Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 11 2010

The million-dollar job

Harvard is doing a survey on the type of people who join TFA, and one question has really stuck with me. They presented me with two jobs: a teacher or some average corporate job (I forget the title, but the point was that it did nothing for society). Both jobs made $50,000 per year and required 60 hour work weeks.  They asked which job I’d take, and obviously I chose teacher. But after I did that, they bumped the corporate salary to $75,000 and asked again. They kept asking in hopes that I would cave in and switch to the corporate job. It gave up (and probably decided I was lying) at $500,000.

The money issue is fresh in my mind lately. In the last week, a relative stranger pointed out to me that a year at my college cost more than I now get paid, and then I found out that we’re all actually taking a pay cut for next year, and then I spent more on food for my kids than I did on my own groceries for the week. Let’s be realistic: if I had wanted to get rich, I would have taken my fancy degree somewhere else.

What Harvard wants to know is how much you could pay me to walk away right now. Obviously after a few years I might leave, and if I had a family it would change the whole story, but right now? I think that would be a really easy question if I hadn’t started teaching. $50,000 vs. $500,000 is a joke, not a decision. But now, knowing my kids and how much I love them and how much they need me, I can’t imagine walking away from them for any amount of money. I can’t imagine spending my time doing a job that helped absolutely no one, just because it would give me a bigger wardrobe and a nicer car. I don’t think I would sleep at night. I literally think these kids would haunt my dreams.

I might be too idealistic. I might think I’m making a bigger difference than I really am. I might be flat-out lying to both myself and Harvard. But I really, really hope not. And we won’t find out unless a million-dollar job offer falls into my lap.

This person gets it.

15 Responses

  1. i loved that poem!

  2. Ms. L

    That teacher also says that she doesn’t know how long she can stay a teacher in Florida because of her meager salary….
    But I feel what you are saying. :)

  3. I’m not going to lie, I’m now giving you wisdom passed on to me by the one and only Scrubs. In the end, it all comes down to what helps you sleep at night.

    I work a frivolous job. I know that. If I don’t get the perfect shot of The Kiss no one will die (although I will have a very angry bride on my hands). I find meaning in it through connections I make with the clients, through knowing that I am documenting some of people’s most precious memories. That being said — I’m not saving lives, I’m not even molding lives, like you. Finding a good kid who deserved a chance and helping him get that chance is what helps me sleep at night.

    “I can’t imagine spending my time doing a job that helped absolutely no one, just because it would give me a bigger wardrobe and a nicer car.”

    Don’t think that just because someone wants a 500k salary means they want it just for the wardrobe and the car.

  4. mathinaz

    Kyle, I wouldn’t define “frivolous job” as a job where no one will DIE if your work doesn’t happen. I do think your work is meaningful – you make people ridiculously happy and they’ll treasure your work forever. All those people would really miss you if you weren’t working. Plus all your charity work undeniably changes lives. I think the definition of “making a difference” is more broad than you’re thinking.

    Plus, my quote about taking a high-paying job was NOT meant to trash others. I said I might take it in a different year or under different circumstances. But personally, where I am now, if I took a 500k job it would only be for the wardrobe and the car. I know that’s not why everyone does it, promise!

  5. When’s the survey coming out that asks the 100k CPA how much it would take him to switch careers?

  6. Thanks for posting this. I wish I could express myself like that.

  7. Good information, keep working man. I like your website. Cheers~~~~

  8. Well, really happy to read this article, I have bookmarked your website and will turn back to read your new articles.

  9. I actually decided to produce a short movie about this, I would be pleased if you could maybe take a moment to check it and possibly leave a message about what you think, I left the video url in the “website” field, hopefully you can get to it, I appreciate it a lot

  10. Thank you for your help!

  11. Nice post — thanks for sharing.

  12. Nice to see you blogging about this good topic.

  13. Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

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