucky. I was a seasoned teacher, and for the most part could handle the students’ threats. Many adjunct instructors could not, and several times security had to escort them to class. Between the increasingly difficult administration and the rapidly changing student population, I no longer enjoyed my job. Gearing up for a battle every day is difficult for the mind and the body.
Time to Quit and Make a Career Shift
I knew I wanted to quit my job three years before I actually quit, but I was unable to because my husband was a full-time student and I was the primary breadwinner. Finally, in April 2010, I was able to take a 16 month leave of absence when my last child was born. (I do have to admit that my school was very generous with the leave.) Of course, I spent the first few months caring for my newborn, but by July, I was determined to grow my blog I had created 14 months prior and begin to earn money from it. By October, I had discovered Yakezie thanks to The Saved Quarter. Joining Yakezie helped enormously. There was so much I didn’t know about blogging, and Yakezie members kindly enlightened me. Then, thankfully in February Evan from My Journey to Millions put out a call for someone to submit to carnivals for him and Glen at Free from Broke hired me as a staff writer. Things snowballed from there until I found myself making a nice little side income, which made it easier to turn in my resignation in June, 2011.
Actually turning in my resignation was uneventful. My current chair (who happens to be the man who was chastised for leaving the lunch table all those years ago) was not in the office, and the vice president wasn’t in the office either. I just left the resignation with a secretary. I did call the chair when I got home, and he surprised me by saying the night before he had had a dream that I quit. He understood and offered me a job teaching part-time, which I briefly considered before turning it down.
Now, I make nearly as much working from home as I would have taken home monthly after paying childcare for two children under the age of three. My husband is working full-time and is looking to defend his dissertation in mid-September. Our money is very tight right now, but my side business continues to grow, and my husband will get a substantial raise when he starts his post-doc, which is slated to begin in October.
Turning in my resignation after 10 years was scary, but my husband and I both knew it was the right thing to do, and I couldn’t be happier. As Rose Tremain said long ago, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” While I watched many faculty members stay at a job they no longer enjoyed because they “couldn’t give up the money”, I knew I would not be retiring from the college. I didn’t want to spend my life counting down the days until retirement.
Have you made a radical career change? If so, how did you find the courage to make the shift?