I get a lot of education-related email at my Gmail address, so I often see education-related ads of all kinds. But this one takes the cake:
Yes, MassMutual, an insurance company, is actively, explicitly recruiting former or would-be-former teachers to sell insurance. You can see the pitch, complete with a video testimonial from an ex-teacher, on their website.
It’s not really surprising, given the number of people who leave the profession each year, that “secondary markets” have developed for teaching skills. Since no one majors in insurance sales in college, it makes sense for insurance companies to identify potential career-changers with the right skills, and simply give them whatever additional training they need.
I don’t think campaigns like this are much of a threat to the teaching profession, since they capitalize on people’s existing dissatisfaction with their chosen career, but it is interesting to consider what teaching doesn’t offer that selling insurance does. In other words, you don’t win people away from teaching by offering more of what teaching itself offers; you have to appeal to people’s frustrations if you want to lure them away from what they’ve been doing.
First is the direct connection between effort and financial reward: The better you sell, the more you earn. Despite the large number of proposals to structure compensation this way in the teaching profession, it just hasn’t worked out. There’s no telling how many people who go into education are really motivated by money in this way, but I think it’s fair to say some (and perhaps a disproportionate number of leavers) are motivated by the link to monetary rewards. Perhaps it isn’t worth attempting to appeal to this motivation in education, given the difficulty and poor track record of efforts to date.
Second is the ability to control one’s own time. While teaching offers quite a bit of time off in the summers, there’s a subtle hint that you can make your own hours in this ad campaign (though I suspect insurance salespeople work many a night and weekend).
Third, and rather surprisingly, is the appeal of support and appropriate training. While I’d like to think that most teachers have access to good training and professional development, I think the reality varies quite a bit. I’ve talked to several teachers who have made an effort to change districts (into mine, fortunately) in order to get access to better professional development. People want to do their work well, and they want to know that their employer will support this goal as well as their ongoing growth as professionals.
What does this tell us about retaining teachers in the profession? First, I think it tells us that teaching isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. If you’d be happier selling insurance, go ahead—no hard feelings.
Second, I think it tells us that people do care about being compensated and supported in their work. Districts that don’t do this well will lose people to other professions—at least a few companies are counting on it.
The opinions expressed in On Performance are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.