After a stressful couple years, tens of thousands of teachers are considering leaving the classroom. But aspiring teachers are still heading into the profession, eyes wide open.
Education Week spoke to four students at NC State University’s college of education about why they’re choosing teaching, despite all the challenges and stressors. They say they are well-aware that job satisfaction among teachers has plummeted over the years, and that low teacher salaries are discouraging—but they’re still excited to pursue their dream job.
After all, the students say, teaching is still rewarding and worthwhile. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Kay Sumpter, 22, a graduating senior who majored in elementary education with an add-on licensure in special education
I just wrapped up my student-teaching experience a few weeks ago. I taught in a 5th grade classroom. ... It was such a great experience. Honestly, I miss them so much already. It’s just really crazy because everyone’s like, “5th grade’s kind of scary,” but I’m like, 5th grade is great! They’re very relatable. They’re learning more about themselves, and they’re learning more about their interests, and they’re learning more about things that excite them.
I definitely would say seeing a negative side of [teaching] kind of intimidates me, but it’s also kind of motivating. I constantly remind myself of why I enter this profession, and why I continue to go every day, and why I continue to push so hard. Even though I see other teachers leaving, I know that I’m going to do something that I love. I know that I’m going into a field that I really want to go into, and it’s gonna be something that I enjoy. A lot of times, if you’re feeding off of negative energy around you, and you’re focusing on all of the bad things, it reflects when you’re teaching.
I feel like entering the education field, I will have a lot of impact on students. It’s important to remember to have positive impacts on them—even if it’s something as small as greeting them in the morning and letting them you know that you care about them, or something as big as helping them with life experiences that they’re going through, because kids also have trauma, and that’s something that we have to support them through.
I’ve always said I don’t want to go to a job where it’s just the same thing every single day. With teaching, every day is a new day, and no day is gonna be the same day. You have new experiences, and you have new challenges to overcome. That’s something I’m really, really excited for.
Allyson Sarnowski, 22, a graduating senior who majored in middle grades science education
I vividly remember in 2nd grade, we had to do this big project on what we wanted to be when we grew up. And of course, mine was like, “Oh, I wanna be a teacher.” All my friends were like, “What? You don’t want to be a veterinarian? You don’t want to be a doctor?” I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I’ve always enjoyed learning and being in the classroom.
When I said I wanted to go into education when I was in high school, people were like, “You’re not gonna get paid anything.” And of course, I was like, oh, it’s fine, it doesn’t matter, I really want to teach. I’ve been really grateful for the [statewide] teaching fellows program, because that’s a forgivable loan program—as I teach in North Carolina [after graduation], it’s forgiven. Having that financial burden of college being taken care of really settles nerves when it comes to knowing what your paycheck is going to be after college.
Now, I will say, in the last year, I’ve woken up and been like, oh wow, this is definitely going to be a challenge. But I think that honestly, teachers know what they’re getting themselves into at this point. It’s a shame, but you know, teaching comes from the heart. We’re not in it for the paycheck. The students truly do make it worth it because you build those relationships and bonds with them.
Dre Jordan, 18, a first-year student majoring in technology, engineering, and design education
In elementary school, I was always kind of like the teachers’ pet. You know, I always had the little inside scoop. In 5th grade, we were switching curriculum or something, and they were throwing all these math books away, and I was like, “I’m gonna take these home and play school with them!” So I was like, you know what, maybe I should be a teacher.
Sitting in classrooms [growing up] where I was probably the only person of color, it was kind of like—oh, OK. I didn’t really have a lot of teachers of color really until high school. When I was introduced to that, I was like, OK, I can see myself doing this. I did a lot of work with that in my high school teaching classes—just learning about the lack of Black educators in the classroom, specifically Black male educators. I found out that students of color are able to work better with seeing representation in the classroom. I just want to be a source of inspiration and motivation for students of color.
And of course I am a huge advocate for Black male educators in the classroom, because in my program, [there’s] just not a lot. I just feel like it’s my responsibility to show that, you know, Black male educators are a thing, and to advocate for that and advocate for resources for students of color in general. Diverse mindsets in the classroom—it brings extraordinary ideas.
I’ve definitely seen [negativity about the teaching profession] a lot. It can kind of be like, yikes, is that really what I’m gonna be going through? But then I just think about—you know, of course it’s gonna be hard. Teaching is not an easy job. But I just know for myself, all my work won’t be going in vain because I want to be able to see the impact that I’m having on my children. When they come in and tell me, “Oh my God, I got this concept,” I’m like, yes, I did that for them!
Catherine Dean, 21, a junior majoring in elementary education and minoring in Spanish and Teaching English as a Foreign Language
I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I just really love working with kids, and I feel like their minds at [elementary] age are so malleable. You can really make a difference. I think all teachers are important—high school, middle school—but I just feel like my calling is to work with the younger kids and shape their minds while they’re starting to learn and be in school.
I know that it’s gonna be a very rewarding job. I just like being in the classroom right now, even as a student. I’m just looking forward to that part of my job—getting to see the kids and getting to work with them and getting to teach and everything.
I don’t think that you’ll really make the kind of difference that you are able to make in the world if you’re doing something that you don’t love doing. With teaching, if you love what you’re doing, and you’re teaching, I think that it inspires other people.