It’s mid-March, the time of year when school districts start posting positions for the following school year. I have been so preoccupied with summer camp registration that I almost forgot. It wasn’t until last Sunday that I did my first search on EdJoin.

There are eight positions posted for high school Spanish teachers in my county (well, the county where I want to teach–I can’t currently afford to teach in San Francisco because I would have to take a $30K pay cut. Yeah, and they wonder why they struggle to retain good teachers…) Two of them are part time. Two of them are for a privately-run Charter school conglomerate that doesn’t interested me, and one is for a continuation high school, where I worry about future staffing needs for a foreign language position (the fact that no foreign languages are listed in their current course menu only augments my concern). That leaves three that I could potentially apply for, but one is even farther south than where I currently work, and that district’s salary schedule is lower, so I’d have to take a bigger cut. I’m not interested in making less money and driving farther to work. That leaves two potential positions that I can apply for, both of which would at least slightly shorten my commute, and offer a higher salary ceiling than my current employer.

Neither position is particularly exciting–neither inspires me like the one I applied for last June–but they are both full time high school Spanish positions at public high schools. That is, technically, what I’m looking for.

Yes, I’m going to apply. To both. I feel like I have to. I have considered moving to high school for so long, at this point I feel like I need to actually start applying. Maybe I will find that no high school will hire me. Maybe I will find that they will hire me, but won’t offer me the flexibility I need right now to be there for my family. Maybe the actual positions that come available won’t be as enticing as the scenario I imagine when I think of teaching at a high school.

Maybe the answer will be no in a way that helps me say yes to where I currently work.

I just finished reading The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis (author Money Ball, and The Big Short). It’s about the collaborative work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, which can be reviewed in the tome Thinking Fast and Slow (by Kahneman–Tversky died before the writing of the book). While The Undoing Project is very much about the relationship between Kahneman and Tversky, it also touches on many of their theories, which are intriguing and, to be honest, somewhat terrifying.

At its core, Kahneman and Tversky’s work describes the systematic and unavoidable  fallibility of the human mind. Evidently, we humans are pretty horrible decision makers. We unknowingly employ all these heuristics (basically, rules of thumb) when making judgements about things, and those heuristics create systematic biases in our thinking that leads us to make irrational, many times fundamentally flawed, decisions with great certainty.

Basically our minds play tricks on us that distort our perception and make it almost impossible to judge accurately. We aren’t even any good at anticipating what will make us happy, and we frequently mis-remember how happy something made us.

We also have an irrational fear of losing what we already have, so much so that we miss out on opportunities that we might otherwise value for fear of giving up something we previously gained, even if we no longer value that thing they way we once did.

Reading this book, I wonder how I can possibly trust myself to make the right decision when it comes to pursuing a new job. If I can’t be trusted to anticipate what will make me happy, or even to remember how happy (or unhappy) my job has made me, how can I decide if I should try something new?

There are so many moving parts. It’s not just about the loss of placement on a salary scale, and the subsequent pay cut. I also have benefits at my district that are grandfathered in. Surely I’d lose those even if they did grant my request for a year leave. I also lose tenure if I change districts, and it would be two years before I got it again.

If I left and wanted to come back to my old district again, I would not fall onto the same position on the salary scale, if I were lucky enough to be re-hired.

And I might not even like teaching high school. I think I’d really enjoy the older kids, and a few colleagues I’ve talked to agree that they think it would be a better fit for me, but I know many teachers who left high school for middle school and like the latter a lot more. I’ve also never dealt with the politics of being one Spanish teacher in a much bigger Foreign Language department, let alone had to make sure my curriculum was acceptable to the other Spanish teachers (if I even had any say in how or what I taught).

And what if I love teaching older students, but am bored senseless teaching the same one or two classes all day, every day, year after year? My current school is so small that I’ve taught tons of different things over the years. I wonder sometimes if that variety has been the only thing that kept me interested in teaching.

In the end I guess I’ll never know if I’m making the right decision. I might accept a high school position and then regret it straight away. Then again, I’ll almost certainly regret never trying anything different. Can I really stay at my current job for another 20+ years?

I know applying is only the first step. I know I might not even get an interview, let alone an offer. It’s just hard to move forward on something that requires so much time and effort when I feel so ambivalent. I’m so glad I found that job last year; my excitement for that position fueled a push on updating my resume and securing letters of rec that puts me in a much better position now than I would have been. Basically I just need to write my letters of introduction, and since the positions are, on the surface, the same, that letter might only need to be written once.

I know I’ve written a thousand posts about my job and if I should look for something else. So many coulda, shoulda woulda’s. I could wax philosophical about it all day. In the end I know I need to pursue these positions. Maybe I won’t get an offer, but I will recognize a better offer next year. Maybe I’ll just brush up on my interviewing skills (which have never really been used, to tell the truth). Maybe I will try something new, hate it, and know middle school is where I belong. Maybe I will try something new, love it and be so thankful that I gave it a try.

I know I’m incredibly lucky to have a job that is secure, so that I don’t need to accept a position I’m not sure of. That is an incredibly privileged place to be, and while I probably do take it for granted, I try recognize how lucky I am. My employer has, in many ways, been very accommodating and I’ve been able to make my job situation fit my family’s needs for a long time. I’m so lucky to have had that.

Updated: Michael Lewis also wrote Money Ball, not Fast Ball. 


  1. Do not advance worry about liking the job until after you have an interview and meet the people involved. For now, you are just knocking on a door, for now you are not walking into a new world.
    You are doing really well!

  2. I don’t think there’s any use in worrying if you’ll make the right choice… worrying won’t change a thing. πŸ˜‰ Just apply and see what ya think – nothing hurt by that! I would hazard a guess that if you’re unhappy in your current position, trying something new is a good idea. The vast majority of people never try because they’re too afraid of change. Unhappiness that we are comfortable with is so much less intimidating than trying something new!

    1. You’re right, that unhappiness that we are comfortable with is much less intimidating than change and trying something new. I keep trying to tell myself that.

  3. Sounds like l like you’ve really thought this out. I’ve had the same worries about changing jobs…the lesser benefits thing sucks. I’m in PERS and have 2% at 55 right now. That’s actually pretty lame–I’ve had 2.5% and 2.7% at previous jobs–luckily that gets figured into my service credit. But since the recession, most government agencies have adopted an even worse benefit for new employees, e.g. 2% at 60 or even 62. So if I move to another public agency I’ll be at that lesser rate. (I still don’t see how it’s constitutional to give employees doing exactly the same work in exactly the same position at the same employer different benefits, but so far I don’t know of any lawsuits.)

    I do think it’s a good idea to apply and see what happens. I’ve had the same thoughts – – maybe I should apply for a certain category of jobs just to see whether they even want me or what kind of salary they’d offer – – and that might end the inquiry there.

    I like reading your posts on this topic because they reflect somewhat what I’ve been thinking over the years and I’m interested to see what happens. Glad to know I’m not the only one who has spent years thinking could’ve should’ve would’ve etc.

    1. You know, I haven’t even looked into if it will mess with my STRS rate. I’m guessing not, because I’m not leaving STRS if I go to another public school, but I should definitely check.

      It really is a different experience leaving a job with a salary schedule for another one with a salary schedule. There is no negotiating your salary. They can’t legally offer you more than is allowed through the union contract. I will lose EIGHT YEARS if I change jobs. That is a lot of money. Even on a high pay scale, I’ll still lose money. Of course, eventually I’ll make up what I lost, but if I move districts again the same thing will happen… It’s really hard for teachers to change jobs, I guess.

      I hope my story continues to help you navigate your own. I’ll keep posting updates.

  4. Good luck! I’m very glad you are applying. You’ll know more once you get to interview stage, and then some of the what-ifs might drop away.

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