Thursday, October 29, 2020

I want to be a teacher when I grow up

A few years back I researched the career path and wrote an article about what it takes to become a Film Director. This was for a friend whose son was interested in this field. The son has since entered college for... economics. Perhaps the subject of this article will be more prophetic.

This is the second of several case studies (in planning) detailing the game plans for a variety of jobs. By working backwards from the goal (to get a job) we can come up with an outline of what the ideal next 10 years look like. As a parent, we can can then guide our children towards successful and fulfilling careers!  Not all jobs require advanced planning but many benefit from a little foresight. Colleges and employers tend to like it when a student or applicant can show that they have been interested in something for more than the 10 minutes it took to look at the list of majors or want ads.

So I asked my 10 year old the other day what he might like to do when he is older besides professional soccer player. He responded that perhaps a teacher would be good, specifically a grade school teacher. For those of you who are wondering, teacher comes in regularly in the top 5 for jobs as chosen by elementary school students.  The other common ones are: President, dentist, astronaut, athlete, military, farmer, pilot, doctor, policeman and fireman. If you have not figured it out already, each of the jobs are ones that a typical elementary school child either comes in contact with or finds easy to understand.

Now teaching often gets a bad rap for being low paid. Some studies have pointed to the hourly rate for a grade school teacher (including after hours grading and preparation) to be below minimum wage. 

This blog on teaching lists the pros as: bonding with students, summer vacations and holidays, connecting with other teachers and staff, and always learning and continuing to grow. To this I would add that there seems to be less of an age ceiling in teaching than in some other positions I have seen. The cons mentioned are: trying and failing to help difficult students, salary, lack of support from administration, continuous professional development requirements.

With the negatives of long hours, often low pay there are indications that demand will increase. Even with technology and robo-teachers there will be demand for instruction and humans who can help other humans to learn will be needed. Some publications put the annual growth in teaching jobs at 5% while this article claims that there is already a shortage.

After much digging, I learned that the path to a teaching job varies depending on where you want to end up. Elementary school is different from High School (where math and science are in demand) and a HS career plan is different from a college professor. I did not look into private tutors or other kinds or educators this time.

In my son's case and for the purposes of this case study, we are going to assume that he will become an Elementary School Teacher for 3rd graders (not specialized in an area such as math or biology, a generalist) working for an international school in Tokyo, Japan.

To be a teacher (just about anywhere in the world) your child will need a bachelor's degree, ideally in education at a liberal arts college. I found mixed opinions on whether the school matters but three themes seemed to be common among discussions about this issue. First, if your child graduates from a top school then yes, he will stand out when competing with candidates from other lesser know colleges. Second, GPA matters. If a future teacher does not care enough about education to focus on their own grades, how will they deal with the kids? And third, location, location, location. An elementary school will look favorably on the graduate from the college down the street. 

Later on a Master's Degree may add a few percentage points to the salary but is not necessary for that first job. A certification may be required however depending on the location. Most states in the US require one.

Based only on the requirements above, instilling some discipline and awareness of the importance of a good GPA seems like a good move for a parent. With admissions officers considering kids from all over the world these days adding a second language as well will keep your child in the competition. In my son's example especially since we are talking about teaching at an international school. Learning a second language well enough to brag about it on a college application requires an early start.

The typical extracurricular activities and volunteer experiences in middle school and high school can be aligned with teaching by focusing on interactions with smaller kids. A part-time job as a tutor in HS might convince even a skeptical admissions counselor that your child is committed to becoming a teacher.

Connections can help and while they can be built in college it does not hurt to start earlier. Teachers and school administration professionals network and talk. If you (the parent) have teachers as friends, bring your kids along to meet them and give them a chance to connect. It will serve not only to build a future network for your child but likely your kid will also learn something about their future profession.

While writing this I could not help going back to the pay issue and began to think that maybe more important than learning how to teach for a future teacher is to learn how to manage one's finances. Teaching does usually come with benefits such as health and occasionally pension. There are the summer vacations and other holidays as well. Start young with savings. When Grandma gives your daughter some money for her birthday explain that she can use half for anything she wants but that the other half will go into her bank account. It is still hers but "saving means not spending." As the kids get older you can bring up stocks and bonds and mutual funds and bitcoin and how these things can potentially make that savings grow. If your child can manage his money well, he can hopefully enjoy some of the perks. Maybe good advice for all of us.

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Your kids don't need to know what they will be doing 40 years from now, just what they want to do now.

What do you want to do today?

In the class I teach at Temple University we usually wrap up the semester with career planning. There is an exercise we do where the students are asked to come up with a snapshot of their dream life when they are in their 60s. There are many who say they will be retired having achieved their dreams and saved enough to live comfortably. Another large group says that they are CEOs of their own companies. One even said he would be living on Mars. Once we establish the details of their life way out into the future we work our way backwards a decade at a time staying consistent with the future vision. We end up at present day with the students at their desks and the final question is, "What should you do now?" The purpose of the exercise is to show the students that "impossible" dreams are achievable and that the first small step towards that future can begin today.

But if you kids are 7 or 12 or even 19, do they have to plan that far ahead for today to be important? Can they skip all the future decades and go straight to, "What should you do now?" How different is their vision of 40 years in the future going to be from their hopes and dreams about right now? Wouldn't what they want to do now, effect what they are going think they want to do in the future? Your ballet dancer is going to want to be a ballet dancer in the future and want to do ballet today. Your soccer player likewise is going to be the same. 

Perhaps we are expecting too much of our kids. We push them to figure out their future with the belief that it is necessary to give them an edge in the increasingly competitive job market they are going to have to navigate. I certainly believe(d) that having goals and focus makes our kids more attractive to employers.  However, recently I have begun to think that the planning and discipline that is required to chase after a difficult future is not the selling point I thought it was. The passion that shows through in an interview when our kids talk about their current interests (assuming they are related to the job at hand) are much more attractive to interviewers.

OK, if I ask my son what he wants to do while he is watching TV, he is going to say, "watch TV". While there are plenty of TV-related careers, nobody gets paid only to watch. There are a few kids out there that might say “I want to bake a cake.” rather than “I want to eat a cake.” but my guess is that they are in the minority. If your child is (like most) focused more on consumption than production when you speak to them, you may have to tweak the question a little bit, but it can still be about the present rather than the future. Since all jobs/careers are designed around production of some sort, ask, "What do you want to make (or create, or discover, etc) today?"  

The great thing about kids, especially the smaller ones, is that if you ask this question every day for a week, you will get 7 different answers. How fantastic is that!? 7 career options. With that kind of inventory you can then follow the Headhunter Dad's Dad's advice and consider all the things your kid is interested in and choose the one that he can make a living at.

Can you imagine if your own career was currently built around what you chose to do freely as a kid? 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The most valuable career skill in the future starts with an H

The world is changing. The job market will change with it. Our kids are growing up in an increasingly competitive world. Many jobs that require only average skill will be replaced by machines and computers and the remaining mid-level careers will be fought over by the ever growing global population of college graduates.

From 2010 to 2019, the percentage of people age 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher jumped from 29.9% to 36.0%.

If there are 10 positions for accountants in the market and 50 kids applying for those jobs how will the hiring manager decide? Average will not cut it, why higher a weaker candidate when you can afford to take the best of the bunch. Our kids will need to be better than average to make the cut.

"No problem!" you say? Yeah, me too. I think my kids are awesome but there is a problem. Even if they get that accounting job, there is a more dismal fate awaiting them. The day that their position is replaced with an AI calculator and the company no longer needs a human accountant. All the time and study preparing to be an accountant and now nobody wants one. There is only one thing they can do at this point...


Hustle is technically a verb but in reality, it is the attitude that counts. Are your kids ready to hustle to find a way they can continue to add value? Can they think outside the box and re-make themselves. Other phrases that convey the same or similar thinking are, land on your feet, never give up, quick on your feet, maemuki (Japanese), grit.

The Cambridge English Dictionary apparently does not agree with my own personal definition of hustle. I always thought of it in a positive way, using creative or alternative approaches to succeed. I can remember my own father saying things like "You gotta hustle!" referring to school or applying for jobs. Maybe it was misused but it made sense and stuck with me. Mr. (Ms.?) Cambridge defines it as:

  1. to make someone move quickly by pushing or pulling them along
  2. to try to persuade someone, especially to buy something, often illegally
  3. energetic action
  4. a dishonest way of making money
I like my definition better. Mostly because it would not work with this article if I use the Cambridge meaning! 

It is not all bad news though. We as parents can actually endow our kids with this critical attitude. Last week's article about resilience discusses similar themes. If you unbundle the idea of hustle you get creativity, resilience, energetic, motivated or driven and maybe a little bit devious. A Forbes article, albeit about entrepreneurs, gives the following advice on how to develop hustle:

  1. Create a Compelling Vision
  2. Don’t be Afraid to Fail
  3. Keep trying

I am not sure how relevant it is to ask your 12 year old to write down his vision. It seems like it might be a little much. However the idea is to teach them to keep their eyes on the prize. The accountant job is not the goal, to have a financially rewarding and emotionally satisfying career is the goal. If that is clear then losing the accounting job is just a bump in the road rather than a brick wall. When you kids are working on something whether it is a new lego set or a school project try asking them what they are doing and see if they can see a step or two beyond the immediate activity and see the bigger picture. 

2 and 3, are about the same thing. resilience and confidence.  Give your kids chances to try and fail and try again and succeed. That is it, nothing complicated. Make them keep trying till they get it and they will learn that they have what it takes to succeed.

The only constant in this new world our kids are entering is that adaptability, just like it was for our caveman ancestors, will continue to be the most important attribute for survival (success). They gotta hustle!