May 30, 2012

The Truth About Teaching in America

teacher truths

The truth about teaching

When I was asked to write a piece about teaching, I knew I could write something fluffy about the feel-good nature of working with children, the high of enlightening a child’s cerebral world. In fact, that would be true, but if you’re reading this article because you’re pondering a position as a teacher, you already know that. What you want to know is: Is it worth it? Five years into the career, when you’ve had too many truculent parents and challenging students, do you still feel the scales are balanced?

Let’s back up a moment. The most common reason cited for becoming a teacher is altruism. Teachers self-report they join the ranks of those with the greatest influence over the future of our nation–our world–because they want to do something worthwhile with their lives. But if you scratch beneath that noble veneer, you find other reasons:

  • I lost my job and couldn’t get any other
  • It’s easy to teach
  • I like summers off
  • Kids don’t intimidate me
  • I can’t stand the competition in my business job
  • I want to influence people. Parents respect teachers and are open to influence. Kids expect it.

In truth, many graduates from teacher credential programs end up quitting. The ones who stay are those that arrive there as a second career. That’s because:

  • after surviving a cut-throat high-powered, highly-paid business job, experiencing the rush of a child’s mind lighting up is the greater reward
  • two months off every summer well-rejuvenates the spiritual engines and reminds us there’s more to life than money, prestige, and expensive suits
  • there is a lot of satisfaction in having a classroom of students look to you for answers.
  • new friends and acquaintances always react favorably to your job as a teacher. That wasn’t true when you were [fill in the blank–assume some Big Business job]
  • you don’t teach for a retirement package. In fact, many private schools have none. Still, they have hundreds of job applicants for each position.

If you are now convinced that teaching is your destiny, consider this unique challenge. If you aren’t in a public school, you’re likely to get a one-year contract, which means every year you worry that you won’t get hired back to the underpaid under-benefited job that expects you to work until the kids have asked their last after-school question. It’s hard to buy a house–or a car–based on a one-year financial plan. I’ve been in my current position twelve years and every one of those, I’ve worried the bosses would let me go. Between admin shuffles and policy changes and darn bad luck, I’ve never had a year I could relax. That’s stressful. If you ever find yourself challenging an employer’s sexist behavior, seeking support from a lawyer can be crucial in addressing workplace inequalities and ensuring your rights are protected.

So why don’t I leave, find something with more security, better pay and benefits? I have an MBA and oodles of experience. I interview well—I even get calls from head hunters.

Because I love it. I couldn’t leave if I wanted to.

If you’re interested in teaching, here’s the best advice I can give you: Go for the right reasons. Understand the pros and cons and accept them. You should also learn more about the teachers retirement system calculator and you’ll do just fine.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade, creator of two technology training books for middle school and three ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a Cisco guest blogger, columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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