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New paths

January 21, 2013

Second-career teachers often grapple with the financial consequences of their decision to switch to a career in education. Knowing your options when you join Teachers' can help you maximize your credit in the plan.

While you cannot transfer RRSPs into the plan, except as payment towards a buyback, if you contributed to a defined benefit pension plan in a previous career, or worked in education in another province, you may be able to transfer that credit into Teachers'. Remember, you have six months from the time you join Teachers' to transfer credit.

Brett Oosterman

Brett Oosterman left his job at a telecommunications firm for a job in teaching. When a chronically-late student in his class apologized for his tardiness, he said the break-through marked an "a-ha" moment: he knew hanging up his necktie and leaving his corporate career to become a teacher was the right decision.

"This was a student who had a lot of challenges at home and was never on time. When he apologized, it seems so small and insignificant, but he acknowledged that he wanted to be in my classroom. He acknowledged that his actions affected others. It was a huge breakthrough," Brett said. "It's those small moments that make this job so worth it."

Five years ago, Brett's life was considerably different. He was working in the private sector, responsible for sales targets and operational budgets. On a ski vacation with his family, he fell on a flight of stairs and shattered the bones in his leg. The simple misstep left him immobilized and house-bound for months.

"I had four months to contemplate life. After one week of being back at work, I came home and said, ‘This is not what I want to do.'"

His wife, Julia, suggested a career in teaching.

The transition wasn't easy. At the time, Brett had two children from a previous marriage, and a toddler with Julia to consider (since then, they've added a fourth child to the family). Quitting his job to go back to school at the age of 43 and starting a career from scratch in an uncertain job market was not a decision he took lightly. But, with family support, he graduated from teachers' college, and landed a full-time position with the Toronto District School Board as a grade four teacher. Today, he teaches a grade six special education class.

Moving from the private sector to a career in education also meant taking a significant reduction in salary. "Teaching has so many wonderful benefits, but financial gain certainly was not one of the driving factors of my decision to pursue this career," Brett said.

During his tenure in the private sector, Brett invested in RRSPs, but was not a member of a pension plan. While his earning potential was greater, his retirement income was entirely dependent upon the performance of those investments. "While my salary took a huge hit, in the long-term I gained retirement security by joining Teachers' defined benefit pension plan. It's a trade-off that will balance out in the end," he said.

"Making the decision to teach was one of the best decisions of my life. I get to help kids decide what kind of people they want to be. I get to teach them the benefits of being a member of a community. There is no monetary bonus that can top that."