When thinking about second careers for teachers, finding a job you love is the goal…but how do you know which one is right?
In today’s episode, Jenny Melrose shares her experience including what led her to leave the classroom and how she became a successful online entrepreneur…twice! She also gives insight into why pivoting was so important for her business and how it allowed her husband to pursue his dream career.
Jenny is a former reading specialist who “retired” from her teaching career when her blogging income far exceeded her salary. Through hard work & dedication, her lifestyle blog, The Melrose Family, became regularly sought out by brands such as Neutrogena, Smuckers, Glad, Costco, & more. Now, she’s combining her passion for teaching with her extensive experience creating strategic content to help online business owners via JennyMelrose.com, her podcast, Influencer Entrepreneurs & her first book.
What made you choose teaching as a career?
I actually did NOT begin my undergrad career choosing teaching. I thought when I first went away as a freshman I wanted to be a doctor. Then I took my first college science classes and thought, “Oh my word…this is not for me.”
So I ended up pursuing a dual major in Creative Writing and Psychology. My plan was to get my Master’s Degree in Psychology and become a child therapist, but then September 11, 2001 happened.
It was my senior year and things were just different. I didn’t know where I really wanted to be and what I wanted to do when I grew up.
My mom always said, “You should be a teacher.” So I went back to school and got my Master’s in Education and Literacy.
What was your first job?
About a week after I got married, I walked into my first Reading Specialist job. I was the youngest person in the school (by about 10 years) and right out of college. I realized very quickly that I had to figure out a way to work with all of these more experienced teachers.
I loved teaching, but when I walked in the door my first year, I had a caseload of 250 kids. I was doing both reading and math and I was told to “figure it out” because there was no curriculum.
In a classroom of 25 kids, there might be 15 to 20 who qualified for my services. My classroom was tiny, and I could not take all of these kids down to my room. So I had to push into these classrooms.
This was awkward for the teachers and me because we were just trying to figure out how to do what we needed to do. There were some classrooms where I walked on eggshells and then there were others that were amazing.
My kids were so sweet. I often took on the role of an educator as well as a mom. That was difficult because I would often come home and ask my husband if we could bring home one just for the weekend so she could get a good night’s sleep.
I struggled to get pregnant for awhile, and I would go to school seeing these kids who needed someone and I couldn’t have my own child. When I finally did get pregnant, we were elated.
After my oldest daughter was born, I went back to teaching. But I had to drop my daughter off 45 minutes away at my mom’s, who was helping us with daycare as it was crazy expensive in New York, and then I drove 45 minutes directly back to teach in the town we lived in.
It was an hour and a half commute there and back every day and I didn’t feel like I got to see my daughter. Then I had another daughter and I was overwhelmed with the fact that I never got to see either one of them.
They barely know who I was and when I picked them up, they wanted to stay with my mom and not go home with me. That was hard!
But I come from a blue collar family who believed that when you started working somewhere, you pretty much stayed there until you died. That was the way I was raised.
In my parents’ minds, teaching was safe. You got the summers off, holidays off, and you got to spend time with your kids.
But they didn’t realize that because I was so far away form my kids I didn’t get to be there on the first day of school or field trips. I missed all of it.
What caused you to actually leave teaching?
At this point, I started thinking about what other options I had regarding income. But there were two specific things that pushed me over the edge.
I had a hobby blog, The Melrose Family, that I’d started when my oldest was only 6 months old. I would spend nights and weekends writing recipes, taking pictures, and posting online as a creative outlet.
This was just something that allowed me to tap into that part of me I felt I had lost after becoming a mom.
I went to a blogging conference in New York City and there were women sitting at the table who were making six figures. Blogging was what they did full-time.
That kind of opened up my eyes.
I realized there was a lot more behind this. I contemplated the idea that I could not only add to our income but I could do this full time and not teach anymore.
I was set up to fail
I knew I needed to wake up and not walk into school feeling like I was a failure. I remember walking in every day to teaching and thinking, “What is the purpose?”
I was so set up to lose. It was horrible. I remember different administrations coming in and all the reading specialists in the district would sit in meetings waiting for them to tell us how we were supposed to serve these kids.
There would be a new one every two years and they would come in thinking they had all the answers. But when you actually asked questions, they would avoid answering them.
I had one class of fifth graders and the teacher was amazing. She was actually a very close friend of mine. But in her class of 25 students, 21 of them qualified for my services.
These were big fifth graders who were bigger than me. They couldn’t come down to my room because there wasn’t enough space for all of them.
I was told I had to take over classrooms and serve them there. Out of those 21 fifth graders, two were on a first grade level, five were on a second grade level, and eight were on a third grade level.
My friend would look at me and ask what we were supposed to do, but there was no answer. It was just all so cyclical.
And it wasn’t just the fact that some of these kids were three grades levels below where they should be. It was also the fact that I had to dodge chairs that were getting thrown and jump into the middle of fights between some of the fifth graders.
Thankfully, they would stop when they would see me, but It wasn’t just the academic piece. We were constantly dealing with the emotional side and the family side and so much.
The final decision
At this point in time, I was making pretty consistent income from my blog. In fact, I was pretty close to replacing my salary.
So my husband said, “I know you are miserable and we need to find out a way you can possibly leave the classroom. The only way I can see this happening is if you can replace your salary in six months. If you can do that, then give your resignation.”
And that’s exactly what I did!
I didn’t research second careers for teachers or even consider other alternatives because I could see the potential for my blog.
What would you tell a teacher who is considering leaving?
I am not going to say just take the leap. I am not that crazy.
For me, it started because my husband asked me what I was passionate about as a hobby and what I loved doing. When I sat with that question, I realized it was wanting to spend time with my 6 month old daughter and show her little things that we were doing.
But after leaving the classroom, moving to Charlotte, NC, and pursuing blogging as a full-time career, I was traveling a lot and doing many speaking engagements.
I discovered that other women wanted to know HOW I was doing what I was doing. And that’s when I decided to pivot again and begin teaching women how to run an online business.
So to circle back to the question, I think that when it comes to making that leap, figure out what you are passionate about.
Being an entrepreneur is not easy, and I am not going to say that it is. If you do not like what you are doing then it is going to be a rough ride. You have to love what you are talking about, writing about, or creating because it’s a risk and you have to love it to stick with it.
How did you deal with push back from others?
I definitely got push back and questioned by everyone.
At the beginning, my husband used to call me and say what are you doing over there “blogging.” He would give me the air quotes and I would get so mad about it. I was like I am busting my butt to make this work so I can leave teaching, so don’t make fun of me.
We had to sit down and have conversations about how I looked at my business and what I was trying to do with my business. We had to get on the same page about things.
Once my husband and I were aligned, I was ready to tell my family. Unfortunately, they thought I was crazy. Like I mentioned before, they value stability. Therefore, they couldn’t understand why I would ever do this.
They basically told me that I already had summers off, I was being an idiot for walking away from retirement, and I was going to take the instability of not knowing over security.
They were literally dumbfounded at my decision.
To make matters worse, we were moving to Charlotte, NC, and my mom perceived this as me stealing the grandbabies away.
So if you are fearful of push back, just know that you probably aren’t going to get unanimous support from everyone in your circle.
But it is still essential if you are looking to leave teaching to have those tough conversations.
This is even more important to get clear with those who are going to help support you. If they are going to help take care of the kids so that you can do something on the side or if you’re a single mom, whatever it might be…you have to have those conversations.
What would you tell someone who is letting fear take over?
I am an introvert and I also don’t do well with transition. I am very routine oriented so I understand that fear, but I couldn’t have that fear of going to school every day and being a failure.
It had to be about happiness for me, and I got to a certain point where I realized a different path was calling me.
Listen to your inner voice
If you are getting these whisperings and inclinations, take hold of those. Start getting in tune with what you are hearing, those pullings that you are getting, and those “this is not what life is supposed to be like” nudgings.
You will absolutely have to put the time and energy into it, but the other side of it is so worth it. There is just so much about my life that has changed.
I have always been a person that lives focused on wanting that happiness. I will never use the phrase, “It is what it is.” That’s a common phrase in my family, but I’m just not that kind of person.
Understand that you have to take action
I can control the way that I feel and you can control the way you feel. I am going to have to make certain decisions and take actions to follow through, but I have a choice.
Many times in our minds, we finally have that resolution…we are going to do it! But until you take action (and that first scary step), you never know.
So as we discuss leaving the classroom, maybe you are ready but you don’t yet have a plan. Let me just say, you have to have a plan.
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Any advice for those who want to leave?
Don’t let others choose your path
When we signed on as teachers we thought we would be classroom teachers. You go to college, you get your degree, you go into the classroom, and you teach.
But the world of education is so much bigger than that. You can teach adults or kids, and as you seek out second careers for teachers, consider your interests and your passions. Using your God-given abilities and skills, you can do anything!
Give yourself a timeline
Like I said before, my husband gave me a timeline of six months to replace my income before I could resign. So I knew exactly how long I had to make my dream a reality.
Creating some type of timeline that’s going to push you is essential to making things happen. If you don’t have someone who can help you, hire a business coach!
A business coach, like Jennifer, can…
- help you create a timeline (to leave the classroom),
- hold you accountable (for accomplishing tasks within a set amount of time), and
- point you toward a career outside of the classroom for which you are ideally suited.
Get clear on your finances
To fully decide on an appropriate timeline, you need to know exactly how much money you need to bring home each week, month, or year to replace your income.
If you are blessed enough to not have to replace your entire income, you need to know what percentage (or how many dollars) it’s going to take to meet your needs and the needs of your family. This information is going to help you determine how long you will need to save and prepare.
We all have to ask ourselves whether leaving the classroom is the right choice, but if you are contemplating second careers for teachers, think about becoming an entrepreneur.
It isn’t the easiest path, but it has unlimited income potential and as a teacher, you have the skill set to make it happen.