Teacher Preparation

Few High School Students Are Interested in Teaching. But Better Pay Could Help

By Sarah Schwartz — August 07, 2018 4 min read
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High school students who are thinking about becoming teachers would be more interested in the profession if it paid more, according to a new survey from ACT, the college-admissions testing organization.

The survey, which about 2,400 students took during a national ACT administration in the 2017-2018 school year, looks at which students want to be teachers, what’s drawing high schoolers to the profession, and what about the job would need to change for more students to express interest.

“One of the reasons that we had decided to do this survey is because there’s a lot of concern about teacher shortages,” said Michelle Croft, a principal research associate in state and federal programs at ACT, and one of the report’s authors. Preservice programs could use the findings to direct targeted recruitment efforts, she said.

As in past years, a small percentage of students said they were interested in working in K-12 schools: Only 5 percent of test-takers said they were interested in teaching, said Croft. To ensure that they had enough students in the survey for reliable results, the researchers oversampled the population of students who expressed any interest in becoming a teacher.

The researchers broke down respondents into three groups—students who were definitely interested in teaching, students who said they were “moderately” or “somewhat” interested in teaching, and those who expressed no interest in the profession.

Students who wanted to be teachers were lower-performing on the test than students who wanted to enter other professions. (The same thing was true on past ACT surveys about interest in the teaching profession.)

High school students who didn’t want to be teachers performed the best on the ACT out of all three groups. These students met the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks at higher rates in every subject: English, math, reading, and science.

Among the students who were thinking about entering the profession, those who said they might be interested in teaching performed better on the ACT than students who knew they wanted to work in a classroom. Test-takers who were potentially interested in working in K-12 schools met the College Readiness Benchmarks at a higher rate and had an average ACT composite score that was 1.5 points higher than that of students who were “definitely” interested.

Higher Salaries, More Prestige

These more academically prepared students with some interest in teaching present a recruitment opportunity for preservice programs, the researchers write. So what could sway the students who are on the fence about entering the profession?

Of the students who said they might want to teach, nearly three-quarters said higher pay would increase their interest. Almost 40 percent said they wanted a starting salary of at least $50,000, while another 30 percent required at least $60,000. The average starting salary for a teacher was $38,617 for the 2016-2017 school year, according to the National Education Association.

The majority of students who didn’t want to be teachers also listed pay as one of the main reasons they weren’t interested in the profession.

The researchers recommend raising the average starting salary for teachers, arguing that it would “compete for higher-performing students’ interest.” But other researchers have said that higher pay alone might not be enough to attract these students. High-achieving students have a broader set of job prospects, and may be looking for a career with more prestige.

The ACT results suggest that the societal perception of teaching matters for students considering the profession: 30 percent of potentially interested students said they would want more prestige and respect, and more opportunities for career advancement. In addition, 40 percent of potentially interested students said they would want more flexibility in how they do their job.

Potentially interested students also weren’t as sure about working with kids: Just over half of these students said they were drawn to teaching because they enjoyed working with young people, compared to 68 percent of test-takers who definitely wanted to be teachers.

This comparative ambivalence about working with children is one of the reasons the researchers recommend “grow-your-own” programs, which target and train students already within a district to become teachers there, said Croft.

Students in these programs would “gain hands-on experience working with children in a classroom setting” earlier than in traditional preparation programs, which could give them “a better idea of whether teaching would be a good fit for them,” the researchers write.

The researchers also recommend that schools of education and other preservice programs provide information about teachers’ benefits and pensions when recruiting students, which would make teachers’ full compensation compare more favorably to that of other professions.

Top Image: Getty

Chart via ACT

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.