When becoming a teacher means accepting social downgrading


Can we still dream of becoming a teacher in 2023? While shortages of candidates in secondary education have been a back-to-school refrain for several years, primary education, except in the Paris region, seems less affected. The masters in teaching, education and training ( MEEF ) fill their fields and, beyond young people who have always dreamed of becoming school teachers, also welcome professionals in retraining .

Sometimes people even become teachers , after having held another job, having experienced much more remunerative jobs, as shown by research on atypical careers . Becoming a teacher can in some cases mean accepting a social downgrade .

Let us focus on the choices of these teachers who arrive late in the profession. What are the conditions that allow them? How do these retrained teachers who held positions of responsibility experience their new professional condition? Through these questions, it is also a question of shedding light on certain modalities of engagement in national education.

The feeling of “missing out” on your life

Let’s take the case of Romain, who clearly illustrates the situation of these very good students whose orientation was not really thought out: “I was told that I could do a prep school, then a school. […] The idea was that an engineer was better than a teacher. And, in fact, it was better paid.” Arriving at a position as sales director in a petrochemical products company, he received a “fantastic salary”. “But I said to myself: “Apart from the salary, do I still want to stay there?”, he says.

Same speech from Ludovic, who became a teacher after 15 years as a director in a pharmaceutical company:
“I did well at school, I had a rather scientific profile, I took preparatory classes, then engineering school. It was something quite logical, I never stopped to think about what I really wanted to do. »

Both were overtaken by the feeling of “missing out on their lives”, as Ludovic will tell us, and it was after having proven themselves in a first profession that teaching appeared as a reconversion. possible. Tempted by this path during their studies, they did not allow themselves to go there, finding this profession too undervalued and paid.

Today a CM2 teacher in a REP school, after 18 years as a technical controller in the building, where she managed a team of five men, Christelle recognizes that teaching “was already an option” when she was young, but that his parents and teachers told him “not to stop at that”.

Thus, for all our respondents, the teaching profession does not appear to be a sufficiently legitimate career path after leaving high school, because they are very good students, or because they feel invested in the family responsibility to pursue university studies when they are the only sibling to pursue higher education, or they enroll in a sibling where studying is the norm.

But, when taking stock of their commitment to their first profession, the teaching condition is re-evaluated in light of the constraints felt until then. Myriam talks about the desire to break away from “the frantic race for turnover”: “I worked as an engineer for 20 years and then after a while, the human aspect of my personality came to me. remember that it was nice to do calculations and technical things but that I needed to find a relationship with others, to exchange things.”

Loss of salary but recognized level of education

Among our respondents, one of the conditions of possibility for engaging in a teaching career is the fact of having previously succeeded professionally in a first career, of having in some way already proven themselves. Bénédicte states this quite explicitly:
“Somehow, I am happy to have been able to say that one day, I earned a better living than my partner. It’s something that was important to me, and I think that if I hadn’t experienced that, I wouldn’t have been able to make this choice to become a teacher, I would have missed it as a woman, to prove that I am worth better than a man, finally as a monetary salary value! »

Fabrice, biomedical engineer in a large company before his retraining, assumes:
“Basically, I had nothing left to prove in my field and I wanted a job that would allow me to reconcile professional and family life – that’s the real reason. »

If this reconversion is the result of a quest for meaning and values, this profession also offers a certain number of characteristics supporting reconversion. Loss of salary can be justified for oneself, but also claimed for others in the name of decreasing values ​​like Romain, who claims “convictions in relation to ecology, the environment and even degrowth. What’s the point of having a 50,000 euro car if I have a 3,000 euro car that does the job perfectly? », he remarks.

Becoming a teacher certainly means dividing your salary by two or three but does not lead to losing your level of education. As Romain explains, “what made this retraining easier, I think, is also that you need a bac +5 to be a school teacher”. Even if he earns less than as an engineer, his bac +5 remains recognized.” Note that President Macron’s recent declarations wanting teacher competitions recruiting at bac+3 go against the motivations displayed here.

However, the stories of our respondents show that their retraining is not self-evident for those around them. “It was unimaginable, it was madness”: these are the words in which Romain describes his colleagues’ reception of the announcement of his retraining. This “madness” relates in particular to the deliberately downward slope of his career, “even though on the management side, all the lights were green” since they wanted to offer him responsibility for a new geographical sector in addition to those already managed.

Justify your career change to those around you

To rehabilitate their choice of this profession, these teachers must demonstrate that they are not coming into it for the wrong reasons. They must justify a choice which appears improbable and, consequently, relatively misunderstood or even perceived with suspicion. As Christelle explains: “I divided my salary approximately by three. There is a form of incomprehension: why did she come? What is she looking for in education? Who does she think she is? » Many of our respondents reported such questions.

A first solution consists of romanticizing his vocation for teaching. Taking it back to childhood, showcasing the training experiences accumulated during his studies, or even within his first profession. Way to justify that we come to teaching with a little experience and above all a solid appetite.

Our respondents also do not hesitate to value all their other professional experiences as tools for their teaching. Sabine “had to set the record straight” from her own mother who had “a little difficulty digesting because she had paid for me to study in Paris, and I am doing something completely different… I told her that what I had learned was not lost, that I used it every day and would not be the same teacher if I had not done what I did in terms of studies! »

Our respondents make their late entry into the profession an added value that sets them apart from other teachers. By promoting their experiences from the company in class, our respondents question the definition of the profession. Bénédicte told her daughters not to become school teachers at the age of 22: “You have to look elsewhere first, it’s not good to never leave school.”

The promotion of teachers who have had other experiences appears as a means of promoting their retraining journey to make it a factor of legitimacy. Being a parent is also used as a foil. They thus aspire to the recognition that they did not “start from nothing”, as Coralie notes: “The fact of having different human experiences is also an asset compared to relationships with parents sometimes” which can be claimed from children.

Author Bio: Frédérique Giraud is a Lecturer in Sociology at Paris Cité University