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Dear high schoolers,
You have probably heard rumors, stories, and news about teaching or work in education. You have questions, concerns, and perceptions. So, I hope to address all of your thoughts in this post to help you make the right choice about pursuing a career or major in education.
I want to make clear that I am not trying to tell you what you should or should not do. My goal with this blog will never be to tell you to pursue a career in education. Although I cherish my work with children and the profession, I understand the issues and burdens that come with it. My goal is to provide resources and support to help you make the best decision for you. I hope this post answers your questions.
However, please leave a comment or send me an email if you have any other questions or concerns.
Dear all readers,
If you are considering becoming a teacher or working in the education system, thank you. Thank you for considering this career or major. To current or retired teachers and education workers, thank you for all you do. As I have relayed in past posts, teachers and others working in education (including specialists, administrators, librarians, etc.) are essential to supporting children in their academic and personal development.
However, I understand that working in education is not for everyone, and that is completely ok!
From my experience working with teachers and studying education, I understand that work in this field comes with pros and cons. Especially throughout the past year, the teaching profession has received a lot of negative criticism.
So, now it's time to wade through the facts and questions. Let's get started!
Questions addressed in this post:
What are the pros and cons of a career in education?
Before I explore the pros and cons of a career in education, I'll provide a little background on what is required to become a teacher.
1. Flexibility in what you want to teach
If you decide to become a teacher, there is a lot of flexibility in the path you will take. As a teacher, you can teach almost any subject and teach students from birth to 18 years. You can work with different demographics and needs, and you have flexibility in where you can teach. Although teaching certificates have varying requirements that depend on the state, teaching jobs are available almost anywhere!
Now, the only problem is. . .what do you teach? Look at the next section for insight.
2. Opportunities for professional development and personal growth
As a teacher, you, your administration, and your school will evolve and grow. These opportunities open doors for professional development and personal growth.
Although many "professional development" days are not productive or beneficial for teachers (because they may teach a practice teachers are already familiar with), there exist other opportunities inside and outside of school for professional and personal growth.
One of the many roles teachers take on is that of a role model; I like to say that you will reflect the values you would like to see in the world. Hopefully, those values push for societal progress and equity. But anyway, teaching requires a lot of active self-reflection. With new developments in curriculum, teachers need to decide which elements they want to integrate into their classrooms and which they decide are not a good fit.
3. The short- and long-term impacts on students
Teaching is one of the most influential careers that exist. You will be working with the youngest generation to teach important values and to guide them to be the best students and people they can be.
The short-term impacts that teachers have with students lay in their daily interactions with students. When you reflect on your favorite teachers, consider how their daily actions influenced you. The smallest actions that teachers make -- including encouraging student progress, checking in about a student's weekend, recognizing when students need a mental break, and ensuring every student is included in an activity -- all make a difference.
One of my professors once said, "Every day, we can choose to either grow or shrink children's brains." Teachers who actively choose to help students grow through these small actions will make a long-term impact.
Now, you won't make a long-term impact on every student. However, you never know how deeply you can influence a student. For example, my elementary school teachers -- particularly my 4th- and 5th-grade homeroom teacher and science teacher -- inspired me to become a teacher because of their kindness and commitment.
4. Vacations and holidays
Yes, most teachers do receive summer vacation and some sporadic holidays throughout the year. However, this benefit is often overstressed in the argument that teachers have it "easy" because they get longer breaks than a typical job. These breaks are necessary but should not dampen the difficulty of the teaching profession.
It is also important to stress that teachers are often not paid. So, some teachers need to get a second job during summer vacation.
5. Encouragement to further your knowledge
Teachers are always learning; that's one of my favorite parts of the job. New studies and research are being published about child development and appropriate practices. There are so many subjects that teachers can further their knowledge on, including curriculum; development; and practices to meet certain demographics' needs, such as English Language Learners such as disabled students or students with special needs.
After they work a few years in the field, many pursue graduate degrees or complete certificate programs. In fact, an article from the University of San Diego states that approximately 52% of U.S. public school teachers hold at least a master's degree. Many of the teachers I have worked with are on track to receive a master's degree while teaching.
Not only do graduate degrees develop your career knowledge, but they also increase teachers' salaries and create opportunities for other careers in education, including administrator, specialist, or child care director.
To view a summary of the points below, I high recommend Vox's video "Teaching in the US v. the rest of the world."
1. The salary
I'm just going to say it: teachers are extremely underpaid. They are not paid what they are worth or what they contribute. Their pay does not reflect the amount of work and experience they put into their job.
So, let's look at the numbers. What are teachers getting paid?
Teaching salaries depend on educational background, school, and age demographic. Typically, early childhood teachers are paid less than the average salary because some of these teachers have less than a bachelor's degree.
To put this salary in perspective, teachers nationally earned 78.6 cents on the dollar in 2018 compared to the earnings of other college graduates, according to an EdSource article.
2. Workload (work v. life balance)
As a teacher, it is almost expected to work overtime. There are often tasks, grading, and administrative work that can't get done during a teacher's short break throughout the day.
Teacher burnout is real, but there are steps to prevent it, including scheduling and planning ahead. Recognize what has to get done right after school and what to plan the day of the lesson. What tasks do you need to complete to lead a successful lesson the next day?
Teaching is a job; it is not a lifestyle. If you decide to become a teacher, it is imperative to set boundaries for yourself and understand your workload. For example, some teachers I know do not check their email or do school work on weekends to designate time with family.\
3. Lack of representation of teachers' voices and input
Despite the hands-on role teachers play in shaping children's learning, their voices are often not represented in administrative meetings. In other words, the people and companies in power (e.g., administrators, policymakers, curriculum creators) do not bring teachers to the table.
Examples of this lack of recognition include the following:
Teachers know what is best for their students and themselves. They are prepared to lead a classroom and make decisions to support that environment. Their voices must be heard, and they need to receive the value and support they deserve from administrative leaders and policymakers.
4. Competitive environment and standardized expectations
In the U.S., school is all about results and data. Federal policy requires teachers to collect data on students and use standardized expectations to measure student progress. Often, teachers feel pressure to compete with one another.
Competition should not be the goal; instead, federal policy and curriculum should support the growth and development of the individual, whole child. Teachers should feel encouraged to work with one another to meet students' needs and not standardized expectations.
In my experience working with teachers as a practicum student and paraprofessional, I have observed this pressure and the curriculum's lack of flexibility. When teachers teach standardized expectations, they can't dedicate as much time to play, breaks, or other beneficial learning activities.
How do I know what I want to teach?
When you start to consider what you would like to teach, start by reflecting on your interests and experiences. There is diversity within subject, age, classroom size, and demographic of students that can shape this decision.
The first step in choosing "what" you want to teach is by analyzing your interests and preferences. Here are a few sample questions to ask yourself:
How do I get involved in extracurricular activities as a teacher?
If I have the chance to use a Gilmore Girls reference, I'm going to do it!
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a lot of resources on how teachers can get involved in extracurricular activities. However, I still have a few thoughts on this question.
An article from Hey Teach! described that some school districts offer assignments fo extra curricular activities. If there are no volunteers from outside the school, administrators will ask teachers to lead clubs or activities.
Each school and administration is different, so they each most likely have different policies and approaches that guide teacher involvement in extracurricular activities. The process may also differ by the extracurricular activity, such as theater, sports, and clubs.
So, it is possible for teachers to get involved in extracurricular activities! While you have the opportunity to get to know students outside the classroom, be mindful of the workload you are taking on.
Is it worth it?
This is the big question!
But I can't answer that for you because you are the one who will decide whether teaching is worth it for you.
You understand your financial situation; the level of stress you are comfortable with; and your interests, passions, and investments. Most importantly, you know yourself.
The question that guides your answer is, "Do I enjoy teaching enough?" Teaching is a job at the end of the day. If you do not enjoy it, then it is not worth it.
Now that you understand the pros and cons of the profession, maybe you are a little closer to deciding whether teaching is worth it to you. The next step to making this decision is to get experience in the field! To get an authentic idea of what it is to be a teacher, get involved working with children and educate yourself further.
When I say this, I don't mean you need to major in education or become a licensed teacher. You do not need to make those heavy decisions to decide whether teaching is worth it for you. Instead, find entry-level positions (paid or volunteer) that give you experience in a classroom or a teaching position.
For example, I have worked as an early childhood paraprofessional (in a classroom setting), which provided hands-on experience working with an early childhood teacher.
For more information on gaining experience in the educational field, read my blog post with UMD Careers on the subject.
However, if you are currently graduating from high school or do not have time to gain experience, I have a couple of suggestions.
For current high school students, interview current or past teachers to get an authentic glimpse into the teaching career. Preferably, interview a teacher that teaches the subject and demographic you are leaning toward. If possible, you could even see if you could shadow a teacher for a day!
For recent high school graduates, I would suggest taking a class or two on education. If you are unsure whether teaching is for you and have space in your schedule, take on an education minor! If you decide you want to pursue teaching as a career, you could turn it into a major!
Deciding whether teaching is worth it is an individual journey that you will have to take. For some, it is an easy decision; for others, it is more of a process. And keep in mind that changing your mind is ok too!
Note: this question was asked along with a concern about teachers' pay. And yes, indeed, teachers do not get paid enough for the essential service they provide and the time they put in. Therefore, pay is a factor to decide whether teaching is worth it for you.
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Leave me a comment!
If you like this post, have any questions, or have ideas on how I can improve my blog, leave me a comment below! Your input is always appreciated. As always, thank you for your support.
Resources Used in this post
"5 Pros and Cons of Being a Teacher in the 21st Century"
"18 Big Pros and Cons of Being a Teacher"
"Comparing Some of the Top Teacher Master's Degree Options"
"Wage gap between teachers and other college graduates exacerbates teacher shortages"
"The Role of Teachers Outside the Classroom: Finding a Balance Between Teaching and Your Extra Duties"
Video: "Teaching in the US v. the rest of the world"
"How to Gain Additional Experience and Stand Out in Education"
"How to Become a Teacher: the Teacher Tiers"
"Let's Talk About it: Myths About Teachers" (Facebook Livestream)
"A Glimpse into the U.S. Education System: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"
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Meghan Hesterman (she/her) is a child advocate and education blogger. While a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), she created Journal of a Future Teacher to share her journey in becoming an early childhood teacher.