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Nursing vs. Teaching


I know no one can really give me an answer but I thought I'd throw this out there and get opinions. I'm having a hard time deciding whether to continue towards my teaching degree (special ed) or nursing. I have a passion for special needs kids because I have a kid with special needs and we've had a great experience with the school district special ed program. So I would like to be a part of it. Also, I feel like working for the school system in some way is a pretty good "mom career" because it's a day job, you get weekends off, etc. For me, that is great because my husband works a lot and doesn't help much and I don't have much help from family. Also, a big plus is that I can take 95% of my courses online. Which is great for me having kids at home. Unfortunately teachers don't make much (start at $46k a year here but it's a very high cost of living area) and I'm facing the possibility of being a single mom with 3 kids.

All of that said, I have this dream of being a nurse. I'm not sure why because I've never worked in a hospital but for some reason I feel drawn to it. It's always felt unattainable to me because by the time I realized I wanted to do it, I already had kids. Lack of childcare has stopped me from pursuing it. Now I'm kicking myself for not doing it years ago. I have a 2, 8 and 14 year old. My oldest is autistic and can't stay home alone yet, and the high school of course doesn't have any childcare. So logistically it feels almost impossible to go to nursing school with clinicals starting as early as 6am. And then the shifts will be 8-12 hour nights which would be impossible with my husband leaving for work at 5am and me not getting off til 7am. So anyway all those reasons made me not go for nursing. :( I don't know what nursing is like, but it's a dream of mine that seems impossible in every way to attain. For one thing it's a great paying career that would allow me to support myself and the kids. That wouldn't be my main reason of course, but it's a nice perk.

Anyway, I need to decide right away which way to go. I am accepted into a SPED teaching program to start 8/1. I just can't decide . I am terrible at making decisions. :/ Should I give up the dream of nursing given all the obstacles I listed above? I'm always going to wonder "what if..." but maybe it's time to give it up. I don't know. I'm 34 and need to get a career ASAP. I have been a SAHM for the majority of the past 14 years and I'm ready to do something for me. But I still have to think about childcare and things like that. Maybe I should go for the teaching degree and then try to do nursing school when my kids are older. I just don't know. I'm a mess and so stressed over this. :(

I would love any advice or suggestions. Thanks.

akulahawkRN, ADN, RN, EMT-P

Specializes in Emergency Department. Has 6 years experience.

While you should never give up on your dreams, you also have to realize your current limitations and situation. The good news is that you're "just" 34 and you very easily could have a career in SPED and later you could transition into nursing. That's definitely an option. Here's the other thing, if you're able to save some money along the way, you could very possibly be able to quit your job in SPED to pursue your dreams precisely because you can easily afford to go into nursing should you feel that pull.

Just 15 years ago, I was a very different person than I am today. Had I "listened" to those around me I would have attempted nursing back then and maybe I would have done well... but on the other hand, once I was ready for it, I ended up doing very well and I feel that I'm right where I need to be, and that's a MUCH better place than I was years ago.

Something else that you might not have considered is that if you do go into SPED, you'll learn a LOT about human behavior. This is not a body of knowledge that goes away when you become a nurse. You'll be able to translate what you've learned into an ability to work with people and figure them out a whole lot sooner than most. That knack will work well with much of nursing. I've done many, many transports out of facilities where having a nurse with a SPED background would be more than awesome.

Ultimately though, the choice is yours. Nobody can make that decision except you because you know what your situation is a whole lot better than any of the rest of us. Scheduling your activities and family needs around to accommodate your education can be very difficult and can be full of significant challenges. Only you know if it's possible to find a way to "make it work" for you. If you want to give it a go now, think outside the box to see if there's a way to meet your family's needs and yours too.

However as I said above, being in SPED does have it's perks... even though the pay is on the low end for what you might want. In everything, there are trade-offs....

RNperdiem, RN

Has 14 years experience.

Your life sounds very full now. Are you sure you are ready to go back to school? See if you can shadow some nurses and learn about what nurses really do. Without real knowledge, it is easy for a "dream" to wander into "fantasy" territory.


Has 6 years experience.

Stick with what you know for the time being. I went to nursing school with a woman who had gotten her degree in teaching, then went to nursing school and did that. She was a nurse for two years then went back to teaching and so much happier.

llg, PhD, RN

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 44 years experience.

One thing about teacher salaries:

Don't underestimate the long-term value of "benefits." People will often see that teacher paychecks are lower than nursing paychecks and assume that nurses make more money. But that is not always the case -- because of the long-term economic value of the benefits.

My sister (now retired) was a public school teacher in a small town. I am a nurse. My paycheck was always bigger than hers, but she has always had better benefits. The cost of her health insurance was not deducted from her paycheck and the co-payments she pays are less than half of what I pay. Similarly, she had a great pension plan with nothing deducted from her paycheck. She was able to retire in her early 50's with 30 years of experience, getting 60% of her salary guaranteed for life and adjusted annually for inflation. Her husband (also a teacher) retired with 35 years experience getting 80% of his salary.

So they are both retired, living off generous pensions guaranteed by the state -- playing golf at the country club and spending 3 months each winter in Florida for the better weather. Assuming they live into their 80's (at least), think of how much income that pension is worth. As a nurse, I will get no pension. The only money I will have to live on when I retire (I am 59) is the money I take out of my current paycheck and put invest in my retirement account -- which lowers my take-home cash considerably. (and Social Security)

Also ... my sister's graduate was school was 100% paid for by the school district. I had to pay for my own (though I was able to get some grant money, scholarships, etc. to help out). She is also able to get health insurance through the school district at the group rate after retirement. When I finally retire, I will be on my own.

She never had to work nights, weekends, or summers. (though she often chose to work part-time in the summer to earn some extra cash) How much extra will it cost you for child care if you are working nursing hours rather teacher's hours?

So ... my sister retired at age 52 and lives a VERY comfortable lifestyle. I also live a financially comfortable lifestyle, but will need to work until my mid-60's to retire comfortably. Which sister got the better financial deal? Don't underestimate the economic value of the benefit packages available in both professions.


Specializes in LTC.

To OP - I have never made such a concrete, black & white decisive comment as I am about to make in response to your post......

Go with teaching. Nursing will still be a possibility later in life.

PP llg VERY clearly expressed financial concerns re the two professions. Another SERIOUS concern is that there is no guarantee that you will find employment quickly upon graduation. You no doubt have read about this dilemma in numerous posts here. THERE IS NO NURSING SHORTAGE, only a glut which may not resolve for many years to come.

I'm not familiar with the job market in the teaching specialty you seek, but it prob is better than ours.

Given your family circumstances with childcare needs (and iffy husband situation), you don't have much wiggle-room. Nursing school is HARD and pretty much very time-inflexible, as it is in nursing employment areas also (unless you get one of those SCARCE, highly coveted cushy positions).

Again, I say, GO WITH TEACHING. Just my opinion.

Good luck to you.

Thank you so so much for all of your thoughtful comments. I appreciate them all.

Why oh why after these great answers am I still drawn to nursing? UGH. :(

llg, PhD, RN

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 44 years experience.

Why oh why after these great answers am I still drawn to nursing? UGH. :(

Because you have romantic notions about being an "angel of mercy" and "saving the world" being noble. I'm not saying that there is no nobility in nursing, in providing care to the sick and injured, etc. -- but are you willing to sacrifice the well-being of your family to fulfill that fantasy?

Nurse ABC

Has 14 years experience.

I'm a school nurse-best of both worlds. However, if I had to do it all over again I would have just went with teaching. It's hard to be a nurse in a school-I always feel a little on the outside. Nursing school is extremely tough. While all my education major friends were partying and having fun, I was constantly doing homework or studying. That was without raising kids. Nursing itself is a tough gig. Between the long hours, the lack of respect, the stress of keeping people alive, and the physically demanding aspect of lifting and turning people and being on your feet all day, it's overrated. If it were only about "helping people" it would be great but you have to deal with a lot of crap to do that. Some people thrive in it and you may be one of those people. If you're truly set on thinking nursing is for you then by all means shadow a med-surg nurse for 12 hrs straight because that will most likely be where you will start-or maybe a nursing home. My kids hated when I worked at the hospital. I wouldn't get home until their bedtime the days I worked. I also had to work summers and holidays. They didn't like that one bit. Yours won't either,esp if they are used to you being there. Just read all the boards from new grads and you'll see how tough it is. At least with teaching, if you don't find a job right away you can always sub. Nurses don't have that option.