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The Golden Handcuffs: When is it too late to leave a District?

There could be hundreds of different reasons why a teacher may want to teach in a new district. Maybe they aren’t getting along with their current administration, they’ve recently moved, they are looking for better pay, shorter commute, etc. Whatever the reasons are, one fact remains- once you become established in a district, it becomes extremely difficult to leave. I call these the “golden handcuffs” of district employment.
For me, I was able to make a change, but it cost a lot of money. I started my teaching career in Chicago Public Schools and left for a suburban district after six years. The new district I transferred to gave me one year of credit on their pay scale which resulted in a major pay cut. Fortunately, I was at a point in my life where I could manage with smaller paychecks. Now that I am older, and a homeowner, and have two lovely little girls, making that kind of sacrifice would be impossible.
But What If?
But what happens if I have the itch to teach somewhere new? What if the district I’m in just doesn’t feel like the right fit for me anymore? Am I stuck here because I now have thirteen years of experience and no one would want to pay me relatively close to what I am making? This seems to be the problem for a number of teachers who are not necessarily newbies, but aren’t close to retirement either. So my question is, after a certain amount of time, is there no hope for teaching in a different district? If so, what happens to teachers who outgrow their districts, but have too many years to be marketable to a new district? When is it too late to leave a district?
But what happens if I have the itch to teach somewhere new? Click To Tweet
There comes a point in the career of a teacher, where switching school districts just doesn’t seem plausible. According to Kain, Rivkin and Hanushek from Education Next, “The more years working in a particular district, the more costly it becomes to leave, simply because pay, responsibilities, and job opportunities are often tied directly to experience within the same school district.” But even if you can, and are willing to take a pay cut to be in a different school district, sometimes it’s not even up to you.
After talking to a friend who has been teaching for ten years in one school district, I realized how difficult it truly is for a teacher to change districts mid-career, even if they are willing to take a pay cut. She fills out applications every year and goes on interviews that go really well. In one interview, she left feeling very positive, like she was sure she had landed the job. Later, she got the dreaded “thank you for your time but…” email. So she decided to email this district back to thank them for their consideration, and then politely asked what she could work on. Their response was… well, nothing really. They explained that because of their contract, their District was not allowed to pay her much less than what she was making currently, and because of this, they couldn’t afford her. If this is true, it struck me as completely unfair. If my friend wanted to change districts, it should be her choice whether or not she can take a pay cut, am I right?
You would think that experience would be important in hiring teachers, but I am afraid that after a certain number of years, it just works against you. What do you think?
References:Kain, John F., Steven G. Rivkin, and Erik A. Hanushek. “The Revolving Door.” Education Next.   Hoover Institution, Leland Stanford Junior University, 04 Apr. 2011.

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