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The Vine: July 18, 2012

Submitted by on July 18, 2012 – 3:27 PM24 Comments

I'm so excited to finally have a Vine question! This seemed perfectly suited for you due to your work with Donors Choose and apparent love of teachers in general.

I graduated from college nearly a decade ago. Since then, I've bounced around down many career paths but haven't found that one thing that makes me happy. Last year, I worked as a freelance writer and supplemented my income by substitute teaching. Sars, I loved it. Teaching is something that has always been in the back of my mind, but I was never confident enough to do. I guess it took having my own child to actually believe that students would take me seriously as an authority figure. I subbed in both high school and middle schools, thinking I would gravitate toward high school, since that's where I had the best time as a student. However, it was actually middle school that I fell in love with. I wanted to keep subbing, but I really, really missed health insurance. A full-time marketing job came up within my county government, so I took that, rationalizing that I'm still giving back to my community, just in a more indirect way.

It's a year later, and I'm more sure than I've ever been that I want to be a teacher. Luckily, my county offers a "career-switcher" program for people just like me. Here's where the conflict arises. When all is said and done, going through the program is going to cost me about $4,000. Since it's a fast-track non-degree-earning program, it's not eligible for financial aid. My options are, a) pay up front or b) secure a bank loan. Option A is out, as I don't have $4,000 just lying around. Option B is dicey, considering that my career switching, constant moves and irresponsible twenties have left me with a not-so-stellar credit score. Plus, taking on another monthly bill makes me a little nervous, considering that I'm a single mom and I'm already going to be taking a pay cut when this whole thing goes through. My family also doesn't have the money to loan me either, so that's out.

Today, though, I thought of a third option: a fundraiser. This is where I need you and your wonderful readers. Would starting an Indiegogo (or similar) campaign so I can become a teacher be the tackiest thing in the world? Yes, we need more teachers, but it's not like I'm going to be Dangerous Minds-ing all over the place. I would be teaching in a wealthy suburb. Is this something people would want to donate a few bucks to, or would the general reaction be, "Stop being such a loser and figure out another plan"? If it's the latter, do you have another idea? Because I'd love to hear it, since I need to start taking qualification tests this summer.

Thanks for all your help!

It's expensive to be so underpaid

Dear Under,

It's all in the presentation. Paging through Indiegogo can definitely make you feel like a selfish ass for asking for help, because some of the projects just break your heart into a thousand sharp pieces — people raising money for a friend's son's chemo, or trying to get a new roof for a cousin whose spouse died suddenly last year. And you're like, you know what, I'm good, never mind, in fact please take this ten bucks I'll just have Post-Its for lunch oh God I'm so unworthy.

But it's not an either/or thing; the neat thing about Indiegogo and Kickstarter is that there's plenty of room for every kind of project — "my dog needs cataract surgery"-type things, sure, but also Project Runway's Viktor is raising money for a Fashion Week line, someone else is doing a study of misandry in videogame media, and the "Stinky Cheese playing cards" project ("whey fun") (hee!) has just four days to go.

I've gotten a number of these requests from friends and acquaintances. I've also seen them used as part of wedding registries, where you buy a specific chunk of honeymoon activity (not…that one) or whatever, and I don't remember having thought, "Well, I never." I mean, not that it's not possible to do it tackily, but in your case, unless you try to get peeps to pay for a designer laptop case and some new kicks as part of the project, or you abuse social-media contacts or bump it back into your timeline every two hours and annoy everyone you know, it can't hurt to ask. Sure, a few will think it's not their problem, and of course, technically, it isn't, and that's fine. And a few others might think it's gauche, and that's valid. For me, it's fine. I may not give to every specific thing, but in general, we just live in a different world where this is a thing people do/use to make their albums or replace their stolen equipment or get their awesome vegan bodegae off the ground, because the internet and social media dominate to a degree they haven't before, and because the economy is still terrible, and people have to get creative to get by.

I would explain what you just explained to me, as pithily but also humorously as you can — including the part where you worry that it's Not Done. Try to think of a cute/appealing unifying theme, and some rewards that you can give to backers that go with that theme. Like, I might call mine "Seed Money" (tomatoes, seeds, ha ha? Don't get up, I'll let myself out) and then I'd give away seed packets or seedlings or Robert Plant posters (geddit? Okay, well, thanks for coming by). Emphasize that it's not a lot of money and it's not a recurring expense — you just need a little push, so that you in turn can become that person who gives the push to kids who need it. And then perhaps a photo of a rueful kitten. Not sad! Just…kinda down. Little heart-strings/purse-strings kind of a thing. Not telling you what to do; just saying.

And people might not donate, but then again, they might. You never know who's going to think it's ballsy that you even asked (or feel sorry for the kitten) and drop a few hundo on you. You should have a Plan B for if it doesn't work out, because sometimes it doesn't, but you might as well find out one way or the other and know you tried everything. Good luck! If you do it, drop by the comments with a link.

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  • mctwin says:

    While this is not a fiscally-sound option, if you have savings in a 401k from your current employer, you may be able to take a loan for that amount and pay it back through you paycheck. If you have an old 401k account from a previous employer, you can cash it out, with a large amount of tax withholding and a 10% tax penalty if you are under age 59 1/2. Hardship withdrawals can also be used for tuition, if your current employer's plan allows hardship withdrawals.

    Again, not a great choice but a possible option. Good luck!

  • Jenny says:

    Yes, we need more teachers

    I don't know where you heard this, but it's not true. For most areas of teaching, there is a vast oversupply of teachers. I know plenty of people who would be thrilled to teach in an inner city school, let alone a wealthy suburb. Actually, they'd be thrilled to even see a job opening.

    Obviously, I don't know where you are but I would be really wary of expecting a job out of this program. There are still plenty of places willing to train teachers, but very few willing to hire them.

  • Jamie says:

    I just wanted to say I would donate. I am a teacher with a K12 license…and I can't stand middle school. Many of my colleagues feel the same way. We need people like you who can handle the complexities of that age-and enjoy it!

  • Kim says:

    Are there any scholarships or grants that you can apply for? The universities that I'm familiar with have a website or section of their website dedicated to highlighting these types of opportunities for their students.

  • ashleigh says:

    I think Sars is right. Indiegogo isn't a zero sum game; if you can convince people to donate, go for it. Personally, I wouldn't be inclined to donate to your cause, but that's because I'm unemployed. I just took out $36,000 in loans to get my master's in education. And now neither I nor any of my peers can find teaching jobs. I would be really leery of going into teaching right now, unless you've already got a job offer.

  • Krissa says:

    I don't think you need donations OR a loan – if you stuck it out at the full-time marketing job for just two more years, saving less than $200 each month, you'd have your $4,000. Sooner, if you stashed away any and all gift/bonus money in that time. With the state of the economy right now, in particular for teaching jobs (as others have mentioned), another two years spent in pursuit of your dream might be better than jumping ship right now anyway.

  • Jacq says:

    A fourth option that you haven't mentioned: save up until you can afford to make the switch, and then do it. Good luck with it all – it's obviously a worthwhile thing to do and will make you happy.

  • Ann says:

    I'm not a teacher, and I don't mean to suggest that Under hasn't done her due diligence, but I am wondering about this "non-degree earning program." Don't teachers need a specific degree to get a teaching license? And if not, is this kind of program necessarily helpful in getting a job? I realize this was not actually the question, but I am curious.

  • Jane says:

    Ann, this is an Actual Thing–viable teaching endorsements for career switchers that aren't degrees. Here's one:

  • Mary Anne says:

    Do AmeriCorps for one year! The pay is crap but at the end you get an educational award for $5,000! Plus: health insurance! Or can you slowly take classes as you can afford them? That way you can be moving towards your goal however slowly. The upshot of this plan is you can still live relatively comfortably while you progress. Or what about Teach for America or something? Or surely there are areas of the country desperate for teachers (rural areas?) where they might pay for your certification for a commitment after you are certified.

    I would never in a million years post a funding page like that for myself but I would also never think poorly of someone who got creative trying to achieve their dream.

  • Ann says:

    Thanks for the link, Jane. That seems like a great program! As for funding, maybe it could be done as a combo– save half, and fundraise for half, and try to get a scholarship as well.

  • flora_poste says:

    I think it's odd that Under didn't even mention staying at her current job and saving up at least a portion of the money. Four thousand dollars is a lot of money to part with at once, yes, but it's also not an insurmountable sum to save for. I might be willing to donate a bit to such a post, but probably not for someone who hadn't seemed to consider that saving money is a possibility. I think it'd be more compelling to save at least 50% and hope others could chip in to match it.

  • Leigh says:

    @Jenny: I'm not a teacher, but my husband and almost everyone else I know are all teachers. Depending on the subject, area, and school level, we absolutely do need more. More importantly, we need more passionate teachers who will push past that 5 year burnout line for love of the profession. I don't know where the OP is located or what subject she's looking at teaching, but middle school is definitely a level a lot of people hate. There's room out there.

    And no, you don't have to have a specific degree to be a teacher, although the rules in every state are vastly different. In states where teachers are desperately needed, there are programs to get highly qualified professionals in to the teaching field without having to go back to school (like, say, if you're a mathematician, you can become a math teacher without an extra education degree, just a few tests). Since classroom management is one of the hardest parts to learn about teaching, I'm not entirely sure how well-advised that is, but it does exist.

    Anyway, I think you got some good advice already about the financial aspect; good luck pursuing the dream!

  • LDA says:

    The mention of previous "career switching, constant moves," the fact that you are looking to teach in a wealthy suburb, and your comment that we always need more teachers- all of these would keep me from donating. I have friends who teach in the suburbs, some of whom can't find full time work and none of whom have complained of a teacher shortage(this is of course only anecdotal evidence). If you were looking to teach in a struggling area, that might be different, but this sounds like something you should save up for while doing more research into job availability.

    Otherwise, I would say something like Americorps is a better option.

  • Tylia says:

    I personally wouldn't find this offensive if it popped up on Indiegogo, but you'd have to have some really awesome perks listed to make it worth my time/money. I started donating to a project on Indiegogo partly because it was a good cause and partly because there was a perk I just couldn't pass up at the right price.

  • Pauline says:

    I wouldn't fund you, but I would fund your classroom once you get there.

    My question is this: why it has to be Now Now Now? You do not mention the possibility of staying at the current job and saving all or some of the money needed. And it's not just going be $4000, right? There are books and supplies and blah blah blah?

    Save, then do.

  • Sandy says:

    Ugh, if you live in STL, I'm begging you not to do it. I graduated with my education degree last year, and I and nearly everyone I graduated with are still looking for jobs (especially the ones in the cushy well-off suburbs). We don't need another person to add to the already 70+ who apply for every single teaching jb (unless you're math or science – then go for it).

  • MizShrew says:

    If you're going to do a Kickstarter-type thing, then perhaps you can get over some of the objections mentioned by structuring your request as a "match" program.

    Ask people to match what you put away in savings, rather than expecting them to come up with it all. Then you're showing your own commitment and setting manageable goals for the fundraising at the same time. And you get there a bit faster than saving the whole nut yourself, if people go for it.

    Remember too that some of the responses here are people who don't know you at all; I'm guessing friends and family might be more receptive? Especially if they can see that this is a passion you are pursuing. Good Luck!

  • Emily says:

    I have to agree with Pauline. I assume the paycut you mention will be at least $4k/year when you switch from government to teaching. If it's impossible to save $4k over a year in the current job, how will you survive on the new teacher's salary? If nothing else, it would be a valuable experience to set your monthly budget as if you were making a teacher's salary, putting the rest into savings, to see if the teacher salary is feasible for your current lifestyle. Worst-case scenario, you end up with a nice chunk in savings.

  • Jo says:

    Someone suggested AmeriCorps, but the last time I checked, their budget had been cut, so it might not be as lucrative as it was for my friends who did it nearly a decade ago. BUT … have you considered applying for Teach for America? Yes, they'd send you off to some rural and/or inner-city school, and the type of place you'd live might not be ideal if you have children, but it might be an option. I don't know what the financial payoff is there if you don't have regular student loans for your program, but it might be worth at least checking out their website.

    That being said, I think anyone who wants to be a middle school teacher is either a freaking saint or a masochist (I hated middle schoolers when I WAS one). Either way, whether you have to save money for a few years or get a loan, you should go for it!

  • LJ says:

    I am an eighth-grade teacher and it is the best job in the world. We read kick-ass books and every day is one giant social experiment. But it does take a certain rare type to thrive there, so if that's you then I urge you to pursue it. Middle school needs more people who love it.

    Two points regarding your question:

    1. My cousin recently used online fundraising to help pay his way to pro football camp and some of my middle schools students are currently considering it to fund their trip to the 2013 Presidential Inauguration. (Our school is in Washington State; that trip is a chunk of change.) Neither of those are curing anyone's cancer, but I still feel good about contributing to both. My cousin's page included a thoughtful essay about pursuing his dream and what else he's doing to get there, which probably helped nudge donors.

    2. Yes, there is a teacher shortage in some areas. Do plenty of research before you commit. My district is tiny and rural. In the six years I've been teaching, we've hired maybe three or four people with five to ten applicants for each position. The closest larger city has hired more, but with many more applicants. One suburban school recently had 70 applicants for a single position at the same time that we had six for essentially the same job.

    A lot of experienced teachers are out of work due to the economy and in most districts they often have a leg up due to that experience. It is pretty rare to be hired right out of a college program. Most people I know sub for years first. You can mitigate that somewhat by choosing a specialty needed in the area you hope to teach. Usually secondary, math/science, and special education. (A literacy specialist like me is a lot riskier in terms of landing a job.)

    Do not go into this expecting health insurance at the end of the fast-track program. It will likely take a lot more time than that. Really look into it so you know what to expect. Talk to the buildings where you subbed. How often do they hire? How many applicants do they get? What do they most look for in applicants? Paint yourself an accurate picture of how long this will all take.

    Look really hard at the fat-track program, too. What education does it provide? Who provides it? How long is it? Anything less than 1-2 years is lacking. (Especially if your BA is not in the subject area you will teach.) It's doable in that you can enter teaching that way, but it will put you seriously behind the 8-ball. Subbing experience it great, but it is not the same as running your own classroom. Avoid Teach for America or similar programs, especially if you want to teach as a long-term career. A five-week program that puts the least-prepared teachers into the most needy classrooms is not a recipe for success. I don't recommend starting your career that way. Many of the 1-2 year transition programs are pretty good though. I have colleagues who went through the military and science-field transition programs with great success.

    So, tl;dr: as any good teacher knows: DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Then send Sars a link to your fundraiser. Because I would tip that jar for sure.

  • Wehaf says:

    If you decide to save the money yourself, a good option might be tutoring. Good tutors can get quite nice hourly pay, especially in wealthy suburbs. And it would give you more experience with your target student range, and maybe help you make connections that would be useful once you start applying for jobs.

  • Agnes says:

    I know you mention teaching in the suburbs, but many cities run a teaching fellowship or residency program to get teachers with non-educational backgrounds into schools. The Baltimore City Teaching Residency (I applied a few years ago but wasn't hired, but I checked the program out pretty extensively, though this info may be outdated), for example, places people in teaching positions at full salary and pays 3/4ths (?) of their master's degree/certification costs. There's a requirement to stay for however long, of course, or pay back the degree costs. This might be a viable option to pay for it if you're willing to relocate; you can always tranfer to your preferred location after a few years.

  • Diane says:

    I'm not a Teacher but an HR Manager for a school management organization. I also urge you to check carefully about the requirements in your state about not only what it takes to get certified/licensed/credentialed but ALSO what it takes to be designated "highly qualified." In some states, those two things do NOT go hand-in-hand. Some of the "fast track" type programs might get you certified, but not deemed "highly qualified" for No Child Left Behind Purposes. Also agree with other comments that whether there are job opportunities depends entirely on the geographic area where you want to work. In my state, there hudreds and hundreds of applicants for non-existent jobs in the wealthy suburbs. You may have to pursue certification in a shortage area (math, science, Spanish, etc.) and work in the city. Another suggestion; if you DO work in a high-poverty school, and if you take Stafford loans, you can get those loans deferred and/or forgiven.

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