This is a guest post from Rod Missaghian, an Ontario Certified Teacher and academic coach in the greater Toronto area. Check out his coaching website.
I graduated in 2010 with a Master of Teaching degree, which at the time represented a rare two-year pre-service degree. I initially chose my program and the extra year of instruction, with the hopes that it would make me a more informed and marketable teacher upon graduation. In addition, I relished the opportunity to take graduate level classes and contribute a major research paper that would help pre-service teachers as they prepared to enter the profession.
As a male and ethnic minority in a largely white and female dominated profession, I was told my chances were above average to gain some level of employment. However, being nearly 32 at the time created added pressure to hit the ground running; I could not, and would not leave my fate to chance. So I chose to seek employment overseas: a popular option for many new Ontario graduates looking to circumvent a bleak job market.
My experience overseas, while valuable, was difficult and eye opening.
Living abroad in Europe and teaching in a foreign system was not a cakewalk. The pay for many overseas positions is generally low (for those jobs available to new graduates), there is usually a lack of available teaching resources, and the mentorship one receives is often minimal. It can be a very humbling and isolating experience. I returned to Ontario after one year, but in no more an advantageous position as when I left. I now shared the same predicament as many of my fellow newbie graduates: I was an unemployed Ontario teacher.
The year after I returned was not easy. I took a job at a private school only to be underpaid and unable to make ends meet. When all my teaching hours and prep were factored in, I was earning minimum wage. I began to assess my skills and work experiences and started applying to countless non-teaching related jobs. I thought that by moving on, and into another field, I might be able to put this whole experience behind me.
I was able to interview for a few sales jobs, but was always questioned about my teaching background, and asked why I had left the profession (which I didn’t), or when I might return (which I didn’t know). I wanted gainful employment, but employers were hesitant to hire someone that on paper seemed committed to another line of work.
I then made an important realization: I didn’t need to, nor should I, give up the things I love. I began to scour the Internet looking for like-minded people with similar backgrounds and began to notice a trend: there was a huge market and demand for private educational services, on various different levels.
I then remembered that before leaving for Europe, I had coached and tutored students on study skills development and had enjoyed that experience. Starting my own education-related business started making a lot of sense; what I didn’t know, was that the journey of working on a start-up would lead me back to school.
I developed a website, sent out promotional materials, became active on Twitter and other online educational forums, and began immersing myself in books and articles about teaching and learning. It was through this aspect of my entrepreneurial endeavor that I began thinking of going back to school to pursue my PhD in sociology. Part of developing my business philosophy for academic coaching services involved a lot of market research, which lead me to countless scholarly articles on education, psychology, sociology – all written from various interdisciplinary lenses. In addition to study, I began writing again – content for my website, blog entries and engaging in online discussions and forums. This process enabled me to hone in on my strengths and desires. While the prospect of growing a business seemed possible and enjoyable, I realized it was the research and writing components of this process that had truly lifted my spirits.
I applied for several MA programs in November and was accepted into my program of choice with sufficient funding to sustain myself. While some might question my decision to go back to school at 35, and in the current educational job market, I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue a dream I never in the past had the courage to reach out and grab. Struggling with underemployment as an Ontario teacher gave me a thick skin and helped me understand that suffering is a part of self-realization.
My advice to my fellow unemployed and underemployed teachers, is not to get sucked in by all the negativity that currently pervades discourse around our collective plight. You have to be patient and positive, realize that there are no guarantees, and that the new government initiatives may not provide immediate results. In the meantime, embrace all experiences, build your CV and be patient. Be awake and alert to how this difficult situation you are in right now is not a negative, but an important opportunity for reflection, self-discovery and the fulfillment of your deepest and most cherished desires. Find out who you truly are, and if that person is a teacher, then teach. It may or may not be a permanent position with a school board, but it will make a difference regardless.