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Welcome Back : Teachers Who Left the Profession to Seek More Money Are Discovering That Materialism Sometimes Isn't Enough

October 05, 1989|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | Gray is a Van Nuys free-lance writer

Bob Rizzardi was 34--not even middle-aged--when he went to his retirement party from Agoura Hills High School.

After 11 years of teaching history, he thought that he had found a better way to make a living. He was frustrated with the bureaucracy of the school district and the increasing size of the classes, which had grown from an average of 24 to 28 students when he started teaching to 36 when he left. He was burned out.

But after 1 1/2 years as a $50,000-a-year manager for a Westlake Village commercial property firm, Rizzardi in 1985 decided to go back to teaching. In doing so, he became part of a small minority among an already small group of teachers--those who decide that the grass isn't greener outside the profession.

When Rizzardi told his fellow teachers that he was leaving his $30,000-a-year job, most said they wished that they were going too. But few went.

Leaving teaching for any other career is relatively rare, and re-entering the field is considered highly unusual.

6.6% Turnover Rate

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has no statistics on teachers leaving for another career or returning from a second career, the voluntary turnover rate--which doesn't include those who are fired--is 6.6%, a decrease from a 1986-87 peak of 7.2%, according to Michael Bordie, director of certificated placement and assignment.

In the Las Virgenes Unified School District, the turnover rate is only 2% to 3% a year, said Gerry Trout, director of personnel. "Teachers enjoy a good pension, good working conditions, and they have a certain bent in life to work with kids. Teaching is just about the only place they can do what they want to do with all these benefits," he said.

Tom Killeen, administrator of personnel services and research for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said that if a teacher leaves teaching, it will most likely be within the first four years. "Once people stay five years, they'll typically stay for good," he said.

For teachers who do have the motivation to leave--and then decide to return--it's both a desire to do something clearly meaningful and the love of the long-vacation life style that brings them back to the chalkboard.

But after the tense nine-day Los Angeles teacher strike in June and the rising incidence of drug use and other crimes on campus, do returning teachers prove the adage that those who can't, teach? Or is it that they discover teaching offers something other careers lack?

'Nothing to Lose'

For Rizzardi, all it ultimately took to leave was a phone call. "When I left the profession, the intrinsic rewards of teaching just weren't enough to keep me," he said. "So when a friend called and asked me to run his firm--I had my real estate license--I decided I had nothing to lose."

Rizzardi, who is 41, took a leave of absence from the Las Virgenes district ("I knew if it didn't work out, I could go back," he said) and "took a substantial increase in pay." He found himself sitting behind a desk in a small office, dealing with tenants who were delinquent in their rent or had other problems.

"I just applied what I knew from teaching, developing good rapport with people, and I tried to see and get to know them before a problem came up," Rizzardi said.

After dealing with rowdy teen-agers, Rizzardi marveled at the incredible quiet of his office. He said that within six months he had cleaned up the problems the previous manager had left and that the job became so easy he "thought such work should be illegal."

But the easy life didn't work for him. Although the work wasn't so demanding, he said he missed all the vacation he had enjoyed as a teacher--summer, winter and spring breaks--and was having trouble accepting just two weeks off a year.

'Didn't Like the Work'

The final blow to Rizzardi's foray into property management came when his boss asked him to file suit against a struggling businessman who needed to break a commercial lease. "I had to put a $20,000 lien on his house. I didn't enjoy that, and it was at that moment that I realized I didn't like the work," he said.

"I missed the feeling I was doing something big, that I was making a difference. And I found out that money isn't everything. Leaving teaching for awhile gave me perspective. It made me realize that the grass isn't always greener. I hadn't realized that there's a negative side to every job . . . and no job is perfect."

Marc Berke was drawn away from teaching after 10 years at five different schools. He was teaching math at Agoura High when he began to feel frustrated and burned out. But his motivation to leave was primarily financial. He says that when he saw the students driving BMWs and the teachers were still in old Volkswagens, he figured that there had to be a better way to make a living.

"I felt I was just as capable as those making more money and thought maybe I should go out and see what I could do," said Berke, 48.

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