(This is the first post in a two-part series.)
The new question-of-the-week is:
Would you recommend to a young person that they pursue a teaching career? Why or why not?
Here’s one result from a recent poll of teachers:
More than half of teachers said they likely wouldn’t advise their younger self to pursue a career in teaching.
That’s a discouraging result—at least for the future of our profession.
This two-part series will explore this issue from a very slightly different angle.
Today, Jenny Vo, Jonelle St. Aubyn, Ruth Okoye, and Jeremy Hyler share their responses.
Personally, I don’t think I can give a blanket answer to the question. I believe that if you can teach in a place where there is a strong union, and where schools are not under attack if they teach about systemic racism and about the rights of the LGBTQ community, and where book banning is not an issue, then teaching is an extraordinarily wonderful profession, and I would unreservedly recommend young people pursue it.
Communities where those attacks are happening desperately need educators willing to fight against them. I would tell young people in those areas that teaching there could also be a wonderful experience. However, I would also caution them that they would likely need to consider thinking about themselves as community organizers so they would be able to defend their autonomy and defend their students. If they weren’t ready for those dual roles, I’m not sure I could encourage them to enter the profession.
Jenny Vo earned her B.A. in English from Rice University and her M.Ed. in educational leadership from Lamar University. She has worked with English-learners during all of her 26 years in education and is currently the Houston area EL coordinator for International Leadership of Texas. Jenny proudly serves as the president of TexTESOL IV:
The answer to this question is an unequivocal “yes.” Let me tell you why.
This is my 27th year of teaching. I love it now with a passion I didn’t think was possible. It was not love at first sight when I started teaching! Believe it or not, teaching was not my first choice for a career. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to fight for the rights of the wrongly accused and underprivileged. However, the powers that be took me on the educational path, and I have not looked back. After 26 years in the classroom teaching and empowering the leaders of the future, I recently left the classroom to be an instructional coach. I’m excited now to be on the other end sharing my knowledge with teachers, hopefully making a difference in their instructional practice. I’m grateful to be able to impact student learning and success in a different way.
Back to the question! Yes, I would definitely recommend to a young person that they pursue a teaching career! That is, if it is a path that they are interested in and have the desire and heart to follow. Teachers are a special subgroup of human beings. We don’t go into the teaching field for the money or the extrinsic rewards. Starting salaries for new teachers are pretty high now compared with starting salaries when I started teaching in the 1980s, but they are still low compared with those of other industries. But be warned, raises are small and few. You won’t get treated to fancy lunches and holiday parties. I do, however, get the meals provided by our school PTA.
As a teacher, you will get hugs, handwritten notes, lovingly-drawn pictures, candies, and flowers. Your heart will smile when you hear a “Hi!” from a student who never greets you, when you witness an “AHA!” moment from a student who has been struggling with a concept, or when your high school students come visit you during their off-period. Yes, some days are hard. There have been some days when I’ve broken down in tears or when I’ve wanted to quit. But then I think about the students in my class. I think about their sweet little faces that would light up with excitement when they figured something out. Thinking about them always gives me the motivation to show up the next day and then the days after that for the last 26 years. The joyful moments overshadow those difficult days.
So, young people ... if you have a heart for making a difference in kids’ lives, please consider becoming a teacher.
‘Find Great Mentors’
Jonelle St. Aubyn is a teacher librarian at Louise Arbour Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario, Canada:
I know that there is, at times, a lot of negativity around teaching. Since everyone has been a student at some point in their lives, they think that makes them an expert on teaching in general. There are endless opinions on what could, should, or might be done to improve education, and sometimes those opinions expressed are unkind. And, depending on where you work, teaching may not be a financially rewarding career. So do I still think that a young person should go into teaching? Absolutely!
I would, without reservation, recommend to a young person that they pursue a career in teaching. Having just completed my 20th year as an educator, I love this profession even more now than when I first started. I would be a liar if I didn’t say that the first few years were very challenging. I was learning how to create engaging lessons, refining my classroom-management skills, working on building relationships with students, all while coaching and joining a number of school committees. I was exhausted every night after work. My students were constantly on my mind. I worried about them. I was proud of them. I wanted the best outcomes for them and stressed over how I was going to make it happen. Twenty years later, I’m still doing all of those things. I’m still exhausted most nights when I go home. But I can’t see myself doing anything else because the rewards of teaching far outweigh the challenges.
There is nothing in the world like helping a student find the genius that exists within themselves. As a teacher, you have the opportunity to do that every single day. I’m not talking about “saving” students. I’m talking about empowering them and helping them realize their true potential. I remember a very quiet student in my PE class who was very shy and reserved. One week we were playing European handball. We always rotated who was playing in goal, and when she got her turn, she was incredible! I think she surprised herself with just how talented a goalkeeper that she was, and the positive feedback she got from her peers brought a smile to her face that I had never seen before. She discovered a hidden talent, and the joy that brought her brought joy to all of us as well. I’ve taught students how to cook, sew, and how to work out safely and helped them find novels that they could love. I’ve seen so many students find their passions and realize their talents in a variety of ways both inside and outside of the classroom. To see the light in their eyes when they find it makes all of the challenges worth it.
Is teaching for everyone? Definitely not. The amount of patience, dedication, commitment, and care you have to have in you makes this career not suitable for everyone, despite the opinions about how “easy” teaching is. It’s not about the summers “off” either because my brain never stops thinking about teaching. There are days when it is really hard, and you are going to feel like the worst teacher in the world because that lesson bombed or things didn’t go as planned. But there will also be days where that student finally makes that breakthrough that you knew they could, and you are going to be bursting with pride and joy. Teaching is a calling. There’s an art and a science to it. And it is definitely a career worth pursuing.
My advice to anyone thinking about becoming a teacher would be to find great mentors and surround yourself with educators who love what they do. Part of the reason I have enjoyed teaching so much for so long is because I had a lot of help along the way. I had administrators that encouraged me to rest when I was approaching burnout. I had colleagues who shared ideas and resources with me when I was struggling to find some. I had friends who would listen and offer advice and support when times were tough. I have no regrets and so many happy memories. I’m so happy and proud to be a teacher.
Ruth Okoye is the K-12 director at The Source for Learning. She has over 30 years of experience as a reading teacher, CTE teacher, literacy coach, and district-level ed-tech coach:
Without a doubt. Most educators will agree that teaching is more than just a job. It is something that drives many of us. I would much rather help a young person find a way to satisfy that drive than watch them struggle to find fulfilling work while denying the urge to teach.
I’ll admit that the climate for public school teachers here in the U.S. is very complicated right now. Teachers are asked to do so much more than teach, and they aren’t always given the equipment and supplies needed to do their jobs. During the pandemic, teachers were expected to risk their own safety and the safety of their family members and then were blamed for educational issues that were brought to the forefront when things didn’t really work well.
There are many other settings that a person who is drawn to a career in teaching might be comfortable in. An independent or parochial school might be a better fit than public school. The salary might be lower, but the right school might have a more supportive community base. It was the perfect place for me when I started teaching. I have a number of friends who teach overseas. They tell me that the teaching climate outside of the U.S. is very different and is a better fit for them.
If working in the classroom isn’t the right fit, there are so many other ways to use training as an educator. Museums, conservation organizations, and even some government agencies have education outreach as a part of their mission. Curriculum publishers, web-based instructional tools, and even productivity-software companies all have a need for people who have a background in education. The more pedagogical knowledge people in the education division of these organizations have, the better it is for our students who need to use their products and services.
When encouraging a young person to pursue teaching, we have to acknowledge that the system is broken. However, without new teachers and fresh ideas, it will never get fixed. Not everyone who trains to be a teacher stays in the classroom, but they can still have great impact.
Making a Difference
Jeremy Hyler is a middle school English and media-literacy teacher in Michigan. He has co-authored Create, Compose, Connect! Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools (Routledge/Eye on Education), From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age, as well as Ask, Explore, Write. Jeremy blogs at MiddleWeb and hosts his own podcast, Middle School Hallways. He can be found on Twitter @jeremybballer and at his website jeremyhyler40.com:
Many educators would probably shy away from this question or perhaps answer it with a thunderous “NO!” I, on the other hand, would suggest and encourage any young person to pursue a teaching career.
It isn’t any secret that we are living in a very interesting, perhaps difficult time for education. Education is definitely changing! Young teachers are needed as the educational landscape continues to change because they can be the advocates to help with issues such as racism, misinformation, and the struggles students have with literacy today. By encouraging young people to become a teacher, they can continue the work of identifying and dismantling oppressive systems that plague our society today.
Also, young people who are interested in becoming a teacher have also had technology as a part of their lives since they were born. Potentially, they could be better equipped to connect with today’s students on how to use technology more effectively in and out of the classroom without spending hours completing professional development on how to implement new digital tools.
Students today need more positive role models in their lives as well. Students need young and energetic teachers who are accepting of everyone and who can meet the needs of students who may struggle with self identifying or how to handle prejudice situations.
The teaching profession is a profession that offers more rewards than simply a paycheck at the end of every two weeks. It is a profession that rewards the soul and refills your spiritual cup every day. Teaching is more than money. The look on a student’s face when they inquire and take a vested interest in their own learning is priceless and cannot be compared to monetary value. The connection you can make with a student can last a lifetime. We need young people to enter the teaching field because they can continue to be a positive voice and can truly make a difference in this crazy world.
Thanks to Jenny, Jonelle, Ruth, and Jeremy for contributing their thoughts!
Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at email@example.com. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.
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